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Sweetness, the aftermath of a dream, enveloped my waking moments like the profusion of summer vine clematis trailing over a trellis. I smiled, deeply, knowing that I am loved unconditionally, as is everyone else.

Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for wisdom and love—so wrote Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207 – 1273), Sufi mystic, Islamic scholar, and poet.

 

 

Certainly, Rumi tasted the gall of grief in the loss of his soul mate and teacher, the wandering Sufi mystic Sham al-Din. For four years, night and day, his teaching had led Rumi to cultivate the path of the heart; such cultivation demanded trenchant asceticism that wiped out self-will and decried materialism in its multiple disguises. Under Sham’s tutelage, Rumi also set aside his rigorous Islamic studies and sermons that he delivered in the mosques of Konya (Turkey). Together, Sham and Rumi’s mysticism flourished. However, one night, Sham disappeared, thought to have been murdered by one of Rumi’s son.

Such an existential loss speaks of Rumi’s willingness to suffer the insufferable with a an open heart; its strange fruits, subsequently, enabled him to penetrate words and uncover fresh symbols linking his readers to the Sacred—Such accounts for his poetic image, garden of compassion, cited above. Within apparent death emerge seedlings of psychic growth that bear close watching: love and wisdom.

Rumi’s saying reminds me not to lose heart when grief’s swamping, so unexpected, assails me. I know, in time, it will pass and it does, not without deepening its residue for my transition. True, I’ve let go of much, but I’m not there, yet. There is still my inconstant will, floozy, fidgety, quaking—Still to be disciplined by grief’s flowering. To this I surrender, anew.

 

 

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” I fidgeted with the laminated card containing the vow formula—almost dropped it on my lap as I struggled to regain awareness of what I was doing. I was twenty-nine years old.

It was July 22, 1965, feast day of St. Mary Magdalen, a steamy morning in the fan-cooled Gothic chapel of the Motherhouse in Rome, Italy. Perspiration filmed sallow cheeks within my frilled cap, hunger scoured my innards, and skirts of my Sunday habit covered my polished Oxfords. Behind us, knelt families and friends gathered to witness our final profession of poverty, chastity, and obedience, until death, in our community.

Despite worsening stiffness in my knees and generalized malaise, I had completed five months of probation, the final formation and testing before taking this step. Conferences on the Rule and Constitutions—although in French, the universal language of the community—long hours of prayer and reflection, and direction with the Superior had spirited me toward this oblation, I perceived as God’s will.

Yet, emptiness smacked within the fissures of my psyche as I continued reading the vow formula. Where was my heart? Did I ever have one or had I been pretending all along? Who was this inner stranger, scowling at me? I was supposed to be happy.

As it turned out, seventeen years later I left the community to search for my heart, an arduous process more austere than practiced as a nun.

In the midst of another formation, this time in hospice, I’m preparing for another oblation that will jettison me from all forms of death into the arms of my Beloved. To Him, I’ll offer my scarred, but graced, heart. This is working out…

 

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