‘Be Still And Know I Am God’

An interview with Sister Cynthia Mary

Q. As a child, you did a fair bit of travelling around. Was that because of your Father’s work? Can you tell us some of the places you lived?

sister cynthia I was born in Roma where my parents were starting a sheep and cattle property. Two years later, however, my father enlisted in the AIF, in which he served for six years. My mother and we two children followed him around the various army camps. We spent some time in Brisbane, then went back out west, where I started school by correspondence. When I was six, my parents sold the property and we moved to Melbourne, then to Seymour, near the big army camp at Puckapunyal in northern Victoria. Eventually we returned to Brisbane. After my father was discharged from the army, we bought a farm near Maryborough. When I was 19, my family moved again, this time to Cairns.

Q. After school, you went to the University of Qld to study medicine. Why did you leave that to enter Carmel?

I was very satisfied with my studies in Med. and life at Duchesne University College. I tried to lead some sort of spiritual life, with daily Mass - on the premises, so no real effort - and some spiritual reading. It was through reading Thomas Merton’s book ‘Elected Silence’ I became convinced that God was calling me to a contemplative life, so I applied to enter the Carmelites, as they were the only contemplatives I knew.

Q. You have always been excited about the changes brought about by Vatican II, and particularly by the Church’s new understanding of law. Can you explain it to us?

Since the Reformation, the Church had become very legalistic and caught in structures, so that the spirit which should have been the animating force in the Church’s life was stifled. The Spirit was always there, but the Spirit’s voice could hardly be heard. Vatican II returned the Church to the scriptural understanding that the New Law written in our hearts is the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5). So the law is essentially spiritual and the norms which guarantee some order and coherence to our daily living must always be at the service of the spiritual principles which govern our laws. There is an ever-present human tendency to find security in doing rather than following the lead of the Spirit to being and becoming.

Q. During our community periods of quiet prayer each day, an hour morning and evening, you avail of the option to spend that time down at ‘Carith’, the remotest part of our grounds, overlooking the bay. Would you share with us something about your prayer?

I find the whole atmosphere conducive to stillness and an awareness of the presence of God, and I try to remain in that presence of Mystery by repeating the name of Jesus, sometimes with variations, sometimes peacefully, sometimes a cry from the depths of dejection. I never find it helpful to read. I just want to be still or open to stillness: “Be still and know that I am God”. In recent years I have written some poetry of sorts, and most of the inspiration comes from and is filtered through this place of God’s presence in nature.

Q. At present you are studying towards a Bachelor of Theology with the Catholic Correspondence Centre in Sydney. Do you see reading and study as important for living the contemplative life today?

I do, as it broadens a person’s outlook and opens her to all the strands of thinking in the Church, and to some extent, the wider world. While there is no need to be an authority on this, there is need to be exposed to it, to be aware of legitimate diversity and the richness it brings, and to be aware, likewise, of the need for dialogue and tolerance in listening to other traditions and to others in the Church. For me, doing a course such as this is a way to focus one’s reading and is a good discipline.

Q. What would you say to a young person who is serious about his or her faith and realises the importance of prayer for uplifting society?

St. Teresa says that when we are trying to come closer to God, it is very important to have the support of like-minded friends. So I would recommend joining with others for regular ‘lectio divina’ - praying the Word of God together. This will change you so that you become a leaven in society, whether in a quiet way, or whether in a more active way, if you are drawn to that.
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