The Wisdom of the Thistle

AprilBerendsMy friend April is the best Christian I know. She is one of those people whose hearts are naturally compassionate, someone who will be there whenever anyone is in trouble. She will appear with food when someone’s hungry. She will gather a community when we are suffering a loss. She will sleep on the floor of the living room of someone she doesn’t know all that well when that person has lost her spouse and should not be left alone. She doesn’t even seem to wrestle with these acts of kindness, asking if she should, if she can, counting the cost; she just does them because it’s the way she is. (I really hope she doesn’t see this paragraph; I think she’d be mortified.)

One of the ways her thoughtfulness comes out is in her choice of gifts for people. She always chooses something they will like, and she goes out of her way to make sure that it’s fair trade, equitably sourced, or supports a good cause. Which is how I came to receive tea from Thistle Farms last Christmas.

For those of you who don’t know it, Thistle Farms is a social outreach project that supports the work of the Magdalene program, a supportive residential community of women seeking to transition out of prostitution and addiction into a healthy and free way of being. The women themselves work for the company, manufacturing products, packaging and selling them, learning a variety of work skills to support their future life.  (I love it that they mostly make scented beauty products, a clear play on the costly perfume that Mary Magdalene poured out on the feet of Jesus before his death.)

The striking thing about the community is that there are no residential counsellors. Instead, the women are given some staff support, but are trusted to figure out how to create a supportive community on their own. (This is probably one reason it works. When your whole old lifestyle has been based on you thinking that you are dirt, it must be transformative for someone to offer you radical trust.)

For guidance, they are given a set of twenty-four spiritual principles derived from — yes! — the Rule of St. Benedict. (Those of you who follow this blog will know that The Rule is a 6th century monastic rule — surprisingly brief — that is the foundational document of much of Western monasticism. It was written to allow people to live together in community and support one another in seeking Christ. ) The principles offer some good reflection material for Lent, when we are all Magdalenes seeking new life, so here they are. Pray with them, and see what change they bring into your life:

The Rule of Magdalene:

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 HomeUnknown
24. Leave Thankfully

(About the thistle (#14): the author writes that thistles are plentiful in the streets and back alleys where these women used to live. Though considered weeds, they are tough, durable plants that can survive drought and poor soil and produce blossoms of surprising beauty.)

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2 Responses to The Wisdom of the Thistle

  1. Anton Vanterpool II says:

    Thank you for exhibiting this blessed organization. I like to translate Rule 8 to another maxim: “Remember God is in Control.”

  2. Another modern-day application of the wisdom of the Rule of St. Benedict! Thank you for bringing our attention to Thistle Farm.

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