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Prayer that changes lives

Kaitlyn Fasso-Opie  |  14 October 2019

Contemplative life isn’t about cutting oneself off from the world, but engaging spiritually with the world, says Mother Hilda Scott from Jamberoo Abbey.

Mother Hilda Scott has been in charge of Jamberoo Abbey, on the south coast of New South Wales, for less than 12 months.

Sworn in as Abbess of the enclosed Benedictine order of nuns in February 2019, Mother Hilda is no stranger to the public. She joined the Sisters of Mercy aged 19, and later became known to the nation through the ABC television series The Abbey, which aired back in 2007.

Humble, and quick witted, she loved working with children as a teacher in her early life, before feeling a pull towards the Benedictine order. The role as abbess of Jamberoo Abbey involves the pastoral care of 25 sisters, of all ages. The most senior member of the enclosed community is 92, and the youngest member is 33.

‘In the Rule of St Benedict, the abbess’ role is to be a shepherd and that means getting to know everyone on a different level, taking them on board lock, stock and barrel’, she says.

‘I have to adapt myself to everybody’s character and disposition – it’s not the easiest thing on the planet, but it’s a real privilege.’

Praying with people’s pain

It was the early 1990s when Mother Hilda, now 69, first joined the Benedictine Order, which observes ‘a gentle, prayerful and loving silence,’ in line with the Rule of St Benedict.

‘Something in me had always wanted a deeper life in God’, she says. ‘At 41, I couldn’t squash it, no matter what I  did, so I got all the relevant permissions and went off to Jamberoo.’

There she found that the life of an active religious and the life of an enclosed nun was totally different. 

‘This way of life suits me down to the ground’, Mother Hilda says. ‘Although out in the community I could certainly make a difference in people’s lives – change them from the outside in, and I could give them joy for half an hour – the things that hurt people, that could never change.’

Mother Hilda found that as an enclosed nun, she could be spiritually at the forefront of people’s lives. ‘At what’s actually at the centre of what makes people hurt… we’re there in the centre with them, in the church, praying’, she says. ‘There are no distractions and, (as Benedictine nuns) we can’t run away from the stuff that hurts. We’ve got to stay with it. We believe it changes people.’

A mystic life

Mother Hilda says every nun has a different way of praying. She herself has a special affinity with children in her prayer.

‘We believe we take the place of all mankind. We are whoever is hurting, there and then. Some nuns are aware of drug addicts, others are more drawn to people living on the streets. We just keep praying.’

But prayer is not necessarily a matter of saying words. Mother Hilda believes God is in constant communication with every one of us. 

‘If you think about a blade of grass  – if God ceases communication with that blade of grass, it ceases to exist’, she says. ‘When I choose to say the rosary, or read the Bible, or sing a psalm, I’m going online. Anything that is human, is prayer.’

While a contemplative life is not necessarily for everyone, mysticism, defined as ‘the desire of the human soul towards an intimate union with the Divinity’, can be found in everyday life, according to Mother Hilda.

‘For me, contemplation and mysticism are the same thing’, she says.

‘Some think that contemplation is sitting on a mountain top, with your legs crossed going ‘om’. Or being in an alternative state, being taken out of yourself. Mysticism for me, is simply an awareness of the presence of God – and being taken into the presence of God. When I’m in a state of mysticism, I’m with God.’

Being open to God

An example of this is a trip Mother Hilda took to Cairns in 2010, to give a speech on prayer. Her hosts graciously offered to show her around.  

‘When we got there, there were signs saying “that way to New York, that way to London”’, she says.

‘I began thinking, “oh yeah, I remember being in New York” and started thinking about the time I spent in America. And then the people I had met in London. And then I saw a sign pointing in the direction of New Guinea. Immediately, I thought not of a “what” but of a “who”. A very
dear friend who’s a missionary there. As I started thinking about this friend of mine, I started thinking about our long years of friendship. Thinking of that friendship gave presence to the relationship, and actually being present to my friend. Anything has the power if we are open to it, to make us aware of the presence of God.’

Mother Hilda says unfortunately, many people have a tendency to get lost in what they actually know.

‘It’s like Jesus and the wildflowers’, she says. ‘Many people only saw the wildflowers. But Jesus says: “In my Father’s eyes, you’re more beautiful than the wildflowers”. Jesus was in a constant state of mysticism.’

Mother Hilda encourages young people to get to know God, and to understand that bad things don’t have to crush one’s spirits.

‘Talk to Him, even if you feel silly… include Him in everything. And one bright day,
you will discover just how much God loves you’, she says. ‘God will walk over, and does walk over, cut glass for us. So tie yourself up, within the incredible knowledge of His love.’

 

 

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