Mahila - A Story Of Love

महिला गरीबी Mahilā Garībī

I prayed for her when I was 17, having glimpsed something of her sacredness on the feast of St. Anthony of Egypt - go sell everything. Everything! Anthony heard and acted immediately on the Word. As St. Francis did later.  I heard and took my time but  yearned  as I yearn for the sea, as I yearn for God himself and sought her out over the years, associating with many of her companions along the way. But her I did not find for forty or more years. Mahila, Lady Poverty, Sacred Poverty in Person. Beautiful Simplicity.

And then, there she was in a church on a wet January evening when the cold darkness was deep and all pervading.

We didn’t speak at first and not for many an evening. I respected her solitude and her prayer. She respected mine. But in that silence we became part of each other, straining our ears, stretching our souls to grasp the loving whisperings of the Holy Spirit. She spent hours praying, sometimes sleeping like the Little Flower.

There’s the photo of her before her suffering began that reminds us of the loss that she endured. We have all witnessed her suffering. She was once incredibly beautiful, as Grace Kelly was beautiful but the woman in the seat behind me bore little resemblance to the woman of the past. Life ravaged her. Stripped her of all external beauty so that she resembled the Suffering Servant who had no physical beauty to attract. Though that is not completely true because her eyes still sparkled with the unspeakable beauty that she had in her.

One of the beautiful mysteries of life is that we have been created in the image of God - each and every one of us. Her life bore something of that image from conception to birth and life in the world; the colours that she wore, displaying something of the colour, the liveliness that is in God. She walked with confidence, striding through life, striding into the church, a childlike presence in there, a childlike determination.

I feel the loss of her - the loss of not being able to speak to her again or hear her; no longer to see her coming from the blessed sacrament chapel  when she would walk up to where I sit, coming up to speak to me or sometimes just to look at me! Steady eyes! She would go out for a smoke before Mass and wash her hands in preparation for Holy Communion.

Jesus speaks, “as father has loved me so I have loved you. Remain in my love! If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love” (John 15:9). 

Keeping His commandments! One of the commandments of Jesus that we don’t often think about as a commandment is, ”if you want to follow me you must take up your cross every day” and that is what she did. That is a command she lived.  Every day she picked up the cross of her suffering and every day she emerged from her home into the world with the best of her ability and carried her cross into the church, into her prayer, everywhere - to old folks parties, to dance with them, make them happy, bringing great joy

And I would look at her and think, here is a woman carrying a great cross and yet she has the courage to go out there and lift others up. Very, very inspiring for me! Even though there were commandments of God that she could not live by, she certainly lived the two great commandments of suffering and love. Two of the most certain paths to union with God.

As my mother used to say, only Jesus is perfect! The rest of us struggle with something and our journey is to struggle through  life with whatever we are given. We don’t choose the cross, the suffering we have to bear but in bearing it we discover something more precious than gold.

Hidden within the suffering is the mystery of God’s presence, that most kindly of gazes by which we are seen and known. When he looks at her he sees the child he loves with all his heart, the unspeakable love.

I knew her mostly within the clearly defined boundaries of the church, occasionally meeting her outside Cafe Solo in the village, and we loved each other within those boundaries.

Before Christmas she came to me in the sacristy to tell me she was going to her sister for Christmas. And she did what she never did before - she kissed me on the lips. It was the kiss of Lady poverty that I had sought all my adult life. It was the kiss of God.

On my birthday I made a demand for simplicity and solitude. I felt genuinely called to it. She was among those I prayed for in the quiet of a Carmelite Monastery. It was on my birthday that she collapsed into the silence that would never speak again.

She has been released now into the colour of God’s love, the colour and music of it and she will burst out laughing as she does. And she will dance. And all of the prayer she offered carries her home to God, to the fulfillment that her heart has desired, the love that she has needed so badly, that only God can give in the end

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