24th May, 2011 Convent of the Sacred Heart, 91st Street
The Sophie Stone
Some of you here this evening know that I always carry at least one stone in my pocket.
Most of you here this evening know that I returned in February from a five month stay in Rome where I gathered with twelve other rscj from around the world to create community as we prepared together to make our final profession in The Society.
All of us here this evening are here because of a visionary woman born in the midst of fire and revolution, a woman who acted according to her relationship with Jesus and drew others to action as well… Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat.
Part of the experience of Probation, the formal Society term for those five months prior to final vows, included ten days in France, split evenly between Paris and Joigny.
One of those days…one deliciously, somehow appropriately, foggy early morning in Joigny, we went winding up into the vineyards her father used to tend.
We were there just after the season for picking and, as law mandates, there was plenty of fruit left behind on the vine for those on a wander…or on a pilgrimage.
I certainly noticed the vines and the grapes—we gathered enough to make ourselves nearly sick later on! I loved the view of the rows and the rolling terrain in the fog, the earthiness of the smell in humid air, the undeniable rootedness and history that saturated the land—but I also had my eyes down, looking at the very stones in the ground.
Usually, I prefer stones that are small enough to feel jumpy in the pocket…round, smooth, heavy-feeling, pleasing in the palm and inviting to the fingers.
Not that day. When I slipped on leaves and noticed the dislodged earth beneath my foot, I knew immediately that I had found my Sophie stone.
It had its grounding firmly, though not fixedly, in the fertile vineyards of Joigny. It iss faceted, smooth, peaked, pointy, and worn gently from the work of time, and –as I chose to name them—the movements of the Spirit, interpreted for a stone: wind and footstep and forces of nature.
When I turned the stone over, I noticed that the backside has a circular layer of the outer roughness worn away and that reveals an interior that is a vision of the world! Within the exposed interior, there are swirls of blue and grey and brown and white that immediately called to my mind the famous “Blue Marble” image of our planet taken by the Apollo 17 space crew.
How fitting! Unquestionably rooted in the land of her upbringing, but with an interior vision of the world…
Like the changing nature of a stone, affected by factors internal and external, Sophie’s vision is not a stagnant one. The Heart of Jesus is not stagnant! Ever calling, ever challenging, ever bidding us to come, to build-up, bring into, rest within, to follow, to break open, to share, to act out of, to learn from…
Each of us. Individually and collectively. Uniquely but with one heart, putting on heartfelt compassion. Kindness, humility, gentleness… being thankful, bearing with one another, forgiving…letting love rise above all else, letting peace control our hearts, making room for the Word, and in word or deed, doing it all while giving thanks to God…
I recently read a booklet on the Theology of Migration that is part of the series, Christianity and Justice, put out by the Jesuits in Spain. There is a reference in it to the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre who says –“tradition is in reality an extended conversation in time… it affirms our own personal commitment, shares this commitment with the community of believers, and extends it both geographically and temporally. We again meet with a powerful affirmation of unity in the midst of diversity.”
He was speaking of reciting the Creed –-but I think Madeleine Sophie might agree in terms of discovering and revealing the heart of Jesus through the service of education.
Think of the thousands upon thousands of students, clients, friends, relatives, patients, readers, co-workers, latte makers, companion travelers mashed against you in the subway or bus…that have walked, lived, wept, or laughed within our hearts over years. Hopefully, they know more about Love, and Justice and Compassion…more about the dispositions of the heart of Jesus, because of that piece of the journey we share. Then, they share it with others, who in turn… and so on.
Exponential sharing, exponential adaptation over time, unity in the essence. Rootedness and incredible potential. Remain in me, as I remain in you…if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples…
We are called to cleave to the vine and dare to grow! And in the growing, the stretching, the sharing, the intertwining—In the barren years and in the bearing of fruit… so spreads the strength of the vine as well…for that strength, that love, is ever present within us.
We are invited to dare to believe that THAT it is not only possible…but True! Within us! Rather incredible. And, potentially, rather freeing….a freedom that comes from knowing the difference between being rooted and being bound….choosing between staying put, and daring to explore the unknown More. Risking, expanding, revealing.
I have packed up the Sophie stone I found in the vineyards of her childhood, carefully wrapping it so that the rough edges do not catch or break. I will unwrap it in my new room and have it be a reminder that a little erosion of the self through the actions outlined in Colossians and through being grafted to the vine but stretching ever outward and onward, liberates beauty, liberates the creative, thought-changing, feeling-changing, outlook-changing, systems changing, life-changing potential of Love in the world.