Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve

It's not New Year's Eve that we'll celebrate here. We'll celebrate it of course, but first we'll celebrate First Vespers of The Feast of the Holy Name. On the eighth day Jesus was taken to the temple to be presented, circumcised and officially named. Eight days from Christmas just happens to coincide with New Year's Day and the early church treated it as a fast day to offset the festivities celebrating Janus, god of beginnings.

For most Christians circumcision is a choice made for health or cultural reasons, not something we do to keep a covenant with God. Not so for the parents of Jesus. We now call the feast The Holy Name, shifting the emphasis from the cutting to the naming. Both of my sons were circumcised in the hospital, one immediately after his birth. (The doctor's reasoning was: he was already in shock from the birth trauma, one more little cut was not going to make much difference.) Not so for Jesus.

I've read that the name Jesus was not unusual in his time. Certain names were popular and used over and over. Case in point: Mary. We have the Virgin Mary, Mary of Magdala, Mary of Bethany… the list goes on. But after Jesus' naming we don't read about any other Jesuses in the Bible. He's the one. God Delivers.

My own given name was a source of embarrassment and irritation for me as a child. I was named after my grandfather, who apparently bemoaned the fact that he had four grandchildren (three of them boys) and my uncle had not thought to name a single one after him. His name was Claude, and I was named Claudia, because my mother, bless her heart, wanted to please him. But as a Navy child I was forced into new school situations every time I turned around. The inevitable question: "What's your name?" was the one I dreaded. I would answer "Claudia" and the disappointing responses would fly: "Never heard that name before… Did you say Gloria? Oh Cynthia, please sit over here… That's the dumbest name I ever heard…" And there was no way to shorten it, any nickname only made matters worse: "Clod, Clodhopper". It wasn't until college that the idea occurred to me to use my initials, CJ as a nickname. I have college friends who still call me that.

It wasn't so bad being Claudia as an adult, but I was still more than pleased to change my name when the time came to be clothed in the habit of the community. My name of choice, Claire Joy has its own story. But that's for another post.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Feast of the Holy Innocents

My literal heart, my chronological need for B to follow A always skips an irritable beat when we celebrate this feast before Epiphany. I want the wise men to come and leave and then celebrate. (Not that celebrate is the term I would use to describe the murder of children).

Some say that there's no historical proof that Herod slaughtered babies in Bethlehem… that it never happened. Okay then, why does such a story ring so true, feel so close to home?

That's a no brainer. The greedy and fearful have always killed the innocent to achieve their directives. They call it expedience, collateral damage, the ends justifying the means… and down through the ages atrocities have been covered up when the ends weren't met, and the means suddenly took on a different spin. Too close to home, this story. Even my personal chronological preferences give way to the awesome truth that evil still moves in a world where God exists.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Feast of St. John the Evangelist

This from today's Gospel reading: "And what about him?" Peter asks. And Jesus pretty much says "None of your business."
I need that stamped into my brain. My DNA needs to carry that message throughout every moment of my life. But it doesn't.
I am constantly asking "What about her? Why doesn't she have to…(fill in the blank)? Why does she get to skip Morning prayer whenever she feels like it? Why am I the only one cleaning up the bathroom? Why, why, why? (translate: whaaaa, whaaa, whaaa) And of course the answer is right there. My journey is not her journey. We are each called by God to do and be certain things for God. Call it our mission, destiny, purpose in this life… whatever. It's not about how fair it looks on the surface, or how differently we perceive our call. It's between me and God. What about her is none of my business.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

In the darkness

It's not quite first vespers of Christmas, but this is about the only time I'll have to post before the festivities overtake my already hectic schedule… the poem and image were done the Christmas of my first year in community. (The muse had other plans this year for some reason.) Wishing you all a blessed Christmastide…
love,
Claire Joy


In the darkness of our times
the message was delivered… encoded, encrypted, undecipherable.

In the darkness of our hearts
the promise was fulfilled… imperceptible, disregarded, ignored.

In the darkness of our souls
The answer… failed to meet our expectations.

We failed to see your glory in a single twinkling star.
We failed to hear your voice in a newborn’s hungry cry.
We failed to see your love in innocence, humility… this birth against all odds.

This child’s destiny
Unimaginable, impossible… yet true.

Your light shines still.
And we, like deer, are blinded, frozen in our illusions.
So convinced that our goals are valid, we stand in the Presence
yearning for the truth and cannot comprehend that it is here already,
among us, within us, filling and surrounding us.

No glittering glory… only tender compassion
No mighty judgement… only merciful forgiveness
No shout of triumph… only silent, willing sacrifice.

This child’s destiny
Incomprehensible, impossible… yet true.

—Christmas 2003

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Let the good memes roll

As some of you know, my daughter-in-law blogs. In fact, she was the initial encouragement for me to write one too. She writes about her life: married to my son (hilarious), as a Dean of Students in a Las Vegas high school (scary, funny, outrageous) as an intermittent step-mom (their son lives with his biological mom most of the time), and she does these meme things. Here's her latest series of questions:

Given the choice between these pairs, and no other alternative, which would you choose?

1. Salt or Pepper? I only get one? (damn) okay… pepper! I get soy sauce too, right?
2. Oreos or Milk? Milk, lots more versatile, not as fattening.
3. Peanut Butter or Jelly? Peanut butter, homemade. You want my recipe?
4. Going blind or going deaf? Blind… (I'm already going deaf and hate it!)
5. Out of toilet paper** or out of soap? Soap. (that was really a hard one.)
6. Shoes or socks? Shoes, sandals in summer.
7. Saliva or tears? Tears, I got milk.
8. Telephone or computer? Computer, way more versatile, just like milk.
9. AC or hot water? Hot water (remember, I have no soap)
10. electricity or vaccination? Electricity (need it to recharge the laptop)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bible Verses you love to hate

There are just some Bible passages that leave me fuming. Case in point: yesterday's parable of the wise and foolish virgins… or bridesmaids today, since virginity is no longer the be-all-end-all it once was. But on to the story… You've got these silly girls, so awhirl in their excitement over the wedding that they forget to bring extra fuel for their lamps, and you've got the anal retentives who always come on time, prepared for all contingencies (that would be me).

As fate would have it, the groom is late (inconsiderate of him, don't you think?) and the girls fall asleep with their lamps lit. Oops, here he comes… wake up, get ready! but wait… "We're out of juice, the silly girls cry… give us some of yours."
"No!", the self-righteous ones proclaim… "we won't have enough for ourselves. Go buy your own."

And you know the rest of the story. Groom arrives, those who are there go in, and the door is closed and locked. Tough luck you silly girls, the Lord doesn't even know you.

Now wait just a minute… This is not the same God of compassion and forgiveness I've come to know and love. This is not the same Word of God that comes from Luke that says "lend generously, without expectation of repayment." This God is somebody else.

As a #1 on the Enneagram, I've had to learn (quite painfully) over the last couple of years that not everybody views the world with the same eyes as I do. Not everybody has to learn the right way to do something, and subsequently does it that way. Not everybody even thinks there even is one right way. And neither do I anymore. I have sisters who make their travel plans at the last minute, often don't even know their flight numbers, let alone forget to bring extra batteries for their flashlights. My job is to be generous and forgiving and accepting of them, because they in turn have their own strengths to add to the diversity of our community.

So if I were to rewrite this parable I'd say something like this: The ones with the extra oil would say to the ones with just enough, "Hey!, You know the groom may not show up on time. Lets blow out your lamps for now to save on fuel and we'll share our light until he comes. That way, we'll all be here to go in when he arrives." And that's exactly what they did. Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

See why I hate horoscopes?

Happy Birthday to me!

Your Birthdate: December 14

You work well with others. That is, you're good at getting them to do work for you.
It's true that you get by on your charm. But so what? You make people happy!
You're dynamic, clever, and funny. And people like to have you around.
But you're so restless, they better not expect you to stay around for long.

Your strength: Your superstar charisma
Your weakness: Commitment means nothing to you
Your power color: Fuchsia
Your power symbol: Diamond
Your power month: May

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Day 5: Rest & Retreat

Eden still weaves through my creative endeavors. So many ideas to explore, and as they take shape, it now makes perfect sense (to me) that I would be attached to the images from Genesis to reflect on my Universe readings.

As goals stack up, I've done maybe half of what I hoped: Harry Potter and Fra Angelico (sacriligious to put them in the same breath?) St. Bart's pantry, lunch with my best friend, two really decent naps, and study, study, study… plus a software bonus totally unexpected: Photoshop 7! New buttons, new filters, more memory…

I never got to the Cloisters, but it snowed those huge snowglobe flakes yesterday morning, so I spent quite a while just gazing out the window. Tomorrow I travel home to Brewster: rested, broke, and looking forward to home. That's actually what it's about for me anyway, a time apart to reevaluate and reaffirm just how special home is.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Day 3: Rest & Retreat

How can it be Day 3 already? Where is the time going?
Well… more than a few hours were spent in Photoshop with (as yet) no satisfactory Christmas image to speak of. The muses were inclined instead toward Eden, as images kept arising on that subject. The idea for an Eden series peaked a few years ago, but I never did much more than think about it. Why now? With all the studying I'm doing for my course: The Universe Story you'd think I'd be painting galaxies and microbes, not Adam and Eve in the forest primeval. A primary goal of the course is to create a "new" story for our time… one that sets the human being into/and as part of the unfolding of an organized and sacred Universe. The "old" story of course sets Humans as the pinnacle of God's creation, and the moon and stars and earth only serve as backdrops, things to subdue and conquer. I'm out of sync, somehow, because I'm called artistically to render that old story while I simultaneously study the new one. (Freud would have fun with this.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Day 1: Rest and Retreat

Our community offers two different kinds of vacation for its sisters, one is "family time" which, as everyone knows, may or may not be restful. The other is called Rest and Retreat. Last year (at just about this time) I stayed home, slept late, worked on a few projects, ate lunch with friends, restored the creche figures, read a good trash novel. It was perfect.

This year I have similar activities in mind, but I actually have goals for my rest time. Okay, that probably sounds like an oxymoron, I know. But I'm behind in a lot of things I really want to do, and a couple of things I really need to do: For one, an online course called "The Universe Story" which started smack dab in the middle of our garden harvest. I need to catch up on the readings and the postings, no small feat since I've dragged my derriƩre from the outset.

I want to design a Christmas card and as yet, have had no direct inspiration. I'd like to see the latest Harry Potter movie, visit the Metropolitan's Fra Angelico exhibit, and return to the Cloisters for an afternoon of meditation. I have a Friday lunch appointment with my best friend. I have six days… a room with a DSL connection, a city that looks like a fairyland, background sounds of sisters chanting the daily offices. It doesn't get much better than this. :)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Mission Statement

I have a whole new respect for the Council of Nicaea.

Here in Brewster, we're in the process of hammering out a vision statement for our house: a comprehensive (yet concise) set of words that reflects our ethos, understanding and vision… the New Story, the organic farm, all the programs we hope to create that will further awareness of the sacredness of not only our mother Earth, but the entire Universe.

And while we're not at all worried about naming heretics, we are having a devil of a time crafting in words what each of us believes in our hearts. At present we are seven women with varying degrees of understanding of who God is, what God's love looks like. Today we got caught up in the words "manifestation" vs. "revelation" of the Divine. (And we're still on point one.)

Yet the discussion itself, as unproductive in results at it seemed, was enormously helpful. To hear my sisters articulate the depths of their souls is not the standard fare of our regular discussions. Each had something to add that was important to her. And though we never agreed on a final final first point, but we did agree to sit with and pray about a tentative wording that was close.

I wonder if that's how they did it in Nicaea.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Feast of St. Andrew

I was an only child myself, so I never suffered the pangs of living in the shadow of an older sibling's light. But I had two sons, and watched my younger one defer to his older brother for many years. When they were boys, the older was smarter, louder, the instigator for their shenanigans. Much like Peter, he was impetuous and quick with answers and disclaimers. My younger son would often disappear into the woodwork, he was so adept at being invisible beside his brother. He also put up with his brother's bullying long after he was physically able to take the upper hand. Like Andrew, he was the thoughtful one, the practical one. He still is.

Andrew lived in the shadow of an impetuous brother. We only hear about him a few times in the Bible, next to Peter who continually hogs the limelight (for better or for worse). Andrew introduced people to Jesus (his own brother in fact) and found which kid had the lunch for Jesus' food miracle. Sometimes our job is to be a light. Sometimes it's to be a mirror for another's light. That takes inner strength and a willingness to lose our egos to a greater cause. Andrew certainly fit the bill. Here's to Andrew!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Forgiveness

I think the concept of forgiveness gets a bum rap because it's another one of those ironic God Truths. Folks assume that the forgiver is the one sacrificing his grudge on the altar of God, when in fact the act of forgiving is like a very strong antibiotic to help the forgiver heal.

The ones being forgiven often don't even know about it, so it's not always FOR them. They don't know or they don't care or they are dead. Even if someone asks you to forgive them, they aren't always ready for you to do it. Guilt, embarrassment, needing to find a glimmer of justification for whatever it was they did, will prevent the graceful acceptance of your forgiveness. It's for YOU. You get the prize, not the sacrifice.

Just one minor detail… letting go. You have to let go of being offended. Being wronged. Being hurt. Always a catch…

Monday, November 28, 2005

Birthday Gospel meme (what's a meme, anyway?)

December 14th (12:14) is my birthday, although I should probably look up 1:12, the date I was due to be born, according to my mom. I spent a good deal of time reading both horoscopes for a while… neither did me much good. I had a natal chart done once, too. But the woman explaining it seemed awfully interested in projecting her own issues onto my chart, so I took that with a grain of salt as well. There are some religious who believe that astrology is of the devil. I can't go there. The wise men were astrologers. They left everything to follow a star they'd never seen in the sky. The angel of the Lord came to them in a dream, for heaven's sake. I doubt they were of the devil.

Anyway… on with the meme. (Translation is NRSV, it was handy)
Matthew 12:14
But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Mark 12:14
And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?"

Luke 12:14
But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?"

John 12:14
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it: as it is written…

Well that was definitely humbling. Betrayal, treachery and a horse's ass. Yep, that could pretty much describe me if I were looking at it from the devil's point of view. On the other hand, how blessed to be one who starts out saying "No!" seeking to rid myself of God's grace, talking cleverly around the truth of it, being confronted head-on with that very grace… and then finally being sat upon by the most high God, "you're not getting away, my dear… stand still; we're going to Jerusalem."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Advent I

O let us not, for evil past,
be driven from thy face at last,
but with thy saints for evermore
behold thee, love thee, and adore.
—from
Hymnal 1982, #63

Advent… time of preparation, the New Year in the Western liturgical calendar, and kairos time. I'm a literal person when it comes to the church calendar and my liturgy. I don't like Holy Innocents day coming before Epiphany and I don't like to hear John the Baptist yelling in the desert when he's supposed to be leaping in Elizabeth's womb. But that's how it is with kairos time, and I'm learning (painfully) to accept it.

My first year in community had a batch of challenges. Advent was one of the difficult times: I was heavy into comparisons with all my previous Advents… and the convent version kept coming up short. No Lessons and Carols, no shopping, no decorating for Christmas. It was a mini-Lent, and wasn't one Lent a year enough already?

Last year I came into Advent a week late and a dollar short. I'd just spent three months in Wyoming and I was happy to just be home. I still had rest time coming and spent much of it restoring a beautiful, but badly beaten set of creche figures that had been in our community since the 50's. The very fact that the sisters let me even touch these things, let alone repair them and paint them was both flattering and intimidating. What if I wasn't as gifted an artist as I made myself out to be? What if I made them worse than they already were? I tested the waters with the massive stone walls that enclosed the cow and donkey. I painted a little of the backside of the walls, mixing dry pigments with polymer, just as I had been taught so many years ago. Okay, didn't mess up there. I moved on to a Wise Man. So far, so good. It all came back. Besides, the pigments had once belonged to a sister who had painted (in fresco) wall-sized murals in public buildings… she was a legend in our community. I felt like she was watching over me. "You're not messing up with my paints, Sister Claire Joy!" Work on those figures became my Advent prayer.

This year I'm in a different place again. I had a hard transition from city to country in late summer and am just now feeling the peace that comes from turning yet another corner in the spiral dance of life. When I'm in a long stretch of spiritual dearth I can't see the corner coming until after I've turned it. I think I'm actually looking forward to a mini-Lent this year. (Go figure)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing all of you Thanksgiving blessings…

including: a grateful awareness of how truly abundant life is,
recognizing how we easily lose focus and concentrate on what we don't have; granting forgiveness to ourselves and to everyone else when we do that, and always… relaxing into God's infinite patience with his creation, which includes us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Seven is a good number for me

My daughter-in law, who writes her own funny blog, has issued a challenge… one of those get-to-know-you things where you list a bunch of things people may or may not know about you. Here goes:

7 things to do before I die

1. Actually publish something
2. Take a cruise (anywhere)
3. Go back to Ireland
4. Visit Scotland
5. Live to see great-grandchildren
6. Swim with dolphins or whales, not sharks
7. See Christ in every face

7 things I cannot do

1. Roll my r's
2. Add/subtract without using my fingers
3. Play any sports involving a ball
4. Hike long distances anymore
5. Read music
6. Love a cat that pees on the furniture
7. Figure out my natal chart

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex

1. Smile
2. Sense of humor
3. They think I'm funny
4. Musical ability
5. Generosity
6. Bald head
7. Intelligence

7 things I say most often

1. Uh oh
2. Well, I'm often wrong…
3. And your point is?
4. Okee dokee
5. I forgot what I came in here for
6. Hello (replaces #*@ words when I'm driving)
7. I have no clue

7 celebrity crushes

1. Patrick Stewart
2. Tom Cruise
3. Robert Redford
5. Sam Shepherd
6. Harrison Ford
7. John Denver (yes, I know he died, don't care)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Matthew's spin

Matthew 18: 21-35
Today's Bible study from Matthew was the parable of the "wicked slave," forgiven all his debt by his master, who turned around and refused to forgive another slave who owed him. It sparked some lively discussion. (Of course it may have helped that those of us present were candidates, not professed sisters, so we're still straddling an imaginary fence between the outside world and the inner life of convent.) One of us expressed indignation. After all, the master had already forgiven the first guy. When the tattletale friends of the second guy reported what had happened, he became so angry that he took it all back. Can he do that? Is God like that? Can absolution for sin, once given, be withdrawn just because you sin again?

These were good questions, tough ones. Apparently Matthew wants to reinforce the fear of God in his readers, because it's what he believes God is like. But who died and left Matthew chief interpreter of Jesus' parables? More discussion followed regarding forgiveness in general. Maybe that first slave was so embarrassed (shamed) by his master's benevolence that his guilt led him to want to pay back that money any way he could, and that meant shaking down the first unlucky one he met who still owed him money. When you put yourself in those shoes it can ring pretty true.

We returned to the Five Gospels translation (the one with colors) and sure enough, the scholars believe that the last sentence of that parable was not what Jesus said. It was Matthew's spin. We certainly know about media spin in our own time.

Jesus' point was: pass it on. Let your gratitude work for good, not your shame for evil. Forgive and forgive and quit counting. Seventy times seven. Now we're talking.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Seven Deadly Sins

According to somebody's definition, the seven deadly sins are those sins which are fatal to spiritual progress. Fatal, not just harmful. Yikes. In case you can't remember them right off hand, I'll give the current list in order of severity (the last is worst): lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. If you google wikipedia.org (my new favorite website) they give a brief history as well as detailed explanations of each sin, and a handy reference of the demon associated with each particular one. That way, if you want to rid yourself of any particular one you know who to renounce. I also learned there are seven virtues, but that's another blog. I'm sticking with the sins.

Why this sudden interest in sin? Monastics couldn't possibly sin… Right. Who do you think came up with the first list?

Anyway, it's like this: I spent day before yesterday in the city convent and saw some old friends at supper. (Wednesday nights are talking meals.) One woman jokingly reminded me that I had not blogged since last Wednesday. Good grief, you're keeping track? Oh dear, pressure. But along with the pressure, there was that insidious glow of arrogance and dare I say it? Pride. The worst sin, mind you, and I was sitting there wallowing in it.

Later in the evening another conversation sparked that same obnoxious glow. Two in one day? Get a grip, girl! So I"ve been thinking about this, trying to understand what exactly in my personality craves praise. (Not that I'm the only human on earth to enjoy praise. I know that.) Still, praise always sounds a warning bell in the back of my head. Old messages from my childhood come barreling down my memory "nobody likes a show-off." or "Just who died and made you queen?"

Knowing that anything I do well is a gift from God is nice, but it doesn't really help. I know it, but when someone compliments me I can't honestly feel it. I may smile shyly and say "thank you" in my most humble voice, but inside my gut I'm crowing like Peter Pan. "Pride goeth before a fall" my grandmother always said. Look out below!

However, the more I think about pride and how it works in me, I realize that feeling these moments of satisfaction is not my real sin. I may be hearing old tapes but the tapes I'm not hearing are the ones I need to listen for. My own sin of pride eats me up when I see someone doing something and automatically think I could do it better. Or if someone makes a mistake that inconveniences me I think "why didn't they (fill in the blank)" as if I had some supernatural power to forsee how their mistake could have been avoided. It's when I recognize these times of insufferable arrogance in myself that I can fall down with true humility and get it. So, let me once again renounce Lucifer, (He's the one… wouldn't you know it?) and keep on plugging away.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Bread in the Desert

Matthew's version of the "Loaves and Fishes" story today produced lots of discussion and insights. This Bible study work can often be a lift off point for my day: new ways to think about myself and those around me.

One sister noticed the posture of Jesus on the mountain: how open and available and ego-less he was. Not only did he spend three days healing the mute, lame, maimed and blind, but he was worried about sending them off without a meal for the journey. She believed her call from this reading was to sit more in that kind of posture herself. What she doesn't recognize is that she often sits in that posture. She is one of the most concerned and caring (gracious is the word that comes to mind) sisters in our group, always willing to show hospitality and go an extra mile. But she doesn't see that in herself.

In a meeting yesterday another sister pointed out that perception is not reality. I know this is true; profound, even. I forget it all the time. My perceptions direct my actions, my reactions, my opinions and my attitudes. Until I'm willing to question my perceptions I can't begin to change them. And to do that I must ask questions of the others I perceive. What did you mean by that? Why did you say it? Why do you keep saying it? What is the reality underneath the imaginary?

Asking questions is tough work. Grueling and uncomfortable work… but necessary I think. If I am to live together with my sisters in harmony rather than constant discord, I need to do this work and do it constantly. The disciples asked Jesus "How do you expect us to find bread in the desert?" He answered by asking another question. "How much bread do you have?"

Friday, November 04, 2005

Thanks be to God

Early this week I was stricken with "Autumn Allergies". Some years this passes me by. Some years it comes in Spring. I never know exactly what I'm allergic to, but the results are always the same… Hay fever, coughing, post-nasal drip—which leads to asthmatic bronchitis. Nasty stuff, that. If I can stem the drip tide, I can sometimes scoot by with no bronchitis. If I can leave the area, I can sometimes fool my body into thinking Fall is over. When I lived in Florida a day at the beach would do the trick. (Salt air heals most all wounds.) So yesterday I guess my body got fooled.

I'm back in the city on Thursdays again. What a joy! I work behind the scenes with St. Bart's Community Ministry program. (That's the church, not the island.) I order food, organize supplies, sling cans and heavy boxes around the pantry, clean, and in general keep things stocked and within easy reach for the volunteers who work the pantry, breakfast feeding, and shelter. I used to work the breakfast feeding and shelter myself, so I know what a bummer it is to be out of cereal or milk, or coffee cups. Although I no longer work on the front lines, I know from experience what they'll need. It's a good fit.

Anyway, apparently the city isn't blooming with the same stuff as Brewster. I felt a little better on the ride back home last night. And this morning I had energy. Amazing what a couple of days of feeling rotten can do for my gratitude factor. And my compassion quotient. Maybe they're related. The sun is shining, I love the world, and it's great to be alive.

Let us bless the Lord…

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

All Souls Day

I found out this morning that we don't celebrate "All Souls Day" anymore. It's been changed to "The Faithful Departed." When did that happen? Who's bright idea was it to suddenly exclude all the unfaithful departed? Somebody that doesn't read his Bible the same way I do. In our Community, we make up a list to be read at Mass of all our dead friends and relatives that we want to remember and pray for… My own list included a lot of people that I have no idea if they were faithful or not. And, recognizing my own bouts with unfaithfulness, who am I to judge? God is in charge of all that.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

For all the Saints…

Last night was Halloween, a time to dress up and make fun of death and darkness, all things spooky that give us the creeps. But today is the Feast of All Saints… a serious time to remember death as the great leveler, and that Life is the eternal promise. We have no idea what "Life" hereafter will be like, but we trust that it will be wonderful, beyond our best dreams.

But our God is a God of great irony: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Those who wish to save their life will lose it… very little, if anything, in God's Kingdom is as we suppose it will be. Those of us who do not trust in a life after death have little to look forward to. We either do our best because it's all there is, or do our worst because it's all there is. Some of us have a fear of hell or judgement for the life we live now, and that works in varying degree to keep us honest.

I don't think I fear hell as much as I should. I've survived some hellish situations already in this life, and found (in retrospect) that I created a good deal of them all by myself. If there is another hell after death, I'll probably be responsible for it as well.

But I've also experienced in this lifetime what only could be described as the Kingdom of God: moments of amazing peace that came only by grace, not by my effort, glimpses of compassion within myself and shining through others. The memories alone still take my breath away. So for all the saints who are already in that dimension of perfection, I give thanks. I thank the ones I knew who loved me, and also the ones who treated me badly and somehow helped me grow.

Death is the great leveler. I will die at some point too. I hope to see you all on All Saint's Day.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Let there be light.



Finally… we have electricity in our little chapel. It's been a long time coming since the chapel was cleaned out last August before Long Retreat. We had been singing Compline by candlelight and hurricane lamps, and while it was romantically monastic, it took a lot of mirrors scrounged from everywhere to reflect enough light to actually see the pages. Some of us bought battery operated book lights to supplement the candles, but our eyes just aren't what they used to be.

Then came more refurbishing. While new tiles were being laid (to replace the predilla we ripped out in August), we came back to the great room for Offices and Mass. As the weather turned cool there was often a fire in the fireplace. Back in the chapel the workmen finished cleaning the grout, but only a couple of us were anxious to return. It turned even colder, then rainy, and the unheated disheveled chapel just didn't have any appeal over someplace warm, dry and cozy. As sacristan, I took on the cleaning detail… working against the time when it might stop raining and warm up. For several satisfying days I scrubbed tile, dusted cobwebs, washed windows, oiled wood. I was rewarded with sunshine and the other morning we held our first Eucharist there with music. You could see everyone's breath as we sang. It was pretty frosty, yet somehow invigorating to be back in sacred space.

We'd been asking various electricians for quotes for months. And, just in the nick of time one company came through and wired us up yesterday. Setting up for Mass early this morning was luxurious; I was blessed with heat and light. So much of our American culture creates numbing expectations. We expect heat and light and running water as a matter of course. But it is not that way everywhere. In some countries water is more precious than gold, a matter of life and death. Here, being without it for a time, for whatever reason, shakes me out of that numbness and reinstills gratitude.

Today is the Feast Day of Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles who gave their lives, persecuted for being Christians. Yet I have freedom to worship without persecution, and warmth and light to do it in comfort. For these and all our many blessings, thanks be to God.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Be careful…

"All you need is love, love, love…." The Beatles were amazing. Being a teen-going-on-adult in the 60's was amazing. Even more amazing when I read about that decade, than it was in actual experience. I lived on the fringes of the upheaval and attempts to change the world by so many of my generation. I had friends who were mainstream sub-culture, (Is that an oxymoron?) but I was not a real part of it. I never did drugs til I was over thirty, never marched or protested anything outside of singing popular folk songs in a coffee house in Newport. I was there but I wasn't. One friend was a freedom rider. He returned from the south one summer with dark knowledge in his eyes that he couldn't explain to me in words. He told me I was better off not knowing.

I could have been a Republican then. All I wanted was to get married, have kids and a washer-dryer combination. I'd wanted that for as long as I could remember. Changing the world wasn't on my agenda. Changing my world was. I approached it haphazardly: a college education here, an enlistment in the Navy there, finally catching a husband here, having a baby there. Frankly, I was out of it; moving blindly through my life, hoping for someone to come along and make everything all okay, and if not that, at least better.

Somewhere along the way I learned I had to be responsible for my own actions, decisions, happiness. Bummer. You mean Prince Charming isn't coming? Oh well, time to get a life. I worked hard and got one. It was pretty good. Then I moved out of my comfort zone and started offering service to those who had less than I did. Hello. Suddenly I was no longer living on the fringes. This was reality and it was better than anything I'd ever experienced. One thing led to another. I did more, I wanted more. Not more stuff, not more knowledge, not more tangible anything. More of the awe, I think. More of the sense of seeing Christ, of being Christ. That led here… to the convent. "Be careful what you ask for, little girl."

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Music to soothe the savage breast

I used to love Bonnie Raitt's music (when I actually listened to music while I worked). One album: Luck of the Draw was my favorite for a while. There was the song "I can't make you love me if you don't". I played it over and over and cried myself to sleep, when a love affair went south. There was "All at once I see your face and time just disappears". It got me to a place of forgiveness and neutrality about that same affair. Music used to help me understand how I really felt about things. The lyrics could articulate in words what emotions the music moved inside me. Before CDs I'd rewind, play… rewind, play, then it got easier… set the CD player to continuous loop and play the same song over and over and over until I was the song. Usually this was an activity I only did when I was depressed. (No need to be a song when things are going well.)

After an incredible trip to Ireland in 1998, I listened to Loreena McKennitt's Book of Secrets. "Dante's prayer" was my favorite. I played it over and over in the background while I worked on my computer with photographs from that magic land. Eight rolls of film produced six final composites from that month of grieving. And at the time they were my best work.

Which begs the question: why does my best work always come out of despair? When I am adrift on the sea of confusion and regret I retreat into a morbid but creative space. I fantasize about my own death and imagine people being sorry I'm gone. Why is that? Beats me, but it usually works. I need to find some new music.

Friday, October 14, 2005

"Rain, rain go away… come again another day."

It's been raining for over a week. And if it hasn't, it certainly seems like it. I love the rain, usually. it washes away the dust and grit, smells clean, and sounds pleasant on the rooftops. Rainy days lend themselves to staying inside, reading a book, building a fire in the fireplace, napping. But much of what we have to do is not inside. I've ventured as far as our little chapel to scrub grout from the newly laid tiles, and to ring the warning bells for the Daily Offices, but otherwise I'm not a very good duck. I hate the damp, especially when it's cold. Other Sisters have braved the wet to harvest in the soggy garden while I stayed inside and cooked dinner. I feel guilty. (Not guilty enough to help them, obviously.) I rationalize that cooking is important too. Of course it is; that's not the point. So what's the point here?

The real point is I'm feeling guilty about other things and trying to blame it on the weather. I'm craving the independence I used to have, even if it was slavery to a job. It felt like independence and at the moment this life feels like slavery. I'm in a funk spiritually, which is the worst funk to be in… mad at God for calling me to this life but not mad enough to say "no siree, not me, big buddy." So instead I whine about the rain.

Intellectually I know that I am not my feelings. Just because I feel like the martyred one today doesn't mean I will tomorrow. Or tonight even. Something will happen to lift my spirits and keep them soaring. For the past few weeks they've lifted briefly only to crash and burn after a moment or two of flight. But this too will pass. And if it doesn't I'll find something else to whine about.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The American Dream


Last Thursday night I joined a few thousand other people at the South Street Seaport in a walk for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Raising money for people with cancer is big business. There were all kinds of chotskies: walkers received balloons with little battery-operated lights inside, wrist bands and banners, race tags for your back, the whole shooting match. And there were the standard fund-raising incentives: tee-shirts and sweatshirts for those who met their donation quotas. Registration was smooth and efficient. It was obvious this event had not been thrown together.

The national sponsor for these walks is Brystol-Myers Squibb… no big surprise there. Squibb stands to profit if they find a cure for cancer, but will still make lots of money on their chemo drugs if they don't. This may sound like a rant against Corporate America. It's not. I too worked my share of long, hard hours to support the American Dream, and in turn was rewarded with paychecks, health insurance, vacation pay, and in a few cases, a 401K. I believed in the Dream and was successful in achieving it. I worked in advertising, so I learned that our economic system is structured so that anything that makes money to fuel the economy is a good thing. Making money off fund-raisers for research to cure life threatening diseases is certainly more noble than a lot of other enterprises.

But for the participants walking, this night was not about economics. It was about caring and support. The people I met were walking for personal reasons: either they were survivors, or they knew someone with Lymphoma or Leukemia. I was walking for a friend who's on his second round of chemo treatments. His lymphoma reoccurred less than a year from his first diagnosis and treatment. He walked too, slowly, surrounded by people who love him dearly and pray he will beat the odds.

Before we walked, there were the usual speeches and accolades for Bristol-Myers Squibb and all the corporate sponsors (whose logos were also plastered on team tee-shirts). Nobody seemed to be paying much attention to the speech making though. We were ready to light up our balloons and get the show on the road. As we made our way from the seaport to the Brooklyn Bridge the atmosphere was festive but subdued. Because the crowd was so large it was a slow procession. No shoving, no cutting ahead, lots of stopping and waiting for parties to catch up with each other. Cheerleaders shook their pompoms for us at the halfway mark and we took group pictures with our banner and balloons. It was a great night and I'm glad I was able to go.

But here's the thing: I want the researchers to find a cure for cancer. But when do we recognize that prevention of cancer would be a whole lot more practical? (Here comes the rant against Corporate America:) Nothing ever gets said about the toxins in our air, water or food. No mention ever of pesticides or genetic altering of crops, nothing about preservatives. We will not acknowledge that the cumulative effect of years of consuming poison does in fact cause disease. The very fact that cancer now strikes one in four Americans doesn't make us wonder why? No, because a huge part of our economy is fueled by corporate agriculture. In order to eat healthy, Americans must pay three to four times as much. Most of us either can't afford it or don't see the difference. We'd rather save that money and use it for something else. And prevention could be bad business for drug companies, not to mention healthcare agencies. It's like planned obsolescence with our products. We build things so they won't last so we'll have to spend money to buy new ones when they break. When does common sense get the better of an economic pattern that works only at the expense of the people it serves?

It wasn't until I was required to eat all-organic (that's what we eat here in Brewster) that I was able to chart the difference in my own body. No allergies, no asthma, weight's down, and I have more energy. Since mid August my system has been purging itself slowly of years of ignorant abuse. I feel better and the food tastes wonderful. Duh!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Harvest Hands

"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Pray for harvest hands."

The Bible study this morning sparked thoughtful dialog from Matthew's gospel. It's the passage that includes a reference to Jesus' compassion for the crowds—all of them confused and aimless, like sheep with no shepherd. His directive: to pray for harvest hands. This prayer yields the twelve apostles, and he sends them out to preach and heal and become the desperately needed shepherds.

We talked about compassion… and how easy it is to get busy with the doing and forget the part about doing it with LOVE. We talked about commitment… and how easy it is to get immersed in ourselves and what we want and forget the part about doing what God wants. We talked about the imperfections of those twelve apostles and our own imperfections… that God doesn't expect us to be holy before we do the work, that wounded people can heal their neighbors with as much success as doctors with degrees. Ordinary normal broken people are enlisted to do God's work. But the choice to respond is always ours. I forget that. I forget I chose this life for a reason.

Maybe some people can make a choice without second thought, without looking back. I'm apparently not one of them. It takes a Bible study conversation to lasso me back to the choicepoint. Oh yeah, I remember now.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Discernment Woes

Discernment can be a terrible thing. A wonderful, terrible, not-to-be-missed-in-this-lifetime kind of thing. As I enter my third year of what's called "testing your vocation" I sometimes have to laugh. Out loud. The alternative would be crying, and although I no longer wear make-up that would run like Tammy Fay Bakker's (anyone remember her?) I still get a red nose when I cry. I actually get one when I even think about crying, which is embarrassing enough. So I laugh.

One time my best friend and I watched the movie "Howard's End" and when it was over, we sat in the lobby and laughed ourselves silly for more than half an hour. Taking turns, we'd get ourselves under control just long enough for the other to start the sequence again, and then we'd roar. I've no doubt blocked it out, but I probably wet my pants from so much laughing. Whatever unconscious nerves that movie touched, they were way too dangerous to face head on. But they couldn't be ignored either. So we laughed. And laughed. And laughed some more.

This week has been a bit like that: roller coastering all over the place emotionally, and watching myself do it… and laughing.
Here's a recap of my ping-ponging for the past week: Several days ago in a fit of desperation I went online to look for a job in my old field. And found one. Oops! Two nights ago I was railing over my loss of independence… the ability to decide things for myself without having to take a whole community into account. The next day the decision I would have made on my own was handed to me on a golden platter, and I was embarrassed. (Lack of faith?) Last night on the subway I was approached by a young woman with demanding questions about my faith. In answer, I told her I had no doubts about God, but many about my capacity to commit to that God. (I guess I feel if some stranger wants to ask an honest question, I should give them an honest answer.) But my glib tongue came back to haunt me later when I couldn't sleep. Just why is it I'm not able to commit? Sure I'm in a restless phase. Been there before. Why do I keep fantasizing about life possibilities I deliberately turned my back on… several I deliberately retreated from for all the best reasons. And why did I retreat? They weren't enough. Yet at times this life is too much. Go figure. Testing a vocation is not like any testing I've ever done, and I'm closing in on sixty. When I think of who I was ten years ago, five years ago, and who I am now, I realize God was pretty astute to wait so long with me.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Price of Customer Service

So what is it? Day 6? And as you can see… the project is completed. That's eight chairs. Count them. (At least the eight chairs I set out to recover are done.) There are actually more of these chairs lurking around… some in a closet in the chapel, maybe a stray one or two over at the "west wing" (formerly the old convent now converted to guest quarters. Guest-wing, west-wing, get it?)

It wasn't my doing at all. I did it, yes, but one of my Sisters took pity on me and my pathetic yammering about the hammering, and found me a HEAVY DUTY staple gun. Of course we had no staples, but getting staples was one of my more enjoyable activities. I took the empty gun to Palmer's Ace Hardware, the local Brewster hardware store. This was not the orange logo'd multicorporate conglomerate that we sometimes frequent for our garden stakes and lawn care products. No, this was the kind of store I grew up with… you take in your tool (in my case a staple gun) hand it to the person behind the counter and say: "Do you have staples to fit this thing?"

Since the young woman behind the counter didn't instantly know the correct answer, she referred me to a more experienced person. But she did know where the staples were kept and we immediately went to the racks where she showed me the various sizes and types while we waited for the other salesperson to finish with his customer. He actually apologized for keeping me waiting. I handed over the gun, he checked a number on the handle; I explained it was for reupholstering seat cushions and he handed me the correct box of staples. He even showed me how to hold the gun at an angle to get the best blast for my money. No wandering the aisles asking "Do you know where I might find staples?"… being directed and redirected seven times by employees who either don't know or don't care… finally finding the aisle with staples, looking at the gun, looking at the rack, looking for someone to ask again, only to be told "If they aren't on the shelf we don't have them." without them ever bothering to check. Can you tell I speak from experience here?

So… Cost of staples: $3.79. Cost of Customer Service: priceless. (Cost of a compassionate Sister: priceless.) Cost of a completed project: priceless. I'm thinking this is as good as it needs to get.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Start what you finish

There are people who start projects and people who start them and finish them. Then there's the rest of us who fall somewhere on the scale of 1 to 10 about the finishing part. (I'm leaving out those who never start because, well, I just can't relate.) Procrastination is the bane of those of us who start projects and for one reason or another, find we are unable to finish. It is a dirty word, an ugly slur. It gives us and our projects a bad reputation. I, for one, do not procrastinate.

I like to consider myself one of the finishers. I usually finish, I like to finish, and it bothers me when I don't finish. The fact that my projects are often messy and take up a lot of room adds to my discomfort when the mess sits around for months on end. Case in point: the seat cushions for the kitchen chairs. I started with a bang… several bangs in fact. The first step was unscrewing all the screws that held each seat onto its chair body… no problem, only five per chair. Next was the cleaning and oiling of the wood. Not too hard… no sense putting new cushions on dirty chairs, right? Measuring and cutting material for the cushions, washing and drying it followed. And then there was the prying out of the tacks. Now the project water started to get murky. Losing interest big time by about chair number four. But at this point I'd already removed the screws from eight chairs. Time for a diversion. (A diversion is different from a procrastination in that it diverts you from the negative vibes of a project going south and you can return to same project with renewed interest and determination to finish.) In this case the diversion was making scones. Food is always a valid diversion.

Back to the project—and another snag. The staple gun we have is a light-duty variety and refused to insert the staples into the wood. In fact they bounced right off. Good thing I saved all those tacks. However, hammering nails is not one of my strong suits. I glue things rather than sew or hammer because I have a talent for glue. But this project definitely required hammering. I started hammering. An hour and a half later one seat was finished.

It was obviously time for Alternate Plan B. (Alternate Plan Bs may resemble procrastination in that they rethink the scope of a project and arrive at the conclusion that it will take longer than originally anticipated. The prototype (in this case chair number 1) has given valuable information for a more realistic timeline. One a day. Given my other responsibilities, I can conceivably hammer and reattach one seat cushion per day to finish the project.

So today is day 2. This afternoon I spent forty-five minutes hammering tacks, got bummed and came up here to write this blog. (Not procrastination, another diversion.) I'm heading back down to the cellar as soon as I press "post" and finish the *#!!% seat. Maybe I'll take a picture of the one that's finished… after I hammer. Because I do not procrastinate.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Creativity Days

Our Community sets aside a few days during the year for "creativity" time. Sometimes we get an entire week, sometimes a few days. But the time is usually scheduled in advance, and it provides a break from the normal routine. Any activity a Sister finds creative is appropriate. Some write poetry, some compose or perform music, others sew or knit. Some do yoga or dance. And then there are those who do a little of everything. (That would be me.)

I have the dubious honor to have been born creative. And yes, it was, and continues to be an enormous blessing; but you know the saying: "to those to whom much is given, much is expected"? Well they aren't just whistling Dixie. And… as I grow older I find that I can no longer do a lot of what I used to. I can't pull all-nighters anymore and I can't turn the inspiration on and off like a faucet any more. Those days are long gone.

So here I am, gifted this week with three days to do whatever inspires me, and what have I done with my first day? A load of laundry, cleaned my room, sorted and tossed a wastebasket full of papers, and pried out tacks from the seats of three kitchen chairs. Aha! at least one creative project looms on my horizon. I plan to cover the seat cushions of all the kitchen chairs we hauled over here during Long Retreat. Originally they were covered with some kind of wash and wear ghastly green vinyl, and all but two of the chairs have split where you sit. Subsequently the rips were taped with gray duct tape. Now I admit that duct tape and WD40 are my two favorite alltime fix-its, but they are meant to be temporary fix-its. After a couple of years, the sticky goo on duct tape corrodes into a hardened crusty mess. Thank heavens for Goo Gone. (Another fine product on my never-to-be-without list.)

One of my Sisters questioned the validity of this project. "It sounds like work to me," she said, "not something creative." She may be right. There are more than fifty tacks per seat, in over a dozen chairs. But it's the result I'm looking forward to… matching chairs all lined up at the table when we have our next big gathering.

I get to be creative every day of my life. I get to cook, sing, knit, write, and practice my graphic design skills. I may even do some or all of those this week too. But those kitchen chairs will be my project. Wish me luck.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Choice Points

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust and thieves can destroy..."

The Bible study reading this morning prompted discussion of our culture's need to acquire. Whether it be more material possessions, more friends, more responsibilities, more brownie points in heaven, there is a conditioning in us all that urges us to gather. One member thought it could be traced to prehistoric times, when hunting and gathering was a life and death issue. True enough. We still manage to function as human beings on many of the same instinctive levels as we did then. The need to eat, the drive for sex, flight or fight, all these are ancient instincts. But when does gathering become hoarding? When does need transform to greed? Is our mentality one of scarcity or abundance? Whether the conditioning comes from a DNA strand or Madison Avenue doesn't much matter. We are called to look at our choices more thoughtfully. Do I need this or want it? And if I want it, why? What is the unseen and underlying motive?

"But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." If all my stuff is stolen or destroyed, will my heart be broken? And what will replace that emptiness I worked so long and hard to fill? These are questions human beings are asking themselves amidst the destruction and desolation left in the wake of the earth's current natural disasters. We are all at choice points: those who have lost everything, certainly. But those of us who still have, what is our response? Dig deep and share? Or hoard that much more stringently?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Goofing Off

Today is a goof-off day, a cleaning day, a meeting day. As you can see, I'm in the goofing-off phase. Found this stupid quiz on one of the blogs I read regularly, and am trying to figure out how to give you a link, just in case you want to goof off too.

The Quiz: Which Saint Are You?
(Always a good thing to know, right?)

Mine said: "You are Julian of Norwich! It's all about God, to you. You're convinced that the world has a happy ending. Everyone else is convinced that you're a closet hippie, but you love them anyway."

1821 other people got this result!
This quiz has been taken 5683 times.
32% of people had this result.


Which Saint Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Ground Apple Muffins

This did not start out to be a cooking blog. It began as a way to interact with my family: my two sons and their families, and then it took on a life of its own and extended to my… well, extended family… (friends from before my convent days and those who came after, including my Sisters, a few who actually read my blog.)

But here I am, two days in a row, taking pictures of FOOD. I never used to love to cook. I liked to make things I could decorate and make pretty, and that included food. Maybe it was the artist in me, but decorating was way more fun than cooking. But now the whole zen process of interacting with the essence and substance of food has me hooked. Spices that come alive in a frypan, sauces that simmer for hours and undergo a mysterious alchemy… these all have my attention. So today's offering (including a recipe) is muffins.

The original recipe, which started out as banana muffins is from a book called Quick Breads, Soups & Stews by Mary Gubser. I have a tendency to page through several recipes, find the common denominator of ingredients, and then substitute and add my own, so now any fruit that might be composting on the counter becomes the main ingredient. Today it's apples. When I first started making these they were dubbed by one of the Sisters "rotten muffins" because I was saving the fruit from going rotten. These are ground apples. (they fell off our tree to the ground) and are a little tart for eating, but great for cooking.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 rounded tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBLSP cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves or allspice
1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
1 cup raw sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 to 1 cup mashed/mushy or cooked fruit
1/2 cup fresh fruit finely diced (optional)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (any combination of almonds, pecans, walnuts)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup granola
1-3 TBLSP sour cream or plain yogurt
more granola
brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease pans for 12+ muffins (sometimes it yields 14, depending on fruit) Sift dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl cream butter with sugar til fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well each time. Switch to a big scraper spoon and add the flour mixture, fruit, nuts, raisins and granola. The batter will be pretty stiff at this point. Add the sour cream or yogurt a tablespoon at a time till it moistens and fluffs up the batter. Fill muffin cups to just below rims. Add a pinch of extra granola and a pinch of brown sugar to the top of each. Bake at 375 appx 20-30 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Campbell's does not rule

We are innundated with tomatoes from the garden. I've made so many batches of salsa, spaghetti sauce, enchilada sauce, and today— tomato juice and tomato soup. Cooking down the tomatoes seems to always start the same, but every batch is different. I'm learning to let the fruit speak for itself instead of deciding beforehand what it's supposed to be. (Now if only I could apply that lesson to my interactions with human beings.)

Today I learned that tomato soup takes a whole lot more tomatoes than spaghetti sauce. For one thing, to get the smooth rich texture, I couldn't just whisk the cooked pulp in the blender and be done. It took four strainings/scrapings through a sieve and the stuff cooked on low for about ten hours.
Amazing. Three gallons of tomatoes made about eight bowls of soup. But it was awesome. Campbells does not rule here.


The cooking always starts the same.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Eating Crow

I've been in what they call the "desert" place for several days… feeling pissy about a number of things, and acting it out in less than appropriate nunlike ways. For one thing, any sense of compassion seems to have deserted me. (Is that why they call it desert?) I want justice, restitution, people to say sorry, I want them to get it. When in fact it's me who's not getting it. It doesn't seem to help that I know that. It doesn't seem to help that I'm more than willing to eat crow and admit I'm currently incapable of living up to God's call. I confuse feeling with being. I expect to feel compassionate, and when I don't, then I'm not. I might have a lovely meditation in the early morning and by 10:00 I'm arguing and snapping at somebody.

Compassion, like Love, is a decision, not a feeling. Why do I keep forgetting that?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Rites of Passage

Yesterday our Community clothed a Candidate. Clothing is one of the rites of passage for a religious: you walk into chapel in not much more than an underdress with a belt. Other Sisters actually dress you with additional items (a scapular, cross and veil) and you walk out a changed person. It's an incredibly moving ceremony to receive a habit; for the one being clothed, of course; but also for every other Sister participating. Like so many of our culture's rites of passage, (Baptism and Marriage come to mind immediately) witnessing another's passage is much more than going through the motions.

As I watched each item being blessed, sprinkled with Holy water, and the symbolic meaning expressed in prayer, I was reminded of why I now wear a habit… what it all meant (and still means) to me. Ritual is an integral part of symbolic meaning, and symbolism is how we make sense of the spiritual world. Without symbolism we cannot express the inexpressible nature of God, faith, love, commitment. We just don't have the words.

I was on rest time with a good friend over the weekend. She had asked me early on what she should pray for as I started this journey on the convent path. I had told her "discernment". I've not been especially good about discerning difficult or important decisions in my lifetime. I've made impetuous choices and have had to live with the consequences. I got used to jumping off cliffs, financially and emotionally, but I made a lot of stupid jumps. Now, as a candidate for a religious order, I'm in a four year discernment process… certainly a world record for me. Questions questions questions, and very few straightforward answers. At my age I'm finally learning to look before I leap. Who'd have thunk it? Not me.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Everybody Has an Opinion


In the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Katrina, everybody has an opinion. There are many who cry like Chicken Little that "the world is ending!!" They may be right. Certainly the world as we've come to know it is ending.

Then there are those who have to find somebody to blame. "God did this because you were bad" is a favorite theme: either New Orleans was a bad city, or we (Americans) are bad people, or Humans in general are a bad species. Any one of these claims is probably true in part, but none of them tell the whole story. Jesus Christ wasn't big on blame, although many of His followers have since become so.

Anyway… I'm no exception to the rule, I have opinions too. My first opinion is that blame may make us feel better for awhile but it doesn't get in there and solve any problems. So while I also believe Bush had his head up his a-- during this disaster, pointing the finger over and over wastes time. People are dead. More are still dying. My brief CNN glimpses of the horror do not do it justice. I'm sitting here in Brewster dry and well fed, with only my prayers at this point to aid the victims.

My younger son, on the other hand, is a policeman deployed to Mississippi as part of the rescue operations there. (New Orleans wasn't the only place where people lost lives and property.) I remember him telling me after 9/11 how frustrated he was that the sheriff in his city chose not to send personnel to New York. He wanted to put his emergency training to use and couldn't. Now he can. I'm very proud of him. An outstretched hand can't point any one finger. There's no room for blame.

And this hurricane disaster is not an isolated event. We are witnessing the earth's upheaval all over the globe. Whether it's global warming causing erratic and severe weather conditions or our Mother undergoing her own brand of chemotherapy to rid herself of the human cancer is not yet known. It may not even be that important, because the answer only leads back to blame. What we do with and for each other in the face of crisis is what's important. "When did we see you hungry and feed you? Thirsty and give you something to drink?" Now. Now is all we really have. That's another opinion.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Rule of Life

I had a Rule of Life long before I entered a convent: Do it for love. Do it with joy. Learn from every situation. That was it; developed sometime during the years after my second divorce, and it held me in good stead for the longest time.

Now I'm studying the Rule for this Community, and working to understand what the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience will mean in a larger context, a deeper context than those of economics, sex and powerlessness. Every book I read has its own opinion, even the Community members hold differing views on what each vow means to them. Whatever I finally come up with will probably change. It's the nature of things… to change.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Whole New Culture

Still adjusting to the new culture… The Sisters at Melrose dance to a different rhythm than in the city. I think I'll come to love it eventually, but now it is just alien. I sleep fitfully: new house noises, new plumbing, new outdoor sounds. For several years I have awakened to the sound of simulated waves (when you can't afford an oceanfront condo, you make do.) But here the outdoor sounds are authentic: rain dripping from the eaves, birds calling their morning greetings. I end up turning off the alarm before it ever sounds.

I'm finding the Bible study more authentic as well. We do a form of African Bible Study where the selected passage is read three times, each a completely different translation. After the first reading we go around the circle and each Sister repeats a word or phrase that jumped out. It definitely keeps you listening… you can't space out during the first reading. The second round goes deeper. It's the same story but the words have changed. Sometimes the emphasis shifts a little, sometimes a lot. We go deeper too, offering whatever insights we gained from hearing the story again. Insights vary from Sister to Sister, based on her past experience and what she might be dealing with internally. The final round is the clincher. The question to answer after the third reading is: What is God calling you to do? At this point any Sister could spout platitudes…… "I think God is calling me to be more tolerant of my Sisters…" but I've not heard that happen. By the third reading, we're in a pretty real place with the story, and our answers reflect that. Sometimes I know immediately what God wants from me; sometimes I haven't a clue.

Yesterday's insight was "Wait (translate: hold out) for more information before you judge." What, ME jump to conclusions? In a New York minute I'm sorry to say. Yet that insight was confirmed a few hours later in a way I'll never forget. Pray I'll never forget. Additional information came to me regarding a situation I'm involved with. It (the information) was unsolicited and unexpected and it turned all my preconceived judgments upside down.

How often does this happen to us? Not often enough to make a difference obviously. But the man who cuts you off in traffic may have just buried his wife. He is actually distraught and careless; we assume he is a total jerk. The cashier who snaps at us in the grocery line may be facing breast cancer. We think she should be reported to the management for her lack of customer service. It's a whole new culture to consciously and mindfully give each other the benefit of the doubt. It takes practice. I'll keep working at it because I think I'll come to love it.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Interrupted discipline

I was never any good at the discipline of exercise. I am basically a quitter when things get painful or tiresome. I'd always quit working out before I came within a mile of the endorphins, so I never got the reward to encourage me to come back for more.

But I do know something about other disciplines, and any interrupted discipline is hard to get back into, once you've stopped. Blogging is no exception. For an entire week our Community was in silent retreat. No talking, no phone calls, no newspapers, no email… We essentially lived an enclosed monastic life for a week. The purpose: to eliminate any worldly distractions… to give each Sister the space to be with God in her own way. A lovely theory. However, that much silence turned all my thoughts inward, especially the dark ones. There was no outward way to express (translate: get rid of) any judgments, irritation, anger or discomfort I might be feeling about anything or nothing, so it all convened inside. It was not a pleasant experience to be hostess to a committee of irrational feelings that were ricocheting off the insides of my stomach. But the experience of going through rather than opting out had to be similar to finally feeling the endorphins. I got over it. I was peaceful toward the end of the week. Then it was time to talk again, write again. Now I had nothing to say. Absolutely nothing. I could barely participate in a coherent conversation. Was there a point?

One of these days I'm going to learn how not to swing like a pendulum. But not today.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Tunnel's End

An overwhelming job divided cannot conquer. It may try to divide us for a time, but not forever.

It is Friday night. Tomorrow the city Sisters will arrive and Long Retreat will begin with Vespers in the refurbished chapel. There are new seat cushions in every chair, the slate floor was washed at least three times, windows are clean and wood is oiled. It is a bit dark because we have no electricity, so it is not perfect, but it is holy space again and that is enough.

The old convent has been thoroughly cleaned, stripped down and rearranged: new plumbing installed, trash hauled again and again and again to the dumpster. (The dumpster people have been called a half dozen times; their promises to pick up… still unkept.) So that is not perfect either, but still… enough. St. Cuthbert's has also been cleaned and rearranged, cozy sitting areas laid out for reading, meditation or quiet contemplation. The refectory is clear of all the potatoes and garlic and seeds which were drying on the big tables. It stands waiting for delicious meals, healthy organic vegetarian meals from the burgeoning garden. Fresh cheese cools in the fridge. Freshly harvested tomatoes, squash, greens, beans, potatoes and herbs are tucked on windowsills, in the cold room, in the root cellar. All has been made tidy and beautiful.

We are tired, but it is a good tired. One of accomplishment and joy. There was always light at the end of the tunnel.
Now even I can see it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Hit the Ground Running

Even when I anticipate something like this happening, I'm never really prepared. I got a day and a half to settle in (one spent cleaning the bathroom) and then hit the ground like a greyhound after the tin rabbit. No time to adjust to the new schedule, new Office prayers, readings: everything familiar enough to be misleading, different enough to trip me up when I assume I know what's coming next. I find myself in a state of chronic dis-ease.

Long Retreat begins at the end of this week and everything here is in upheaval. The old convent, recently vacated by two Sisters who have moved to assisted living/nursing facilities is a mammoth glory hole. Not only deep cleaning, but tedious going through, sorting out, throwing away is required, since four of the city Sisters will be staying there. We've been at it since Monday (no Sabbath this week) and empty boxes and giant black garbage bags litter the hallways. It was a good month-long job crammed into five days. The small chapel, unused except for storage of garden tools for the past two years, has been opened up and is being cleaned out… another task requiring more time than we have.

As each day counts down the pressure mounts. We are too few battling the clutter and dirt on too many fronts. Everyone is already exhausted, but nobody is (as yet) cutting corners. One Sister struggles to make cheese. It is her thing. She wants fresh cheese for the Sisters to enjoy on Long Retreat. But every sink is full, every large pot in use. There's nothing to cook supper in, no place for anyone to wash a dish or their hands. Tension is thick, nerves are frayed and tempers flare up like fatwood. We end up stepping on each other's toes and stomping on each other's feelings. Another Sister arrives on the scene in the middle of my second meltdown of the morning. "What's wrong?" she asks sympathetically. I have no energy to go into it. "I's been a bad morning!" I growl. I don't want her sympathy, I want her to change her clothes and haul garbage. She doesn't even get the day and a half.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Other People's Dirt

Whenever I move, one of the first things I do (besides unpack at least enough to make my bed) is clean the bathroom. I like metal taps to glisten, no unsightly rings in tub or toilet, baseboards free from dust, medicine cabinets free from scum. ( Possibly the result of too many Mr. Clean commercials?) The truth is it will never look like this again as long as I live here, but that is not the point. The point is: other people's dirt. My first conscious memory of doing this was when I moved into a trailer with two other girls my third year of college. Someone had moved out and I was the replacement roommate. I had only had dorm roommates before, with a bath down the hall (cleaned by a cleaning crew), so this was my first real encounter with other people's dirt. I spent the whole afternoon cleaning their bathroom. I even bought a new shower curtain. EEEuew… other people's mildew! The other roommates returned and were suitably impressed, and life went on. But I've found that folks are not always as receptive to my cleaning sprees. They can assume a kind of guilt-induced snottiness, as if I were deliberately pointing out certain flaws in their housekeeping abilities. Not true! I just like the dirt to be mine. And I realize that sharing a bathroom with other women puts me in a tough spot: the dirt is often not mine. But at least from now on some of it is mine, and that's all I need to know. Besides, cleaning it once down to the bare scum-free surfaces lets me know just how hard I have to work the next time. Not to mention all the interesting information I have gleaned from this last episode: toothpaste over time will etch glass. Now who knew that?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Grace

You hear about grace all the time in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. And, no, I'm not talking about what you say before meals. Different grace. God's grace: the unfathomable capacity of an unknowable entity to grant undeserved blessings… that kind of grace. Lots of "uns" there—simply because it's too big to comprehend.

Anyway, here's the really hard thing about grace... especially God's. You can't earn it. You can't seek it. Well, you can, but it seems that it's never where you look for it. It appears somewhere else. (I think God likes saying "Boo! Surprise!") One nice thing about grace is it keeps popping up in unexpected places, and so if you are on the lookout for it you may be able to recognize it.

Most of us don't understand the grace of God (I don't) for a couple of reasons: it isn't fair. We think we want life to be fair. We also want God to kill the other guy for us, punish him for his sins, but forgive us for ours. So when a good guy gets cancer we say "Hey! Not fair! God! You made a crummy world!" But, that same cancer could be an opportunity for extreme contact with God. What do we know? Diddly-squat.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Survival

I was thinking about the word survival and all the unspoken baggage that word entails. In my own lifetime I have "survived" a rich assortment of ugly things: alcoholic parents, child molestation, divorce—my parents' and my own, rape, suicide attempts, (um yes, that's plural), car wrecks, abuse, betrayal, the World Trade Center attack. And these are only the things I know about… how many other near-misses have I breezed through with no indication whatsoever?

Given similar circumstances, what makes one person survive more emotionally intact than another? Why will one rise from her ashes fighting mad, another cringing in fear? Once betrayed, some never trust again, while others go on to be eternally vulnerable.

Is it the gene pool or the luck of the draw? Is it a pact we made with God before we were born to learn something as yet unexplored? I am one of the lucky ones. At this point in my life nobody's out to get me, I have people who love me, any major physical problems have been patched up with medications, and I wake up each day wanting to live. There were times when this wasn't true, sure. (which may explain those suicide attempts) But that was then, this is now.

Survivorship places unspoken responsibilities on the one surviving: if you survive trying to kill yourself you have to ask why. Was I crying for attention? Was my attempt just a major botch job? Or… was there a saving intervention from some outside source (yes, I mean God). If I answer yes to that, it only leads to more questions. Good questions. Questions that help me survive the next ugly thing to come along.

Overcoming the bad things that happen to me is one thing. I can feel pretty smug about myself. Living when someone else dies is another. Now the questions require way more thoughtful answers: Since I don't deserve the gift of time, didn't earn it, can't pay for it, what can I do to make it worthwhile? For me, big questions sometimes need small answers… one small answer at a time. Every new day gives me another chance to make good on the gift. Some days I can.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

More than much fine gold.

I was recently in touch with a dear friend from my past. We only get to talk from time to time, and he is often in a funk about his life. He worries about his spirituality mainly, but it's all related: physical, emotional, spiritual. This man survived one of those childhoods that can beat a person into the ground: erratic dysfunctional parents who used their three children as pawns in the wargames; two of the kids bounced around to foster homes, trial reconciliations, more foster homes. In between the periods of hell were brief glimpses of normality, but those were always short-lived. Still a child, he finally left home to make his own way in the world. He carried an empty toolbag for relating to that world.

His childhood was rotten. His life since has been an uphill climb. He is often depressed and feels he has nothing to show for himself. Any achievements are viewed with a cynical eye and any failures are magnified to damning proportions.

I know him to be one of the kindest men I ever met, someone who knew he had limitations but was willing to work hard to overcome them. He was honest, hardworking, loving. He had in a word: character.

Character—what does that mean today? How can we acknowledge it as a valued asset in an ordinary person when we overlook the lack of it in our superheroes? How do I communicate to this man that he is "more precious than gold… more than much fine gold"? I have no answers. Only prayers.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

walking on water

Today was my last Sunday to venture out to "parish churches" and once again a thoughtful sermon challenged (and stayed with) me. Taking the Gospel of Peter's disastrous walk/stumble/sink on water, the preacher gave a variation on the theme of imitation vs skill. She spoke of her own experience with floating vs sinking at summer camp… how she had tried hard to imitate her friend the floater, with about the same results as Peter's.

Likewise, Peter, trying to imitate Christ, was a sinker not a walker. Then she went on to examine the differences between imitation and the real thing where faith is concerned; how you can't watch someone else's faith and automatically be able to see those same results in yourself.

Somewhere towards the end I got sidetracked. I was trying to imagine a universe where imitation would work… what that would be like. Decided it would take too much brain power to imagine, so went back to listening to the sermon. So much of life requires our actually experiencing a thing to get it. Yet we do watch. We do imitate. I was once told that "fake it til you make it" was a valid way to approach something out of my comfort zone. And sometimes it worked. But it worked not so much because of the faking aspect as the believing aspect that I could and would expand that zone. It all comes back to the importance of belief. Jesus was constantly chiding his friends "why didn't you believe? Where was your faith?" and constantly reminding others that their faith was the very key to their healing. Good information. Why can't we get it?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Mystery everywhere

Every time I do something "brand new" (like this whole blogging thing) I find out more about my subterranean personality. Mostly I discover things I already knew and would rather not think about… my insufferable arrogance for one, but occasionally it's good stuff: like the delight in building a different and stronger relationship with someone who loves someone I love.

Case in point: my daughter-in-law. By reading her blog, I feel like a fly on the wall at their house, seeing a whole new dimension of her and of their lives I would never have known. Technology, in and of itself, has distanced us as a species: we isolate behind our computer screens rather than get stranded in the chaotic messy fray of life lived in each other's faces. We don't tell each other our deepest dreams and ideals because they look pretty silly next to our everyday behaviors.

Yet the same technology that allowed us to escape has found a way to connect us. There's mystery everywhere. This is just another example.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Interpretation and Nuance

It never ceases to amaze me how a Gospel reading can be interpreted in so many ways, with so many nuances. We didn't have a priest to celebrate yesterday morning, so all the Sisters went out to church at various parishes in the city. A friend of mine was preaching; in fact we had discussed his sermon earlier in the week, so I thought I knew what he was going to say. But I was wrong. (I am often wrong; at my age I'm grateful that embarrassment is not so keen as it once was.)

The Gospel reading was a familiar favorite: the feeding of the five thousand. When we first talked about the sermon, he planned to focus on ordinary people faced with a daunting task. He was going to point out that, like those disciples, some people are willing to take the first step toward an overwhelming problem, trusting that God will somehow provide the resources. Five loaves of bread and two dinky fish: over five thousand hungry mouths to feed: definitely a daunting task.

The point was also that the disciples weren't just onlookers to this miracle, but active participants. He had a specific man in mind as an example: a legend in his feeding program: an ordinary guy who cared so much about feeding the hungry that he stayed up at night inventing new ways to spread peanut butter more efficiently, to cut hotdogs in exactly one-half inch pieces. Not that this guy was anal retentive (which he may have been) but because he cared so much. This same man could be a royal pain, but that didn't alter the fact that he was in the middle of the action, participating in the miracle.

The sermon I heard mentioned most of those points, but it was not the thrust. Yesterday the focus was on Christ's commission to FEED the hungry. Our job was to keep doing this, even when the statistics pointed to an endless, thankless succession of hungry mouths. The focus shifted from inviting ordinary people to take the first step in faith, to a reminder that the church (the body of Christ) had been commissioned by The Man Himself, to keep feeding the hungry. So many interpretations, so many nuances. All variations of the same Gospel truth.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Confessions of a somewhat pagan nun

Up earlier than usual today… in time to light the icon candles, ring the meditation bell. Usually another Sister does this, but she's away for a few days. I've never been a morning person by choice, yet I've often signed on for activities that required early rising. (go figure) Sometimes I don't even wake up until the warning bell rings. Sometimes I meditate in my jammies, with my eyes closed. I rationalize that "sleep is perfect prayer" which it is, but it doesn't excuse my lack of discipline.

I'll be moving to our other convent in a few weeks. And I will miss the Sisters who live in the city. Never thought I would quite this much, but they've grown on me. We humans do that—grow on each other. I feel a bit like a plant that's been grafted. We came from different stock, different backgrounds, with different ideas about how life should be lived. About the only thing we had in common was the desire to serve God in this particular way, to live this life. I was the sapling grafted to the ancient roots. The old and the new gain nourishment from each other, the mutual benefits of our strengths and weaknesses… we call it relationship.

Relationship is a fundamental principle of this life in Christ. You don't have to do it alone and you don't GET to do it alone. Christianity is not so much about prayer and devotion, worship and communion with God, although those elements are present, as it is about our interactions with each other… our deeper acceptance that if one fails, the whole lot will fail. I cannot get to heaven on my own merits. I cannot get to heaven because Christ died for my particular sins. His life and death were a personal example from God: Yo! This is what my kingdom looks like, stands for, will be. Sharing what you have with who needs it, not asking first "Are they worth it? Will they thank me?" Worthiness and payback are not valid criteria in the kingdom of heaven. (No wonder we killed Him.)

But we distort that message to suit our needs all the time. It's so damn hard, for one thing. We set conditions. We ask: "Do you believe In Jesus Christ? If you do, then maybe I'll work with you."

Belief is important. Faith is important. Judging someone else's capacity for either is not. Not our job. Our job is to love God. And our neighbor. Period. And since it's almost impossible to do that, we make the job more palatable by making rules, enforcing restrictions and limitations, joining clubs to be with the inside crowd. We keep forgetting that if we're not all on the inside, then we're all still on the outside.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Universal Truths

This blogging thing is getting tiresome already. Besides, the book I'm reading says the more you know, the less you say. If that's true then we have a globe full of the uninformed populating our planet. Just hit "next blog" a few times to get the picture.

I do know it's true, though. I visited a friend recently who was upset and worried about another friend. She wanted so much to help, to get that person's life in order so her surroundings would be comfortable and safe. But the friend was balking at her sensible suggestions… taking her sweet time deciding the next move. Frustrating to have answers nobody wants to hear.

I, myself, rattled on about a lot of things I didn't know. To make conversation, to be supportive. The one or two things I did know I kept quiet about. Why? Because they were the kind of things you have to come up with on your own, in your own time. Out loud they sound thin, trite, empty platitudes. Why bother to speak something that really has to be experienced? Things like: You can't change anybody except yourself. It's one of the basic and universal truths. Yet it sounds like bull---- out loud. Bull---- but true. Complicated, simple, complex, basic, individual, universal— it's all there, woven on the looms of our lives. Continually weaving as we go. Usually I'm too close to the threads to see the patterns. It's why all the smart ones say "step back… detach… observe." Only then will the pattern make sense.

And obviously I'm still in the dumber-than-dirt category… I'm still writing.

Monday, July 25, 2005

"waste not, want not"?

Speaking of wasted potential… I was, wasn't I? I've been rethinking. I rethink a lot. (Maybe it's a pastime of the aged, to rethink everything somebody once said was THE gospel truth.) Who were they? Who told them? What did they know that I don't? What do I know that they didn't? Could be they were wrong. So considering all the waste of my life: wasted money, wasted energy, wasted time, wasted potential… oh God! what a waste. (Come to think of it rethinking could be a waste.)

But… it seems to me now, that waste, in all its unrealized glory, is such a necessary part of God's creation. Waste is the bittersweet underbelly of the successes of life. For every silver lining there were twenty clouds that didn't make the cut. Twenty clouds that rained on our parades. We are a species that understands by comparing. Not that it gets us anywhere most of the time, but it's what we do. I'll bet my last $5 it's a piece of the story from the of the garden of Eden. Good vs evil, pain vs pleasure, dark vs light… we compare, we judge, we think we get it.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Out of order

Our Order usually gets up early for meditation and morning prayer. But it's Summer and Saturday and Sister decided we'd have a "rest morning" today. A free morning—how rare and delightful that is.

I wake up early anyway, wallowing in the awareness that I can do whatever I like… snuggle down and drift back to sleep (did that twice already) or get up anyway and write down my thoughts (doing that now) or sneak down to the kitchen and unload the dishwasher, make the coffee (even though it's someone else's turn) any combination of ordinary things done out of order. That's what makes them special. Obviously I'm easily entertained. Now if only someone else would get up… I'd have somebody to play with.