Maria Boulding was one of the finest exemplars of the Benedictine monastic life, and a Christian spirit of quite rare depth and insight. I first came across her in the 1980's when I was reading avidly around the Rule of Benedict, and writing a paper on "Baptists, Benedict and the Blessing of Community". Her autobiographical essay in the volume of edited essays, A Touch of God, is a carefully considered and honest estimate of her own formation within monastic community. She writes of the life we live and know as the reverse side of the tapestry, a metaphor I fully understand. My own tapestries are likewise viewed from two sides, and it's a matter of care to keep the reverse side as neat as possible - but it never shows the real beauty, subtlety and definition of the true side. We all have our twisted threads, unintended knots, evidence of short-cuts and partially hidden flaws.
Over the years I've read each of her best known books, all of them more than once. Prayer in the Easter Christ remains one of the clearest explorations of what it means to live an Easter life, and to use the word Easter as a verb that means to look on the world through the lens of the Cross and Resurrection, the realities of Divine Love and the gift of Divine life. The Coming of God is as biblical an account of Advent as there is, and again the book is replete with theological and spiritual thoughtfulness about the kind of God who comes, in Christ. Gateway to Hope is a book about failure which is pastorally sound, sympathetic, but never colludes with self-pity or the paralysis of mind and heart that failure can trigger. Her translation of Augustine'sConfessions has made that masterpiece accessible to generations now impatient with Victorian or highly stylised translations.
Dame maria Boulding died in december 2009, and in her last months wrote her final book, Gateway to Resurrection. In it she takes stock of what remained important and central in her life and faith, and for her it is summed up in her experience of the Risen Christ. I've just bought this book, which will go with me soon on a break when I don't want to do a lot of reading, but need a wise, familiar and understanding conversation partner. The obituary published in The Times is an affectionate and generous account of a remarkable woman who took particular care that the reverse side of the tapestry was as neat as patient skill and constant discipline over detail will make it. Click the link below.