Reflections on the Life of Sr. Clare Lewis from her Poor Clare Sisters
“And God saw that it was good “ (Genesis). But when that goodness reflects a rhythmic movement of ocean waves that wash against the Jamaican shore, or bursts with vitality of a small hurricane, God must have paused in this particular creative process and thoughtfully filled this created being with a vibrant, tender love for all of life. Then God saw that it was very good.This is our Clare, whose goodness touched countless people on her journey through life.
Anyone who spoke to Sr. Clare on the telephone would hear in her warm, welcoming voice, the hint of a Caribbean accent tucked into the refined spoken clarity of a well-educated English teacher. She was descended from a princess of the Ashanti people of Africa and the granddaughter of a Welsh Army officer. Clare was born 10 years after the last of 4 siblings to Jack and Laura Lewis of Kingston Jamaica. Little Madge (Clare) Lewis was small in stature but radiant in the confidence of someone much loved. That elegant confidence fueled her athletic abilities as a high jumper, trained ballerina and one of the first woman to attend St. Bonaventure’s University in Alleghany New York. Clare was truly a trailblazer.
Clare’s father was a committed member of the Lay Franciscans, and Clare from her first days was imbued with the Franciscan spirit and values. This influenced the decision to find a Franciscan University for her. While still attending St. Bonaventure’s University Clare joined the Franciscan Alleghany Sisters and then taught for several years in her native Jamaica. But during these years her longing to enter a contemplative community, romanticized by a devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux, began to grow in earnest. As a member of a Commonwealth country, Clare was advised to seek a contemplative community in Canada. Attracted to the simplicity and poverty of the Poor Clare’s she followed the nudge of the Spirit and wrote to the Poor Clare sisters in Victoria BC. She was pleasantly surprised when the sisters wrote back and invited her to “come and see”.
Sr. Clare fell in love with the small community and their expression of Poor Clare life. As she often said, “the Lord put a veil over my eyes so I could only see how wonderful the sisters were…” The veil apparently lifted after a few years but the community’s love and gratitude for Sr. Clare never left. Open, creative, kind, intelligent, always willing to help or learn something new, Clare was such a gift to the little community.
As warm and welcoming as Clare’s voice was, to meet her in person one could not miss her light step. Clare was our Dancer. She had studied ballet for 12 years in Jamaica and continued to dance into her eighties. Clare would listen to the music and then move, using a unique blend of ballet, folk, modern and reggae steps-whatever the music required. Her dancing wasn’t flashy but had an unfailing grace and a respect for the structure of the music itself. She danced in the chapel, hallways, dining room—anywhere and anytime. Our liturgies were often enlivened by her dance.
An abiding essence of Clare was her joyful, faithful, listening spirit. Clare was genuinely interested in other people, in their stories and their innate goodness. When Clare listened to you, you were her whole focus, you knew you were being heard by her, and not just the words you were using. She seemed to try to pierce deeply into who you were, to understand the essence of who you are before God. She was interested in how you saw Jesus and the world we live in. And always she was seeking out what she referred to as the “kernel of truth”.
People were drawn to her, and she to them, but it was her deep abiding experience of God’s love that overflowed into a joyful, personal encounter with whomever she met. As a travelling companion this could become problematic!
Clare loved to move, but for the last 5 years of her life she was unable to make any voluntary movement of her arms or legs. What does that mean to be a dancer when you can no longer move? How to express her passionate gratitude and love for life and for the author of all life? Perhaps it was a lifetime of responsive and disciplined listening that had prepared her heart to now move in new and hidden ways, listening intently to the faces of those who cared for and visited with her at Cairnsmore, listening to a particular movement of love that can be heard in deep, cruciform stillness. And now—can we imagine her now-moving fully and joyously as she listens to and beholds the One whose love called her into being.
Clare was a woman of prayer and a lover of Jesus. That simple truth permeated her being and held her inner gaze even when her own brilliant mind began to struggle with the effects of dementia. Her spiritual acuity never left her and her ability to “connect”, to convey love always remained in those warm hazel eyes.
Loved by so many and loving to so many, Clare is now, with Love itself….and all is very, very good.