Friday, July 28, 2006

What an interesting woman

The internet is really quite amazing when you realize what you can just stumble upon. Today I discovered a very remarkable woman named Sister Elaine MacInnes. Here are excerpts from an article describing a documentary about Sr. MacInnes:
Classical musician. Zen master. Prison activist. Meet Sister Elaine MacInnes: a most remarkable nun.

Born in Moncton, N.B. in 1924, Sister Elaine has spent her life on a spiritual journey – one that has taken her from New York's Juilliard School to the convent, and from the serenity of a Buddhist temple to the squalor of British penitentiary cells.
Sister Elaine learned the violin from her mother, a gifted musician, and pursued music studies at Mount Allison University and Juilliard, after which she played professionally with symphony orchestras in Calgary and Edmonton. She also fell in love with a handsome English airman, who was killed in action during World War Two. Through it all, she felt a spiritual longing that led her, finally, to a Toronto convent in 1953.

After taking her vows in 1961, Sister Elaine accepted an assignment in Kyoto, Japan – and there found herself drawn to Zen Buddhism. At a monastery deep in the mountains, she began to study meditation with a renowned master, and by 1980 had become the first Canadian ever accredited as a Zen Roshi (teacher).

Missionary work took Sister Elaine to the Philippines during the tumultuous years of revolt against the brutal regime of Ferdinand Marcos. There, she achieved a degree of notoriety for her efforts to teach meditation to political prisoners and victims of torture – often at great personal risk. By the early 1990s she had taken up similar work in UK prisons, as Director of the Prison Phoenix Trust.

Actor Jeremy Irons, patron of the Prison Phoenix Trust, tells the filmmakers that learning meditation is an “extraordinary gift” for those behind bars, making it possible “to find your silence, to find your quiet, to deal with your anger and to find your self-possession” – all of which can be crucial to rehabilitation.

Professor Andrew Coyle, the former governor of Brixton Prison, says Phoenix Trust now operates in nearly half of the country's prisons, and demand for its meditation classes is enormous. He credits Sister Elaine with paving the way for the initial success of the program by winning the trust of inmates: “Prisoners are good judges of people – quick to see through artifice – and can recognize a genuine person.”
Meditation enables you “to find your silence, to find your quiet, to deal with your anger and to find your self-possession.” What a wonderful description. Let's all allow that to motivate us to be faithful to our meditative practice.


  1. Inspiring! Remarkable parallels, Ellie, to another interesting woman. Perhaps this will encourage Liddie to continue her ministry to prisoners.


  2. Sorry, Lydie, for misspelling your name.

  3. Anonymous11:22 AM

    I thought of both Ellie and Lydie. Thanks for sharing. Marilyn

  4. Jo Ann5:57 PM

    FYI, Sister Elaine MacInnes has written 2 books, "Zen Contemplation: A Bridge of Living Water and "Light sitting in Light: A Christian's Experience in Zen"


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