IT’S 4.30am, six days out of seven, and 30 dedicated souls have already begun their work on behalf of the world.
No, it’s not the Hadron Collider but something infinitely more valuable – a community of Benedictine nuns gathering at prayer to intercede with God for us.
Only an engaging personality could make such a regimen sound remotely appealing yet somehow Sr Hilda Scott achieves it.
Sr Hilda came to be known as the warm soul wisely shepherding five lay people through 30 days of monastic life in ABC TV’s documentary The Abbey.
In July she is bringing her prayer insights and practices to Brisbane for Pray2010.
She describes the Benedictine sisters’ charism as the seeking of God through prayer and hospitality.
“We believe utterly that everything that happens in our life gets taken to God, and it does somebody out there some good that there are people praying for them,” she said.
“You might well ask what person in their right mind gets up at 4am but somebody is about to start a day that is going to change their life, and maybe they don’t even know about God, or have a clue about recourse to a higher power.
“Therefore we take their place before God, and in our understanding, the grace that comes through to us is redirected and goes straight out to them.
“It’s a bit like deciding not to burn a plastic bag.
Nobody really knows about it, but the world is better off by a very small amount.
“Because we live the life that we do, in prayer and constantly giving absolutely everything over to God, we believe the world is better off.”
The eldest of six children and Sydney born and bred, it is not surprising that Sr Hilda was drawn to religious life.
She describes both parents as being firm in their faith.
“In some respects my parents’ was an undemonstrative faith, but Mass of course was a regular on Sundays and their individual prayer was something I know they did and stood by.
“My father was a very big man and I have recollections of him kneeling beside his bed. Also they were certainly into the life of the parish but not in a showy way.”
That quiet devotion had lasting impact because Hilda was intent upon the novitiate from a very young age.
“I’m one of those rare ones, in that from day one being a nun was all I ever wanted.
“While being other things was certainly appealing, as I got older nothing was more appealing than religious life and I joined at 19.
“This lifestyle certainly isn’t for everybody, I mean it’s no accident that there are only 30 of us in the whole of Australia living this way and we often remind ourselves of that.
“It’s very much a life of faith and you can’t really see what’s in it for you, except by shared faith.
“The reward in there I suppose is the reward that every person needs to know – that you’re where you ought to be.
“To quote St Irenaeus ‘God did not call me for any service that I might render him. God called me because he knew I could be happy in his service’,” she said.
The Benedictine’s search for an appropriate setting for monastic life has seen them move on a few occasions.
Their previous base at West Pennant Hills became untenable when suburban encroachment meant they couldn’t ring their bells at the appointed times.
“After an 18-month search we found Jamberoo in 1988, and to tell you the truth, the longer that I stay the more I see the difference between here and the outside,” she said.
“When I go to Sydney on business the rush and the noise of Pitt Street almost bowls me over.
“That’s not to say I find it horrible or distasteful but I can notice the difference.
“We often have heightened senses, so you pick up on odours that most people wouldn’t even notice, sounds that others wouldn’t hear and also the look on people’s faces, the sadness or joy in some people.
“After a while in this way of life you can’t really tell where God ends and you begin because you get into the way that everything becomes prayer, even washing up.
“You sense that God is in absolutely everything.
“Our former abbess Mother Benedicta used to say that because God is God, he has the right to ask some souls to live exclusively for himself.
“I guess we fall into that category, so yes, every day is a God day.”
Sr Hilda will provide both keynote addresses and workshops at Pray2010, on topics ranging from meditative prayer, praying with Benedict and prayer in our busy world.
Just as there are millions of ways to say “I love you”, she says there’s also a multiplicity of ways to pray and that we each do it in our own style.
“Some people find it terrific to sit down with rosary beads; a great number of us sit down with the scriptures and chew through the lectio divina, that’s what the Benedictines are famous for.
“Basically prayer is done according to our own needs; who we are and how we are.
“Someone once said ‘prayer doesn’t change things, it changes people and people change things’.
“It enables me to live with whatever; to eventually see the best in whatever’s happened, but it also enables whatever that event is to facilitate the changing in me that needs to happen.
“If you will, it enables me to enter into the process of whatever happens.”
Despite opening up to the TV cameras with some trepidation, Sr Hilda says the Benedictine community have felt no ill effects from The Abbey.
One unforseen circumstance was the receipt of a host of moving letters and emails from people pouring out their own stories.
“That quite moved me because I think they saw us as a channel, the people who felt themselves at odds with the Church or who’d given up on either God or themselves,” she said.
“We took a big risk (in opening up) but said that if only one person discovers that God loves them then it’s worth doing.
“What we found instead was thousands of people out there who discovered that God loved them.
“Somehow or other they discovered there was hope because a bunch of people on a mountain hidden away in NSW would take their lives seriously; would take the pain of their experience seriously and take it to God.”