It is not every day that you hear a story that touches something deep inside of you. That gives you a taste for “church” that matters. Not “church” as just another social obligation or Sunday morning engagement, but “church” when it is working best, as a circle of saints and sinners having been found by and formed for Love. A community of persons whose lives have been knit together by a Love that heals.
Last week I had this privilege when Rev. Becca Stevens spoke to the United Methodist Women’s Circle of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Stevens brought with her two women whose lives have been dramatically transformed by the ministry she founded in 1997 to serve women recovering from lives on the street as prostitutes and drug dealers. “Magdalene House,” as it is called, helps women reintegrate into society through a two-year period of living in intentional community that provides free housing, therapy, medical care, education and employment. Their work, based in Nashville, Tennessee, was featured in a four-part series on NPR earlier this spring.
“I was recently asked whether I saw my role as speaking truth to power,” Stevens began. She went on to dismantle the assumption behind this question- that one who speaks truth to power does not have power to begin with. Her experience had taught her that when women come together in circles- be they the well-coiffed, well-bred United Methodist Circle of women who came to hear Stevens last night, or the women just out of prison, without a penny to their name, rag-tag, and beaten up by life- they possess immense power. And that power is at its heart the capacity to tell a story about Love. Love that transforms lives. Love that in our witness as wives, mothers, neighbors and friends, does indeed change the world one person at a time.
Perhaps most striking about Magdalene is that it models its communal life after the Benedictine Rule, designed by the sixth-century St. Benedict as a way to inculcate fidelity, hospitality, reverence, and love for all humanity, so that “the heart becomes broadened with the unutterable sweetness of love.” The Magdalene sisters have taken and expanded on these Benedictine guidelines for living. Their “Rule of Magdalene” consists of 24 “spiritual principles”:
1. Come Together
2. Proclaim Original Grace
3. Cry With Your Creator
4. Find Your Place in the Circle
5. Think of the Stranger as God
6. Take the Longer Path
7. Make a Small Change and See the Big Difference
8. Let God Sort It Out
9. Stand on New Ground and Believe You Are Not Lost
10. Forgive and Feel Freedom
11. Unite Your Sexuality and Spirituality
12. Show Hospitality to All
13. Laugh at Yourself
14. Consider the Thistle
15. Listen to a New Idea
16. Lose Gracefully
17. Remember You Have Been in the Ditch
18. Walk Behind
19. Live in Gratitude
20. Love Without Judgment
21. Stay on Point
22. Pray for Courage
23. Find Your Way Home
24. Leave Thankfully
You can learn more about Stevens and get acquainted with the women of Magdalene House and their self-sustaining business selling all-natural bath and beauty products at http://thistlefarms.org/.