It needed ten days – to begin to discover who and what this remarkable woman was!
How wonderful it was to be together with RSCJ and Colleagues from the four corners of the globe – a truly international experience for all of us. The free days between the Academic Conference and the Seeking Spirit Conference were very welcome for those of us who were in London for both of these. The outing to Cottesmore – the place of Janet’s birth and early years – was a different and most valuable way of walking in her footsteps, when we were able to hear about and read of her direct lineage from the Scottish Kings (hence the Erskine which her father chose as her second name), as well as seeing the family grave where Janet stood at the age of six to expect her mother to come forth from, as Lazareth came out of his tomb at Jesus’ command.
Janet was an extraordinary woman, gifted intellectually but with a gentleness and natural kindness which endeared her to all whom she met. Her background and upbringing made her responsive to the love of God, as she lived in the beautiful Rutland countryside where the natural world was cherished. Her great powers of observation are evident in all her words and writings, and she was able to extract the hidden gold which most of us do not see or take the time to notice or extract.
Some of the insights which the days at the Conferences have helped me to become aware of are:
Her lesson drawn from a rough sea crossing. At the end of a letter written to the Roehampton community, she says “If the sea of life is angry and troublesome for our navigation, we shall bear in mind that the harbour lights will surely appear one day, perhaps soon, and we shall be in port.”
Having once dreaded being cooped up in 33 acres at Roehampton, the world was her acreage. During her travels, she became keenly aware of her new surroundings, drawing lessons for life from these insights and sharing them with others. She always loved to teach, as she herself tells us, and to help others on life’s journey was second nature to her.
She was struck when she visited a class of children in a school in Japan, by the silence before the class began, when the children were encouraged to be still. How she would have drawn valuable lessons for our modern schools where our pupils have such need for this quietness.
She is a person who teaches us a great deal about prayer. Having struggled with various methods of praying during her early years in the Society, she later knew that her patient waiting at the feet of Christ was her best prayer. Towards the end of her life she rejoiced when, having waded out to the deep in prayer, she felt the Lord lifting her up so that no more effort was needed on her part, but only joy and consolation in His Presence.
From a person who might have experienced depression at times, she conquered that tendency in herself. I listened to her inspiring words: “The higher we want to fly, the greater the risk, but that is the glorious part of it. The great uncertainties in which we trust God, the breathless risks we run, with no assurance but our great trust in God, that seems to me to be the essence of our life and its beauty. This will grow upon you, you will get your balance in the risk and get to love it.”