Gertrude the Great (1256 – c. 1302) was a German Benedictine nun at the monastery of St. Mary at Helfta. She was a mystic who was known for her devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus. Among her written works is a collection of Spiritual Exercises.
A few weeks ago we saw a comparison of the soul to a housewife by the Flemish nun Beatrijs of Antwerp. Gertrude the Great brings us another striking image. Although Gertrude was especially devoted to the sacred heart of Jesus, the Lord instructed her not to forget the other parts of his body. In the Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude, there follows an unusual account of Jesus’ body as a spiritual monastery.
A nun in Gertrude’s monastery writes:
One day, while she was singing Vespers, the Lord said to Gertrude:
Behold My Heart,—let it be your temple; then go through the other parts of My Body, and arrange for the other parts of a monastery wherever it seems best to you; for I desire that My sacred Humanity should henceforth be your cloister. . . .
Then Gertrude, obeying the commands of God, chose the Feet of her Spouse for her lavatory; His Hands for her work-room; His Mouth for her reception-room, or chapter-room; His Eyes for her school, in which she could read; and His Ears for her confessional.
I confess that I would never have thought of a lavatory in relation to Christ’s body. Call me crazy, but it just wouldn’t occur to me.
However, I love this passage in the Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude because it is such a beautiful image of intimacy. We draw from it the lesson that wherever we go, we can always be spiritually enclosed — housed, sheltered, protected. I think it helps us inhabit the biblical idea that our life is in Christ. Think about it — if Christ is our cloister, our shelter, then we are always in him. We are always just where we should be. We are always home.
Can you imagine making Christ’s humanity your cloister or shelter today?