Once upon a time, long ago across the sea, there was a woman whose name was Wisdom. True to her name, she had grown wise beyond her years, for she had been born of Fire. Since she continually drew life from Fire, her face and her heart had a glow that warmed everyone who knew her.
One day, a friend came to Wisdom with a message. He told her that on a snow-capped mountaintop, many days journey away, at the far end of the kingdom, someone awaited her.
The people of the mountaintop held the Waiting One in scorn. They declared her to be very foolish – a dreamer of dreams. Odd. Everyone knew that she had squandered her family fortune to buy a drafty old mansion. She dreamt of rekindling a hearth there, but those who came to share her dream quickly left. The townsfolk whispered among themselves that the Dreamer deserved her fate. Who could live with her? They called her, “The Solitary One.”
The Solitary One remained in the drafty old mansion, hoping against hope for the melting of the mountain snows, and the coming of Spring. One bitterly cold December afternoon, the Wind whistled through the long bare corridors of the old mansion on the mountain with a lonely sigh. The Solitary One sighed with it, “How long?” It had become a refrain for her. But she sang it bravely back to the Wind, and hoped against hope.
That very day, something wonderful happened. A carriage stopped in front of the mansion. The ancient door of oak resounded with a gentle but persistent knocking. The Solitary One opened the door, and a young woman crossed the threshold. She was slightly built, but full of life, with a glow about her, a quickness – like a cheerful fire, burning in the hearth. The Solitary One wept for joy. She fell at the feet of young Wisdom, and kissed them.
“How beautiful on the mountaintops are the feet of those who bring tidings of peace!” she exclaimed. Suddenly, though the Wind continued to blow through the old mansion, the place was filled with amber sunlight.
Years passed. The Solitary One, warmed by the same Fire as young Wisdom, began to grow wise herself. She continued to dream great dreams. Now that her mountaintop had become a glowing hearth once more, she dreamt of a people far across the sea, calling to her on the voice of the Wind. In fact, she dreamt of people all across the world, and night after night, she heard their cries.
Young Wisdom listened tenderly and often to Solitude’s dream, for she shared it. She blessed the Dreamer, smiled tenderly, and said, “Not yet. When the time is right, we will know. We will see it in the Firelight. For now, you must wait.”
So, once again, Solitude waited. She did not always wait patiently. But she cared for her dream right there at home. She was the first to arise in the morning, and the last to retire at night, and all day long she did her best to tend the Fire. But at night she was free. Her heart went on long journeys, and with the help of the Wind, she spread the Fire to the four corners of the earth.
Another mystery, akin to this, began to unfold in Solitude’s loving heart. The more she learned from Wisdom, the more Solitude’s heart was filled with people. After some years, there were thousands. Some of them she had met in person. But most- by far the majority – she had known in the light of the Fire that burned within her. It had become so strong a flame that she kept begging Wisdom to let her go to the land of her dreams, lest she die of waiting. She sang again to the Wind: “How long?” Finally, one day, Wisdom granted her friend’s request. She blessed her with a strong and beautiful blessing – the same as the blessing given to incense: “May you be blessed by the One in whose honor you shall be consumed.”
The blessing burned deep in Solitude’s heart. She was already feeling a bit old when she and her friends brought the Fire across the sea in a rickety boat. Five years later, she felt ancient. She wrote to Wisdom, “My hair is grey, I have no teeth, and my hands are roughened by weather and work.” More to the point, Solitude seemed to grow poorer and poorer with age. Most of her beautiful dreams were broken beyond repair. It was not easy, that land beyond the sea.
Years passed again and she grew old and tired and patient. Her heart yearned for a word from Wisdom, her friend, but the voice on the Wind was silent. She felt abandoned and useless. But, on Spring days, one dream yet stirred in her heart, a dream like a glowing ember, almost banked in ashes. The people who lured her across the sea called her still. She would go to them once before she died.
The journey was long, and it almost finished her. She could not speak to those she loved. So she spent her days before the Great Fire, and warmed them all with the Flame that consumed her. And they saw the Fire in her eyes when she looked at them. And they felt the Fire in her trembling old hands when she blessed their children. And they watched the Fire glow in her as she came and went. And they knew that she was not really Solitary. For they themselves, and many to come, were all her children.
So, they gave Solitude a new name. They called her “The Woman Who Always Prays.” They knew that she was blessed the Fire that consumed her. And they knew that they were blessed by that very same Fire.
One day, at the end of her journey, Solitude breathed her last. The Wind of the plains took up her breath. It sang for joy in the oak trees of many lands, lighting the fire again and again. Even to this very day.
Rose Marie Quilter, RSCJ
July 1, 1987