She shared with us her fascinating story of “seeds” of monastic interest planted early and often during her life, which blossomed as her deepening association with the Benedictine Women of Madison and her eventual taking of Benedictine vows as a member of the Holy Wisdom Monastery, who is also an ordained Presbyterian Minister of the Word and Sacrament. It’s not a story we hear every day. And yet — as a story of providence, of call, of deepening dedication to “stability, obedience, and conversion of life,” of the importance of community, of mission — Lynne’s story echoes and adds dimensions to story after story we listen to around and through the Women’s Center at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. So, while Lynne’s fascinating story is not common, it’s also not exactly strange or unfamiliar. More than one person in the group perked up and came up with “reformed and always being reformed” when Lynne mentioned the Benedictine commitment to “conversion of life.”
We completely lost track of time listening to Lynne; it was already 2:00 before we noticed most of us were late for various other appointments! There were so many themes to explore in this story: the nature of life in community; the challenges of “doing a new thing” communally within the hierarchy of the ecclesial organization (Roman Catholic Church) that oversees the life of the order; the order’s work of environmental restoration and education (their work includes restoring about 10 acres of mixed tall- and short-grass prairie annually); the history of the community’s answer to the call to become an ecumenical community . . .
Two aspects of Lynne’s story particularly impressed me. One was that the efforts she described of the Benedictine Women to pursue their community’s call provide a rigorous model of feminism in an often rigidly patriarchal context. It’s a model of feminist action quite different from the stereotypic imaginary picture of 70’s-style banner-toting demonstration-holding feminists, but it is not one iota less feminist, or radical — in fact, in some ways, perhaps more so. This striking example of the “multiple models of feminism” principle seemed especially profound and valuable. The second was that the project of becoming and sustaining an ecumenical monastic community constitutes precisely the project of living with undissolved, unflattened out, productive difference that our world so desperately needs models of and practice in. In both of these ways, it seems to me, the Benedictine Women of Madison are on the front lines, and calling to us to listen and do likewise where we live.
I hope we will have further opportunities for conversation with Lynne Smith and this remarkable community! So far, the conversation has been extraordinarily valuable for those who were able to participate in it.