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Alone with God

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about Sr Laura, who was Professed on the day M. Lavinia, our foundress, died (see Committed, 6th March 2023).  Back then, I did not know the exact circumstances of M. Lavinia’s death: the time of day, whether it was expected or not and so on. Now, I do. I’ve been doing some research on the Community Archives, and came across a piece in East and West, the Community magazine we published at the time. We knew she had died in Aldeburgh. I can now confirm that she had gone there on the advice of a medical friend, intending to stay some weeks in the hopes of regaining her strength (she was suffering from cancer, and unable to do much physically). The expectation and intention was that she would return home to Ditchingham. Where exactly in Aldeburgh she stayed, I do not know, but the article says that she loved the sea, although she was too ill to go out. I hope she was within sight of the sea, or at least able to benefit from sea air. About two weeks into her stay, she became ill, although at first this wasn’t considered serious. Once the danger was realised, her relations were summoned, as were more Sisters (presumably at least one Sister would have gone with her), but she became unconscious almost as soon as the danger was realised, and they arrived too late for conscious recognition. On the evening of June 26th, those who loved her best watched by her bed; gradually, her strength gave way; with an expression of deepest peace on her face, she died. The article says, in relation to this moment, that “as in life she had loved to be, such she was in leaving it – alone with God. He whom she loved and served took her in his arms and hushed her to sleep”.


This does, of course, answer some of the questions raised in my earlier blog: the Sisters certainly knew that M. Lavinia was dying when Sr Laura was professed, although it is likely she died after the profession, as we now know M. Lavinia died in the evening. (At one stage, professions took place in the evening, but I think later than this). Nevertheless, it must have affected the profession day, the death of the Foundress being a monumental occasion in the history of the Community. But it is not that which I wish to write about. Firstly, I want to draw your attention to that account of M. Lavinia’s death: the sense that God “took her in his arms and hushed her to sleep.” Each death bed is different, the causes are many, and each has its’ own unique circumstances and possible complications. Yet that sense that God holds us, is with us as we are dying seems to me (given that I have no direct experience of dying) an important one to remember. M. Lavinia both loved and served her God, and it’s possible we may feel that we don’t quite match up. But that, I think, can be ignored. I am sure that, when the time comes, God will also be present to us, and hold us through those last moments of our present life. As we let go of all we have known and done, as that process of letting go continues until all that we are left with is God - God will be enough.


What also struck me from this account is that quote: “as in life she had loved to be, so she was in leaving it – alone with God”; and I wonder if that brings us something to ponder on as we begin Lent. It’s possible that not all of us love to be alone with God, as M. Lavinia did. God may give us total unconditional love, but that does not mean we are always entirely comfortable alone in that Presence. It can feel a very naked place to be, accustomed as we are to hiding from ourselves and our neighbours, let alone God (who does, after all, know what we are hiding). But I wonder if this Lent could give us the space to spend more time in God’s presence; time to allow ourselves to become used to the safety of being known by the God who loves us. The God who does not criticize or shame us, although also the God who will, when necessary, convict us of getting things wrong, of being a sinner. Which is, of course, something we may want to hide from. How this time with God happens, and how much space you have to give to it, I don’t know; that is a matter for each individual.


Lent is an appropriate season to spend extra time ‘alone with God’, although exactly how that ‘alone-ness’ looks will differ according to each person. But it is in being alone with God when, hopefully, we can become accustomed to the fact that God loves us; that, although we have done wrong, we are not shamed for that. Listening to the second chapter of Genesis being read in church the other Sunday, the last line struck me: Adam and Eve were naked and they were not ashamed. Come the third chapter, and the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they discover they are naked, and cover themselves up. It is then that they hide from God, walking in the garden. It is then that shame and hiding come into the lives of human beings; it can be that sense of shame that brings us to hide ourselves away. It is important to remember that God does not shame us, as human beings do; that God took Adam and Eve and clothed them. I am not suggesting that we can learn to become totally open to God during this Lent; that is a process and one that can take some time, if not an entire lifetime. I am suggesting that we take some time to look at how we are with God, and how we can become more open – or, at least, less closed – with God. That we can start to learn that any sense of shame we may feel does not come from the God who loves us; that we can start to see if the god we follow is indeed the God of Love, not a false god we may have been mis-taught or invented; that we can, during this Lent, become accustomed to the God who is holding us, gently holding us, throughout our good times and our bad times. Almost the last articulate words from M. Lavinia were ‘pardon’ and ‘Father’; she knew who she was and to whom she was going; may we use this Lenten season to draw more closely to the same.

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