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.