Thistle Farming

Continuing from my post about Rev. Becca Stevens and Thistle Farms and Magdalene House (read that post here), last night I read a book written by women from Magdalene and others called Find Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart.  At the end of the book, there is a page called "To Help."  "If this book inspires you to help," it says, "here are a few suggestions."  One of the suggestions is to suggest the book to friends, colleagues, etc and to write a review of the book on your blog.

"Hah, I have a blog!" I thought.  And so here is my review.

To sum up the "About Magdalene" section in the back of the book: Magdalene House is a two-year residential and support community for women coming out of jail or off the streets who have survived an average of 100 arrests and ten years of living with abuse, prostitution and drug addiction.  Magdalene offers these women a safe, disciplined, compassionate community in which they can live for two years without cost while they recover and rebuild their lives.  Many of them find work and support through the work of Thistle Farms, a non-profit company run by the women.  Thistle Farms produces healing bath and body products that you can buy online or through various retail outlets such as book stores and Whole Foods.  I am a fan of these products.

"The organization stands in solidarity with women who are recovering from sexual abuse, violence, and life on the streets, and who have paid dearly for a culture that buys and sells women like commodities.  Magdalene stands as a witness to the truth that in the end, love is more powerful than all the forces that drive women to the streets," explains Becca Stevens, the Episcopal priest who is the founding director of Magdalene House.  She says in some of her other writings that water moves huge rocks and thistle flowers break through concrete and that's how she knows that love is the most powerful force there is.

The Magdalene community is a place of healing and grace and the women live in houses together without any clinical staff.  Instead they follow a Rule, inspired by the Benedictine Rule of Life, and come into the program as initiates helped by older sisters.  Then they become postulants and can make some decisions for themselves, still with the guidance of the second year women who are novitiates and then candidates.  After two years, they graduate to become Sisters of Magdalene.

Each chapter of Find Your Way Home states and briefly expounds on one of the twenty-four rules of the Rule and then offers two or three very short contributions from women in the community (some of them interns or volunteers, most of them residents).  The Rule(s) includes Proclaim Original Grace, Lose Gracefully, Remember you have Been in the Ditch, Show Hospitality to All, Stand on New Ground and Believe that You are not Lost, Let God Sort it Out, Love without Judgment, Stay On Point.

What a difference from the kinds of "rules" we see posted everywhere (including in our churches).  Don't do this, don't do that, quit using the pens, leave the thermostats alone!  It is clear that the women must be accountable (and they must be actively working on their recovery), but the place from which all flows out is love and acceptance and hospitality and kindness.  The focus is on healing.  As it should be - we are talking about women who have been spent ten years doing all they knew how to do - which for them was usually getting high - to numb themselves from the pain of their lives, pain which often started with rape or molestation by "trusted" adults like parents, relatives, church friends.

One woman writes that while she was still on the streets, a woman from Magdalene came to her and offered her a soda and a bag of chips along with a place to rest if she ever got tired. The Sister came to her times, and finally one day the woman crossed the street, knocked on the Magdalene House door, and started her new life.  She left two years later, clean and sober, with an apartment, a full-time job, and a car.  She said, "It all started with someone offering me a bag of chips."

One rule is called "Cry with Your Creator," and here one of the contributers wrote:

"I was homeless, standing in the rain with nowhere to go but in a car with a trick.  I was sickly skinny, and my hair was falling out.  I was filthy, I had lost my front teeth, and my clothes were dirty.  I hadn't seen my family in twelve years.  I will never forget just standing at the edge of Dickerson Road with tears running down my face.  Somebody help me."  (Find Your Way Home, p. 24)

This one really got to me.  I by the time I read the last sentence, tears were running down my face as well.  I thought about how God heard the cries of the people in captivity in Egypt, how God heard the cries of the people in captivity in Babylon and saved them with a mighty arm.   And I thought about how in abusive situations the abuser always tells the victim that "nobody will hear your cries."  I thought about how mean Christians (how else can I put it?) love to say that the Bible says that God will not hear the cries of the wicked, and how those words are used against the powerless (so often women and children), to make them believe that they, the powerless, are the wicked one instead of their abusers, those who, as Amos says, sell people for a pair of sandals.

I hope you will keep the women of Magdalene House (and the interns and volunteers) in your prayers.  I hope if you find Thistle Farms products in your area you will buy them (or order them online).  I hope you'll read some of the books about and by the women.  I hope that you will be moved by these stories of the least of these and that your being moved will help you remember that ultimately the point of being a Christian is not "right worship" or "correct doctrine" or making sure you get to heaven, but to find the strength to pull somebody out of the ditch.


Thanks for the wonderful post! We've put a link on our Facebook page so others will get to see it to. We truly appreciate your words and support. Love, from the women of Thistle Farms
You're more than welcome! I'm a big fan of Thistle Farms and want others to know about and support you, too. Thanks for letting me know you were here and directing others to the post.