In December of 2007 I wrote a blog, "The Human Side of Prostitution: Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy" reviewing a novel based on a real group of women, "The Sisters of Bethany", a unique Dominican Third Order of the Congregation of Saint Mary Magdalen. These were some wicked unique nuns, women who were previous felons, prostitutes, drug-addicts now committed to Jesus and transforming themselves and their culture. Reviewing Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy was such a pleasure, because I knew behind the fictional story's inspiration were real women living out lives of redemption after imprisonment. But this was all long ago, an order founded in the 1860's in France.
Well, through this new devotional book, Find Your Way Home I have found a modern day group order of women, here in the United States who are very similar to these Sisters of Bethany. Founded in 1997 in Nashville, TN, Magdalene helps women who have come out of lives of prostitution and drug addiction. The women of Magdalene have come out of correctional facilities or the streets, they have survived lives of abuse, prostitution and are experiencing a no cost, safe, disciplined, and compassionate community in which to recover and rebuild their lives.
Magdalene is a two-year residential community founded not just to help culture but to create culture itself. Their story and rule for living is simply written out in Find Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart. This short book was written by the Women of Magdalene with Reverend Becca Stevens, Magdalene's Founding Director in short chapters listing out their 24 Rules for living in community.
As I read through the 24 Rules, inspired by Benedictine values, that govern the women of Magdalene's lives I was reminded of several things.
Ready to Change Themselves and You
First, these are women who have taken the bold step of changing from abused and abusers to daughters of God. Their journey begins and ends with God. They firmly believe that love heals.
When Dale and I were in Seattle last month we visited a homeless shelter that helps men get off the streets. The founding director taught us something significant. He said he often hears men say, "I want to get off the streets." The director, a previous addict himself, will offer commiseration (it IS cold on the streets, isn't it?), he has learned that these words do not mean change is forthcoming. It's only when he hears them say, "I want to change my life," that his ears perk up.
Find Your Way Home holds many first person stories, staccato paragraphs of women who were ready to change their life. I read from their words about the cycle of poverty, how difficult it is for the homeless to forgive others and themselves. One woman admits to being invited to Magdalene multiple times, attracted because women from this groups were giving her bags of toiletries and snacks, treating her, a stranger, with love. "The problem was, I couldn't stay clean. It would take me almost another year to give up the drugs, but I am so thankful God didn't give up on me." This going-the-long-distance love is something most church-attenders and small groups would benefit from experiencing, even if just through reading this short book.
The women's honesty would blow open most nice Bible studies. Let me give you one glimpse in a woman of Magdalene's own words, "I know the sweetness of grief and the feeling of tears against my skin. I also know that I will still sacrifice just about anything to be accepted by a man. But knowing that my body and spirit are connected at least give me permission to treat my body and every other body in the world as a great gift from God."
Embedded Bible Verses
Second, while I found consistent Christian ideas peppered throughout the 24 Rules, I did not find any Bible-quoting nor any mention of Jesus. As an apologist for Jesus I thought this worthy of mention. I began taking note of specific Biblical ideas, delighted to find so many God-honoring, true ideas woven into the Rules for life and stories from women. This was the Bible made flesh in a community of women in Nashville, Tennesee.
Here are a few Bible ideas I found.
- "I have forgiven the man who abused me when I was a child. I can pray for him and hope for wholeness" an incarnation of Jesus' command to love your enemies and pray from them.
- "We are God's children in flesh and spirit" reminiscent of John 1:12-13
- "We give drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, comfort to the sorrowful, clothing to the naked, and companionship to the imprisoned and dying. We wash one another's feet" all commands of Jesus.
- "In loving our neighbors we are meeting God" a version of Matthew 22:39 "love your neighbor as yourself" that feels slightly Hinduistic to me as we are not actually God, but we bear his image.
- "I knew that God had new plans for me" echoing Jeremiah 29:11
- "On my best days I know even this broken mess of a body is a temple of spirit" a version of I Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19 that says our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit.
- My favorite was "we know we are our sister's keepers" a reversal of Cain's avoidance, "Am I my brother's keeper?" in Genesis 4:9.
Setting up a Rule for Living
Third, this book would be a helpful guide for anyone attempting to set up a series of rules for guiding victims of addiction into healthy life. Inspired by the Benedictine rule, the women have developed guidelines for living with proven working power as they are the guide for everyday interaction and deep-seated community among the Women of Magdalene. Some of the 24 Rules particularly welcome to me like, "Unite Your Sexuality and Spirituality" a much-needed Jewish truth that we are made to be embodied souls, "Consider the Thistle", and "Walk Behind." The personal stories of women from Magdalene are proof that women are finding change, as one woman wrote, "It is not a problem to be lost. It is only a problem if you think it is impossible to find your way home."
Overall, Find Your Way Home made me very glad. Here is a group of women finding hope to leave addiction and find a home, a community, worthy work and meaning in their lives. If you're interested in helping the Women of Magdalene open more homes, you can buy this book as all the proceeds go to Magdalene, or you can visit their ingenious Thistle Farms, a non-profit company where women of Magdalene make all-natural body-healing products. I mean if you've every bought Bath and Body Works, you have to check them out. I've just put in my first order.
Next time I travel to Tennessee, I want to visit Thistle Farm named for that often overlooked flower that blooms where most would die.