…It is the Feast Day of Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat… this was the caption for the view I beheld this morning while also reading the newspaper and tapping into various feeds to see what was going on in the world. The air was a translucent gold—that is the only way I can say it…sunlight blooming through an as yet moon-cool new day. It was beautiful…as though each bit of creation from person to pavement crack was gilded in light from the inside out.
Much has been said of her over the 220 year history of the Society of the Sacred Heart… About her vision for education, her forward-thinking, her fidelity to relationship, her leadership. This morning, though, it was a different aspect that came to me while reading about these wild times: Her appreciation for expression, for language and story. At least, that’s how I understand a legacy of journals, 14,000+ letters, and the importance she placed on gathering around a candle to tell stories.
Interestingly, it was suggested in a Zoom call the other day with Phil Kilroy, RSCJ, author of Madeleine Sophie Barat: A Life, that the stories Sophie knew needed telling by this light were not only stories of their days teaching, but also stories of the deeper experiences those early sisters would have known…from the French Revolution and from the various pandemics of her time, especially cholera and tuberculosis.
And that had me thinking about all the different ways people have gathered to connect during these months–all of the virtual meetings, the phone calls, and yes, the actual letters! All of the checking-in on neighbour, elder, friend…All of the listening. The podcasts we recorded, the blog posts written, the emails full of resources sent and shared with others. The Social Media conversations, the rekindled friendships once thought lost.
And, I thought about my hope for the Society Sophie founded…how I hope we continue this attention to language, to welcoming story in our midst, to welcoming truth and experience that might not be my own, that might open me, challenge me.
Considering all of that, I offered Sophie a commitment to her legacy of word: my own contemporary take on how I’d like to use expression, language, and story to serve, discover, and reveal… and by extension, how I’d like to create space with and for language so that others find welcome for their own stories…truths…hopes…desires…visions…
And whether the measure of my life be short or long, I pray it may it be dense with language…with languages.
The language of inclusion…sweeping vistas of hope and broad benches of welcome at tables laden with enough…if we share.
The language of freedom that speaks of the right to leave that person, place, or situation which is unsafe and settle in a new place to begin anew; Syllables of freedom that write the poetry of reality’s expression—whether hip hop, slam, or sonnet, novel, short story, or tweet. The language of each being made in the image and likeness of God.
The language of dignity that honours the questions and curiosities, the asymmetrical, the quirky, the different, and the not understood; The language of patience and of peaceable disagreement.
The language of beauty, of art and creativity. The language that knows the value of silence, study, space, and contemplation. The language of the inside and of insight…of science and music, sculpture, dance, archeology, math, the language that knows the saving power of a story well-told.
The language of love. Of love, of love, of love. Love that is a difficult honour and the language that is glazed in strength and fired in the light no darkness can overcome. The language that speaks of the good for those in love; that describes the good for the community because they are in love; The language of love that recognizes joy and can sit the night with unfathomable mystery because it never forgets how to imagine sunrise.
Let my language be dense, let it be rich, and let me share the wealth of my Word while I still have my breath…spending it all with as much elegant simplicity as possible.