On the pilgrim way: ‘My wise guide is moving to Belgium’
Sheila Maxey finds God does not recognise retirement
Sister D – the wonderful, wise nun who has been my guide for more than 20 years – is moving to new responsibilities in Belgium, although she is well into her 70s. On first being told, I just felt desolate.
She had accompanied me through the long old age and then death of my parents, through the birth of my many grandchildren, and through the challenges of my working and retirement years. She helped me recognise my negative and judgmental tendencies and to discover the lightness of heart which comes from God. Every two months I would spend a night at the convent – a precious escape from ordinary life, lots of silence, an hour with Sister D, and evening prayer with the community.
However – challenging me to the end – she asked me for my plans for future spiritual accompaniment. I tentatively suggested that perhaps I did not need it any more, at my age. Even as I said the words, I knew I would be firmly put right. God does not observe a retirement age – nor do my negative tendencies. She turned my thoughts firmly to the future. What did I most value about my time at the convent? I expected the one word ‘you’ to come out of my mouth (accompanied by tears) – but it didn’t. I realised that the journey to the convent, that sense of getting away from ordinary life, was important. I realised, too, that after all these years, I actually felt part of the community. They welcome me – mainly without words – especially into their evening prayer and the sharing of Communion. Sister D then offered me a new guide, who would be coming from Belgium to take her place. Something in me shifted. I thought I might, after all, be able to welcome the new.
This is the season for new shoots – my garden is full of them after all this rain. But the trouble with new shoots is that one really does not know just what the flower will be like, or even whether there will be a flower this year. There is so much risk involved. I don’t know if I will take to the new guide – or she to me.
There are one or two ‘new shoots’ in our local church life too. Will they work out? My husband Kees and I are planning a brief visit, by train, to my remaining German cousins, aged 83, 86, 88 and 92. As I book the tickets and write to tell my cousins about our visit, my negativity kicks in: I wonder whether they will all still be alive in May and whether they would really welcome a visit? But to my delight, they are all up for it – phoning to say that the dates are in the diary and how cheered they are by the prospect.
I will miss Sister D so much – her friendship as well as her guidance. But she was right to challenge me to move on – and, typically, she offered me some pointers for the way. My step is the lighter for that.
Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform
This article was published in the March 2018 edition of Reform