She was witty, poetic, deeply insightful, self-deprecating, widely read, charming, intelligent. It’s hard to pay adequate honor to Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB who died April 24 at age 80 of brain cancer. She laughingly referred to the “Dead Blog Cemetery” since she didn’t post regularly on her website, http://macrinawiederkehr.com/. But even a dip into its treasures reveals a woman of vast interests and deep seeking. As she says there, “My hunt is for the great Source of Life we call God. My hunt is for meaning and purposeful living.”
Most people will know her from her writing: spiritual classics like Seven Sacred Pauses, A Tree Full of Angels, Seasons of Your Heart, The Song of the Seed and Gold in Your Memories. In the most recent, The Flowing Grace of Now, she asks God: “protect me from congealing. Plant deep in my heart an intense desire to be flexible, bendable and always open to your transforming breath.” She corrects the misconception of faith as an unyielding stone pillar, and offers as some of 52 teachers: Christ’s energy alive in you, your need for healing, joy in another’s good fortune, the things you’re reluctant to see and hear, curiosity, the hem of God’s garment. These and other teachers make a formidable faculty, for the small tuition of $16.95 and deliberate time to reflect.
Other fortunate people met Macrina through her retreats. There, she kept us laughing so much we quickly realized there wasn’t a pompous, pious bone in her body. She’d welcome by saying that lots of stuff comes with people on a retreat, including anxiety or grief. “OK to bring it,” she’d say briskly. “But let it know it’s not in charge.” Quickly she corrected any idealized notions of community life, admitting she’d easily be capable of murdering another sister.
On a deeper level, she taught how time could be organized in a Benedictine frame. Putting everything in order, she adapted the Liturgy of the Hours to fit contemporary life, seeing it as seven sacred pauses through the day and night. Time, through her lens, wasn’t an enemy to battle, but a loving companion. With her soft Arkansas voice, she persuaded us, sleepy and bleary-eyed, to sit in silence before a picture window and watch the gradual increments of dawn. Rather than waiting with impatience, we could transform that time to vigil, seeing where we need to pay attention in the larger mystery of our lives. What part of the mosaic of life do I need to bend over and bless, saying “holy, holy, holy”? “Each day calls us to a beautiful task,” she’d encourage. “What is it? How do I turn each day into prayer?” Through poetry, music, scripture and humor, she filled us with rich “nourishment and gladness.” (Acts 14:18)
She warned us of obstacles—not the usual platitudes, but virtue, which trips us up, blocks the path to Jesus more than failure. Inner voices saying “you’re not enough” cripple us, rob us of vision. And best of all, she gave us a motto I’ve repeated in countless publications and talks:
“I will believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.”