Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

I (like most people) have had my ups and downs with the project of: New Years Resolutions. First of all, there are the ones I really should make (often according to somebody else) and the ones I really want to make. If I really want to make a change, why wait til New Years? That's rhetorical. It's always more auspicious to wait until some date of significance... why? I have no clue, but it is.

Second of all, the ones I should make are usually hard, even though they may be good for me... things like getting more exercise, eating vegetarian, picking up my socks. Just because something is good for me has no bearing on whether I will keep my promise to do it. I hate to exercise. So making a resolution to exercise next year is pointless.

For a couple of years one of my resolutions was to make new ones every month. It was a good idea (akin to being good for me) and it lasted into April. One of my resolutions for 2007 is going to be NO MORE MEMES on my blog. So I'm getting this one in before midnight... (compliments of my daughter-in-law)

1. What is your favorite word? thanks

2. What is your least favorite word? should

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally? music

4. What turns you off? fear

5. What is your favorite curse word? I gave these up...damn!

6. What sound or noise do you love? ocean waves

7. What sound or noise do you hate? vibratto

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? novelist

9. What profession would you not like to do? librarian

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? hey, kiddo, I really missed you.

Therefore... what?

A Christmas hymn you'd probably recognize more by the tune than the words, has the refrain: Ideo gloria in excelsis Deo! It's Latin for Therefore, glory to God in the Highest! and the melody forces the Ideo part three times before you get to the Glory to God part. Therefore... therefore... therefore...

Therefore what? Is it an invitation or a command? In philosophy, in mathematics, a = b, therefore... something always follows. Christ is born. God is with us. Therefore... what? For some it means: Therefore I'm saved. My sins are washed away. I'm assured of a place in the Heavenly Kingdom.

My guess is The Heavenly Kingdom will remain a cesspool of hate and despair until we get out there and clean it up. Clean it up, not by killing off those who hate us, not by bandaiding poverty by sinking more tax dollars into assistance programs, but by living each day with a clear understanding that it's all or none. I cannot get to heaven by stepping over your failures. I can only get there by stooping down to pick you up. My failure to do that will keep us both out.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Why can't I see the forest?

Okay, looks like I have received two subscriptions to the On a Journey meditations. One is five days of short meditations and the other is a longer essay, once a week. Today I got the essay and laughed out loud. It was entitled: "Year-end De-Cluttering."

Even though all I have is a combo bedroom/office to worry about, I still looked around this morning and thought I should get rid of some of this stuff, simplify my life even more. As a result I threw out a lot of paper. Not much of a start, but I felt better.

Then I read the essay and thought of my ex-husband, who battles his clutter demons on a continual basis. He should read the essay, not me. That's projection. Whether he should or would read such an essay is beside the point. His journey is not mine, even though we walked some of it together. I barely have a clue about what I'm here to learn, never mind what his mission might be.

So I read it again. It was really not so much about de-cluttering as repentance... a change of mind, a change of heart. It was also about the delusion of waiting, rather than doing... ie.: if I can wait til Bush is out of office then I don't have to take any responsibility for the mess we're in as a country. I can delude myself into thinking things will change with a new political regime. The same goes for our church. Lets wait and see if Katharine can fix us. Nobody can fix us but us, and then only with the grace of God.

So there is was... staring me smack dab in the face: complacency. Awww. Jesus stop chuckling!


Saddam Hussein was hanged, executed. The exact same photo of him with a noose around his neck can be found on CNN, the New York Times, the BBC. There's apparently even video, but I didn't watch it.

What has his death changed? The car-bombings continue. I'm told he was the enemy, that this is what any tyrant deserves. Yet, Jesus tells me to love my enemies, to pray for those who persecute me. Loving hateful people is not easy, Jesus. But then, you, of all people knew that, know that. The car-bombings continue, though. It will take something else besides vengeance to stop the fear and the hate.

What are you smiling at? Ah yes... you gave us an example. You showed us what God is like. Well, we apparently don't much care for the God you showed us. We want a different God... one who kicks ass and destroys those who don't do it our way. Quit chuckling! So what's the joke? Oh. You both died as common criminals. Common bonds.

Nobody's gonna buy that one. I'll get run out on a rail just for repeating it. Watch.

Friday, December 29, 2006

On a Journey

A friend of mine has given me a subscription to On a Journey meditations. When he mentioned it to me, the name itself intrigued me, since I struggle with a number of issues, questions and annoyances (both large and small) that have an effect on my own journey back to God. I do believe we each are on a journey back to the source of all that was... and of which we are, especially if we have fallen asleep to that fact.

Today's meditation ended with this thought: Control isn't a pathway to faith. Control is an addiction that will kill us. Ha! I certainly needed to hear that! I constantly delude myself into thinking I am not one of those "control freaks" who has to run everyone else's business. But on a scale from one to ten, we all fall somewhere... nobody's a zero, except maybe God.

Our Old Testament has plenty of examples of how God attempted to control his human creation without much success. Only in Jesus, did that need for control surrender to the power of love. There is a price to be paid for surrender, and often it looks like failure. But God does not see, think or count things the same way we do, much as we would like Him/Her to.

God is a mystery to us, we say, with varying degrees of hostility and awe. We cannot control God so we attempt to control each other. Do it my way or I will make you pay somehow. I will punish you, harass you, call you names, slander you, bomb your country, kill you dead. But even when I kill you, I have not gained control. Life is still a mystery and my place is still here on this wheel of time and experience.

Those who make a project out of trying to control another's beliefs, words, thoughts, are addicted to their own delusions of excellence. They would rather direct someone else's journey than face their own. AWOT (as another friend likes to say) a waste of time.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

That's life

Apparently there's a trend these days for the anonymous to post an infinite variety of inappropriate, hypercritical, often obscene comments to blogs written by nuns. (The same sort of people often like to spray-paint swastikas on churches and dress up in white ghost costumes with pointy caps.)

At least three of the nun-blogs I read on a regular basis have reluctantly had to add comment moderation to screen these people out. What a pain. While I am a believer in freedom of speech, I don't need unnecessary crass comments that offend not only me, but those who actually read my work for spiritual meditation. So... comment moderation it must be. You are still welcome to post a comment but I'll get an email and have to approve it before it appears on the blog. C'est la vie.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

(stolen from my daughter-in-law)

'Tis the Season Meme

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
If it's spiked, eggnog. Otherwise, hot chocolate, spiked or not.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
Puts them under the tree, assembled, with extra batteries in your stocking.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
In a convent? Not actually.

5. When do you put your decorations up?
Day before Christmas

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
Entree: Rare roast beef with horseradish sauce, Other: Green bean casserole, stuffed mushrooms

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child?
Buying presents for everyone else's stocking and sneaking them in when no one was looking

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
Third grade. We moved from Florida to Maine and I sat on one of the gifts we were carrying. I got a smashed cowboy hat for Christmas... hmmm.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
Nope. At the convent we unwrap a few each evening starting Christmas night.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
Used to like theme trees (even when the theme was everything the kids have made since grade school) Now we just get it done quickly with whichever ornaments are unwrapped first.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
Love it when it's falling. Hate it when it turns to slush.

12. Can you ice skate?
Sort of. (Weak ankles)

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
Have had so many...

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
Remembering those I don't get to be with all year.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
Anything with whipped cream.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Christmas day afternoon nap :)

17. What tops your tree?

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving?
They are interrelated... some mysterious symbiotic relationship

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
A Stable Lamp is Lighted

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or yummy?
Yuck. Give me dark chocolate

21. Favorite Christmas Movies?
Wish I could remember... anything heartwarming and not too trite

Monday, December 25, 2006

and she brought forth her first-born son

There are some who will tell you that Mary was not only a virgin, but that the birth of Jesus was painless. I guess that is no more preposterous than my believing that God, out of love, freely chose to be incarnated in human form.

But then each person's threshold for tolerance of the absurd is different, and my own experience with birth was that it was messy and painful. I was not a virgin (obviously) and it was still a long and excruciating labor. For my first-born I was gassed out for the actual birth, so I didn't feel that, but I woke up in pain, and was in pain for days after. For my second child, I opted for drugs injected straight into my spine... I was a wimp, but I wanted to be awake for the delivery.

To me, saying that this special birth was painless, is like saying the nails in Jesus hands and feet didn't hurt when he was crucified. Human beings feel pain when their bodies are ripped apart (for any reason), why would we think Mary's body would be exempt? Her heart was not exempt from breaking when her son was arrested and sentenced and executed... compared to losing your child, bearing that child would be the easy part.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve: It's all about Mary

Because... what if Mary had said no? Been too timid, or concerned with her reputation, afraid of the responsibility, or feeling too unworthy?

For our God to become human, He required a willing partner. It was part of the deal. The WORD Incarnate would have kept silent, and we would never have seen the light. And yet... she said yes. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, and what was done to her according to God's will.

My best wishes
to all my family and friends
for a blessed Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Advent IV

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation...

This year Advent IV is exactly that: a daily. Monastics celebrate the evening before: First Vespers of the next day (whatever it is) so we will get the full 24 hours of what is normally a week.

Most people won't celebrate Advent IV until tomorrow morning sometime. The clergy and sacristans in the various parishes will be rushing around trying to fit it all in. Our community will be attending mass at the Cathedral for a nice change of pace... then back home to get everything in order for an 8:00 Christmas Eve creche blessing, mass and wassail party. No midnight mass this year. Our median age gets higher each year and we need our sleep to face the dinner preparations for Christmas Day.

Tomorrow night is Christmas Eve... called First Vespers of the Nativity. I feel a little short-changed on Advent myself, this year, but not because I didn't get everything done (which I didn't) but because I was really enjoying it as a Season. That's okay. Maybe next year.

The ongoing saga of efficiency (not)

I wrote the DMV. You have to log on to their website and your request/complaint/question must fit a certain format. Of course there was no format for "why didn't I get my motorcycle endorsement?" but there was a complaint section... so I complained. Their response follows:

Response (License Production Bureau) - 12/20/2006 02:49 PM
Dear Customer:

We will order the paperwork that you recently had processed to review your Florida Driver License. If the paperwork shows that we need to add the endorsement, we will issue a new document adding the endorsement. If it doesn't show that the endorsement should be added we will notify you.

Please be aware that this process can take up to three months to complete.

Yesiree, you gotta love bureaucracy.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

My beef with the DMV

When I moved to New York (eleven years ago) I did not apply for a New York drivers license. For one thing, I had a valid Florida license (with a decent photo) that wasn't due to expire any time soon. For another, the only place I ever drove was in Florida, when I was back visiting family or friends. I have been known to have a lead foot on occasion and I thought to myself: I do not want to be stopped by the Florida Highway Patrol for speeding with a New York Drivers license.

Time passed and this arrangement seemed to work nicely. Then it was time to renew. Decisions, decisions. I just happened to be in Florida visiting... so I renewed my Florida license. That one had an even better picture of me and was good for six years. The entire process, including high-tech eye test and photo session took half an hour.

Now I'm a nun, and I do drive on occasion in New York. In fact, I got a ticket last summer for double parking while I was helping one of our elderly sisters (with her walker) into the van. (Now who gives a ticket to a nun helping another nun into a car? Only in New York. But that's another story.)

Anyway, since my license was due to expire yet again, I figured it was time to bite the bullet and get a valid New York license. You are supposed to do this within thirty days of moving to the state, but as I mentioned before... I had my reasons.

I visited our local DMV office with all my various documentation. (With tightened security, one must have a valid Social Security Card, a photo ID, a current license...I had all that.) and waited my turn to get my new license. I figured I would have to take a written test, and had already taken the online sample, but no test was required. The eye test consisted of me reading from a battered cardboard eye chart from a couple of feet away, one I could have memorized while standing at the desk waiting for the representative to punch keys on her computer.

Now here's the thing: my Florida license had a motorcycle endorsement. I wanted to keep it. (Okay so I'm a nun and I don't ride a motorcycle anymore, but I can, I might, and it's not easy to get something back if you let it lapse.)

I asked her three times to make sure that the motorcycle endorsement would be on my new license and had the card from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation proving I had passed the test. She assured me that any endorsement on my old license would transfer to my new one.

After four hours my number finally flashed and I was handed a piece of paper that said I would receive my New York license in a week to ten days. What I don't even get the license? Nope that's mailed from Albany. Huh? Okay... You do know what's coming, right?

The license arrived in the mail. No.motorcycle.endorsement. (to be continued...)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The winnowing shovel

Last Sunday our celebrant preached and celebrated at a combination Eucharist and clothing of our new candidate: Sr. Gerry Joseph. Everyone from both convents was here... a rare (and therefore precious) occurence for us these days. Our celebrant is a rare and precious person in herself, always giving more than we anticipate in looking at the scriptures from a different focus and point of view.

Her homily Sunday was no exception. She spoke of a scholar she knows who explains the Gospels from an understanding of the early Greek. The famous words of John the Baptist "His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor..." have apparently been mistranslated. The Greek does not have an adequate counterpart in English for the tool used in the harvesting of grain, but winnowing fork is not it. The closest we could come would be to call it a winnowing shovel (which isn't exactly right either).

Her point was that as John points to the future and to Christ as the one who will follow him, he is not speaking of Jesus the judge so much as Jesus the gatherer... the annointed One who will bring all of the harvest (Israel) back into the barn.

Jesus certainly lived up to this new (for me) interpretation of that passage.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Advent III

It has never occurred to me to pay a lot of attention to the individual collects for the various seasons and holy days... I know where to locate them in the prayer book, and if not there, then the book of lesser feasts and fasts will probably have them. But when I started these Advent posts, the first Sunday of Advent's prayer opened addressing God as Almighty. Then the second Sunday it was Merciful. Hmmm... a pattern? But today, the third Sunday, the prayer has no opening salutation. It cuts straight to the chase: Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us... It's the kind of prayer the Celts would term "calling down the power." No whiney pleas, no begging, just a simple, straightforward demand.

Yet even our demands don't necessarily bring the expected results. The long-awaited Messiah did not come among us with great might. He came as a helpless, homeless baby. Yeah, we say... but wait til the next time. The next time he comes it will all be different. If time is not linear to God, how do we know that? The next time could be the same time. Maybe that power needs to be stirred up within us, not from without.

As an aside... does it ever insult anyone else's aesthetic sensibilities that this Sunday the candle is pink? It does mine. But I suppose that's neither here nor there in the grand scheme of the Universe.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Luke 22: 36-38

If you don't have a sword, pawn your coat and buy one... Look, we have two swords. Enough of this sword talk.
—from The Message, Peterson's translation of Luke.

In the two other translations we read this morning, when Jesus' disciples produce two swords, he responds: "It is enough." Cryptic comment, especially in light of what will follow in the garden later. Then he will tell his disciples to put their swords away, and be led to his impending death like a meek lamb. So which is it? Get ready for battle, or practice non-violence?

My thoughts today are similar to my thoughts about other contradictory passages. I don't think Jesus knew everything that was going to happen, minute by minute, blow by blow in his lifetime. If he was as equally human as the rest of us, he hedged his bets, changed his mind, figured it out as he went along. He obviously had a keen gift of prophesy: he nailed Peter's denials right down to the number. But regarding his own mission and the next few hours of his life, he was hesitant. Would the angel hoards actually come to defend him? Or would he die a criminal's shameful death?

I can so relate to Peterson's translation. As soon as the words are out of his mouth he decides differently. Enough of this sword talk. We will take the non-violent path to its inevitable conclusion. Every time Christ shows his humanity, I have a deeper respect for him as the Son of God.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

So what did you do with all that time?

Good question... bad question... maybe just not the right question for someone who suffers from the sin of keeping score. Not so much now with other people, but still with myself. My mentor emailed me four questions (for my upcoming evaluation) before I left, and ended her note with: "Have a great retreat. Be gentle with yourself."

I am not good at being gentle with myself. There are old tapes that I have tried to erase... words from my childhood: You have got to be the laziest child I've ever seen. You're so selfish, just like your father. If you don't get out and get a job I'm not supporting you... that last one spurring my enlistment the very next day into the United States Navy. I saw a sign that said "Uncle Sam Wants YOU!" and thought "well good, someone does." and enlist I did. (Bad decision, but it led to good things, so I don't necessarily keep score about my pitiful failures.)

But while I appreciated that no one at Holy Cross could care less whether I attended the Daily Offices, I was keeping track internally. I think at some point I finally gave up and wandered over to chapel whenever I heard the bell ring. It was easier that way. I did skip Compline every night. It was the right thing to do... partly because I'm used to our convent's schedule of saying Compline directly after supper cleanup. We have elderly sisters who would refuse to go to bed early if someone were still up to pray, so we all pray early and then they can go to bed. I love that time of day: it's only 7:30 and I am showered, in my jammies, ready to relax. Sometimes I read for awhile, but often I hit the pillow and am gone by 8:00. So that schedule prevailed. I only made my bed once. That might have been a stretch had I not spent most of my time bundled up under the covers, reading, knitting, working on artwork. I never once went outside. All that gorgeous scenery... and I only looked out at the river during meals. I am a cave dweller at heart. All those zodiac predictions that a Sagittarius loves the outdoors are not untrue, they just don't take into account inertia. Once I'm inside, I'm inside.

So what did I do with all that time? I finished a book and started two more. I finished one knitting project and started another. I completed two final Christmas images and have three more in various stages of completion. I slept and dreamed and ate, and took long hot showers. I braided my hair. I goofed off. I had a great retreat.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Advent II (better late than never)

The collect for the second Sunday of Advent reads: Give us grace to heed their (the prophets') warnings and forsake our sins...
forsake: to renounce or turn away from entirely, to give up, leave behind, abandon.

Giving up, leaving behind, abandoning... none of these come easy to us. We are constantly reminded not to burn our bridges. Perhaps burning bridges is what the incarnation is all about. God already sacrificed the pleasant unity of the void by speaking those first words: let there be light. One bridge burned already. Incarnation into human form: now that was even riskier. How dreadfully reckless and audacious is the love of God.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

shutting it down

The laptop is shutting down, the internet cable disconnecting. I'm off to see the wizard, (or God) or both... boarding the train to enjoy the luxury of peace and quiet and solitude for a week. Solitude is not loneliness, nor even aloneness. It is an interior place of communion with the stillness within each of us. We don't go there too often. For some it is a dreadful and terrible place, for others a refuge. For me? Can't say yet... I'm still in transition.

Hope to have something to share when I return... peace to you all.

Santa is not the anti-Christ

Santa Claus gets a bad rap from many Christians seeking to "put Christ back into Christmas". Christ never left; it is we who have shifted our emphasis and our priorities.

Today, December 6, is the feast day of St. Nicholas. Actual knowledge of the original Santa Claus is pretty sketchy. He was a Bishop in the fourth century, tortured and imprisoned under the emperor Diocletian, and somehow came to be a patron saint of sailors, as well as being extolled for his generosity to children. I'm not sure if you have to actually die from persecution to be considered a martyr for Christ, but since red is the vestment color reserved for martyrs, it seems appropriate that we find Santa in a red suit. It is also in keeping with Jesus' teachings that we bless and protect children, as well as give generously to the poor. Santa himself was no anti-Christ, he was a faithful follower, willing to be persecuted for the faith.

In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer collect for St. Nicholas, the prayer bids us to follow his example in providing "the happiness of children and safety of sailors, relief of the poor and those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief." Anyone, even non-sailors, can relate to those kinds of tempests. Grief and doubt... both emotions strike us at the core of who we are, and paralyze us from becoming who we want to be. Not quite as insidious as anger and fear, but they are related.

Perhaps this Christmas we could ask Santa for gifts that give meaning and purpose to our everyday lives, rather than a new ipod or gameboy to distract us from the fact that we have lost sight of our meaning and purpose.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Prayer Requests

The other day at the funeral a woman asked me to pray for her. Not for her, actually, but for another she was having issues with... Uh oh. You may as well know it now... whenever someone asks me to pray that God will give guidance or commitment or common sense to someone else, I think to myself... "Nah, I'm going to pray that God will give tolerance or forgiveness or a gentle acceptance to you, (you ignorant twit.)

But that's because I can so easily see the speck in your eye. The log in my own has blinded me to my own shortcomings in the areas of tolerance, forbearance and forgiveness. I can be just as judgmental as the next guy; in fact it was probably my nastiest trait when I entered the convent. Not that it's gotten much better. I'm just better at concealing it. Once I get started on a rant, though... all the stops are pulled and any subconscious sandbagging I've done will come bubbling out like a fountain. "And not only that!... blah blah blah."

So it was good for me to see the mirror of my own heart in this woman. She was on a rant, and she assumed she had a willing and sympathetic confidant. She did. Not just in the manner she was hoping for.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Advent I

Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light...

That's how the prayer for Advent I begins. It puts the responsibility for what we can do on us, and the means to do it on God.

I like that. This does not ask for the stomping of Satan, the hastening of the end of time, the slaughter of our "enemies" (those whose theology and views on life may be different from ours, or strange to us.)

It simply asks God to help us stay focused on what we've committed to be about: compassion, tolerance, reverence... a small flame of light that the darkness may not comprehend, but cannot overcome. Too many times we snuff our own candles out of fear, weariness, boredom. Then the works of darkness become our own works, no matter how we dress them up with righteous labels.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Rite I and Broadway

I missed half of First Vespers of Advent I because of a funeral this afternoon. I was worried some of the sisters would be angry with me. Since the funeral started at 2:30, you'd think I'd have made it home by 5:30. But it was a funeral for an actor and many in the congregation were actors, so the eulogies went on and on and on... I was late, but nobody seemed too upset.

A lot of people hate funerals. I've come to like them. Not like, as in I'm having a great time, but like as in participating in an important rite of passage, both for the dead and the living. I cry at funerals the same way I cry at weddings and baptisms and other rituals where there is a celebration of faith, an outpouring of love, a vow of commitment. These are intangible things, and as far as I'm concerned, the formal occasions for honoring them don't occur often enough.

The man who died had courageously battled pancreatic cancer. He had lived much longer than most who are unlucky enough to to be cursed with that particular form, although cancer in any form is no walk in the park. He was a generous and truly likable man, whose sunny optimistic attitude was both annoying and endearing. His extended family was the St. Bart's Players and they were out in numbers to give him a spectacular send-off. An odd mix of Rite I and Broadway... he'd have loved it.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

White Walls

A fresh canvas... a clean slate... white walls... an empty schedule. How many times have I thought of those things from both ends of the spectrum? When my life is cluttered they loom large as desirable, enviable. But I have had white walls and it was a b*tch trying to decide what color I wanted to live with. I've had clean slates too, but as Kabat-Zinn says: "wherever you go there you are." Edith Ann would add "and that's the truth!"

Yet in spite of that knowing, I'm already excited about my upcoming long retreat. In the past we had these week-long silent times together as a community, always in the summer at the Melrose convent. In recent years it became obvious that we weren't really all together; there were always one or two missing, away at a workshop only offered in August, plus two more who acted as cooks and bottle-washers for the group, who took their retreats at other times.

So this past year we decided to try doing them individually. Mine is scheduled for next week, starting Wednesday. I'm leaving for my favorite monastery upstate. I was able to rearrange schedules and responsibilities and will be off the planet (as my ex-husband used to say). Wahoo!

I'll have no internet access, no email, no newspapers (not that I ever read them anyway) no TV, no talking, zip, nada, nothing. An empty schedule... Of course there will be the daily offices and a daily Eucharist to anchor me, but everything else is up to me. Sleep, read, walk, write (in longhand), and listen...

When nothing else is vying for my attention I'm a pretty good listener. Hope God feels like talking.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Queen of Denial

The first part of today's Gospel lesson from Luke (Luke 18: 31-43) reminds me of just how powerful (and protective) denial can be. Jesus tells his disciples "... everything written about the Son of Man will be accomplished." And he goes on to lay it out in blow-by-blow graphic detail what's going to happen in Jerusalem. But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

Okay, I can relate to that, put myself in their shoes. Ohhh that's terrible. Wonder who the Son of Man is... Duh. But it's not the message I wanted to hear just now... that you are going to die... that you are going to be insulted, and spit upon, and flogged, and then killed right before my eyes. So... I am in complete denial about what you just said.

It happens all the time in so many small ways that protect us from difficult truths we aren't yet able to face. Where am I in denial today God? What have you just told me I didn't want to hear?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Where does hope come from?

Where does hope come from in times of despair?

Today is Christ the King Sunday, and our celebrant reminded us that it's damn near impossible to find meaning in that when the world is falling apart. If Christ reigns eternal, then where does He reign? Not in my backyard, not in Iraq or the Sudan. The Gospel reading this morning was the story of Jesus facing Pilate. Jesus tells Pilate, "I came to testify to the truth." Pilate asks "...and what is truth?"

But the scripture doesn't say, and the answer is shrouded in mystery. The closer we come to an answer, the more discouraging it seems. Let's isolate that one and focus on other truths, ones that are easier to swallow. A baby will be born... a savior of the world. Time to start planning his birthday, start wrapping presents, baking cookies.

I spent my creativity time and some of Thanksgiving weekend devoted to image-making... Christmas imagery. Perhaps it's a throwback to earlier years, when my tradition was to create an annual Christmas card on Thanksgiving afternoon, but it goes deeper than that. The meaning and texture of Advent has changed significantly for me since I came to the convent.

Advent is a time of despair... a time of facing up to the ugly truths about my own self and the world I inhabit. Christ does not yet reign in glory, because He does not yet reign in each individual heart. "Repent!" cries the Baptist. But repentance is a hard-to-sell commodity. Not yet, please. Too much work, repentance.. too discouraging.

Where does hope come from? My guess is: the same place the light comes from... from the depths of the abyss. That is absurd, of course.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

May this season
of thankfulness and bounty
keep your heart warm
throughout the long winter.

All my love, Claire Joy

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Luke 17: 11-19

Maybe its because I have so much to do... or am in a holiday spirit, or just didn't care much for the lesson today, but Bible Study took a turn south this morning, at least for me. It was the story from Luke about the ten lepers. They call out to Jesus (from a distance) for him to heal them, and he tells them: "Go show themselves to the priests at the temple." So off they go. I kept remembering the line from Chicken Licken: "and off the two went, and off the three went..." well, in this case, off the ten went.

On their way they were healed. And one, noticing he had been healed, turned back. I can picture the discussion as each one in turn became aware that his leprosy was gone. Hey Levi! Your nose looks better... You should talk, Simon, you've suddenly got all your fingers. Then the one decides he's going back. The others try to dissuade him: The Master told us to go to the temple... that's where I'm going. Well, my mother told me it's always nice to say thank you. Yeah, well what if the cure reverses itself because you didn't do as you were told? Look, we have to get a clean bill of health from the priest or we can't go in the synagogue... But he turned back anyway.

And when he found Jesus, he praised God and fell prostrate before him. Oh and by the way, this man was a Samaritan. (Finally) Luke's agenda becomes clear. Just like in the story of the "Good" Samaritan, everyone else is chopped liver. Jesus' response is a very unusual the-glass-is-half-empty approach: "Wait a minute, weren't there ten who were cured? Only one comes back to say thank you?"

Hey, you told them to go to the temple. Obedience is a virtue, remember?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Rule of Life

Writing a rule of life, (or in my community's case—rewriting it) is an awesome undertaking. Some orders have taken years to rewrite their rule, many have never attempted it.

There are the few basics, the principles of faith that have stood the test of time, but other words are crumbling under the weight of new discoveries, new focus. Our current rule was written in the 50's but it was modeled after rules of earlier origin, and now it's time to bring it (and us) into the 21st century. The language will be examined and reworked, specific details that no longer apply will be discarded, and what will emerge will be infused with the Holy Spirit. That is the dream, the plan.

But with every dream, there must be a committee to implement it. There's the rub. A committee, by its very nature, can bog down in the frustrating process of compromise. The language—carefully crafted so as not to offend anyone —ends up inspiring no one. It's why the group must be selected with care, and those interested in the work must step forward to volunteer. And it won't end there. As dedicated and prayerful as their efforts may be, the drafts must all come before the entire community for discussion and affirmation. No wonder it takes years. Much easier to form a new community, write your own inspired rule and take those of like mind with you. (That's been done plenty of times too.)

But that's not what we're doing. And (I believe) it's to our credit that we're willing to get in there and tackle something this large, something this fundamental to our life together. In my imagination I envision a mud pit where women in bathing suits wrestle, fall down, attempt to find a hold, only to have their hands slip... as they go splat yet again. Difficult dirty work, infuriating and funny. May we keep laughing through it all.

Monday, November 20, 2006

What price validity?

Consider these questions:

Do the ends justify the means? If the results are not what you expected (or wanted), does it follow that what led up to them was a waste of time? I'm asking these questions (always) in the larger context of the teachings of Jesus, but I'm also asking them here and now in the context of my life in community.

Depending on how I spin the question here, most always the pat answer will be "No." (or maybe even "No, of course not, silly." What I loved about you last week is not negated because you've disappointed me today. Are you sure about that?

Jesus preached a radical ministry: Turn the other cheek. Return compassion for hatred. Love your enemies. That he died on a cross like a common criminal had to have had an effect on those who were following him, especially those still in discernment about whether he might be the next King of Israel. Okay, he's dead. Nice thoughts, but scratch those teachings. Until he rose. Aha! We knew it. We knew it all along.

I don't think so. Plenty of people never believed he actually rose from the dead, even those who believed in his message. Just a plot cooked up by the disciples to keep the movement going, some said. On the other hand, others who bought the resurrection story, took everything Jesus had said (and done) in a new light. He wasn't some crazy crackpot afterall, He was the son of God.

So my point is... the results do matter, no matter how much we protest that thay don't. And... it rankles that we insist on reassuring ourselves and each other that we are above all that. We describe results in poetic language and make distinctions between earthly success vs. heavenly success. But we want results, whether here or there.

I have a suspician that God is above all that, and we know it intuitively, much as we don't understand it, approve of it, or want it.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The work of discernment

Discernment is tedious work. I would never have even thought about how tedious it can be, had I not had to be in the process. It's sort of rewarding (in its own way) because I can actually see how far I've come—and subsequently fear how far there is to go.

For one thing, the questions I asked my first year were different from those the second, and those the third. Now I'm starting year 4... and, sure enough, the questions are all new. So many questions... so many different shades of gray for the answers.

My first year I asked things like "What was I thinking? When am I gonna get bored with all this praying? Will I want to do this for the rest of my life? Why am I here God? Did you possibly make a mistake? How can I ever live with these neurotic women?" All the focus was on me, me, me... and them, them, them. My second year was still very much me, me, me, but the emphasis shifted to " I'll never measure up. What were you thinking, God? Why is this so hard?" My third year was more along the lines of: "Am I wasting the time of these women I now love? What if I do decide to leave? How will that feel? Why am I still hanging around if I'm even considering leaving?"

Each step along the way I've had wise counsel from mentors and fellow candidates. I've complained and laughed and prayed my way through most of it, with only the occasional response from God. So far that response has been: Stay put, I want you here. I can use you better here. and I rejoiced the occasional times I heard that loud and clear. Last year the question: "Is this just necessary training for something else... something harder?" kept cropping up. That one hasn't been answered. Another thought: This life is too easy. How can it be a real call if it's this easy? But of course the life is not easy— It's only easy in ways I've never experienced before.

So where am I now? This very minute? Well, the questions are more thought-provoking and have more to do with the community itself than with me being a nun. What does this community really stand for? How do I fit into that picture? Do they really mean what they claim to profess when it gets down to the nitty-gritty? Do I really mean what I claim to profess?

Discernment is tedious work.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Creativity Days

We've set aside two days for creativity. Today is day 2. These days (scheduled throughout the year) always make some sisters nervous; they feel they are on the spot to do something creative on demand. Apparently in the past there was "show and tell" at the end of each session. No wonder there's stress.

I haven't suffered from the fear of creative inadequacy in a long time... especially since I can find so many outlets here: yesterday I cooked supper. That was it. Some people might not consider cooking supper a worthy creative project. But it's like life... everything is what you make of it. Cooking, cleaning, writing, painting... all of them can be a drudge if I don't feel like doing them when they have to be done.

Since it was Friday, I wanted to make salmon patties, but changed the recipe to reflect an Asian theme. (I was using up all the frozen rice to make fried rice.) Then I made eggrolls. The guts were from scratch but the wrappers themselves I purchased from the local Asian market. (Some grocery stores carry them, but not around here.) I was in the middle of the wrapping part when I realized I'd made way more insides than I had outsides to stuff. I ran out to get more wrappers. Since I was in a hurry, I checked out a new market just up the street, closer to home. They didn't have eggroll wrappers, but they had spring roll skins. Okay, we'll try those. Oh my God. Flaky... crunchy... I may never buy egg roll wrappers again.

And... as I was drifting off to sleep last night I wondered, could spring roll skins be substituted for philo dough to make baklava? Hmmm... there may be a Greek meal in my sisters' future.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My cousin (not Vinny)

When I was growing up, as far as I knew, the word "gay" did not refer to sexual preference... it meant merry and joyful, as in we had a gay old time. I never knew any gay men until college; never knew any lesbians until I was in my thirties. I take that back. I may have known them; I just didn't know their secret.

Homosexuality was a huge secret then, whispered about and giggled over in the hallway. Even the words to describe gay people were offensive: queer, faggot, and worse. My cousin, who was two years older than I, announced that he was gay when he was twenty-three, after a disastrous engagement to a young nurse he met while attempting to learn a trade as an x-ray technician. My aunt didn't like her, said she was a gold digger. That she was digging for gold at a useless mineshaft never occurred to anyone I don't think, except maybe me. My cousin was an optimist and a dreamer... a lazy one at that. He was lots of fun to be around, but you wouldn't want him trying to support you, you'd starve to death. He was constantly borrowing money from me, me... who got a third of his allowance.

Although they were shocked at the announcement, and devastated that there would be no grandchildren, my aunt and uncle loved their son. Deeply. He was adopted and you'd never want to meet a more cherished and catered to child than he. When we were kids, I was often jealous for no good reason... he was spectacular at any sport he tried, but he was a dud when it came to school. I was just the opposite. It made me mad that he got $5 for every A on his report card and I got $5 deducted for every C. But he was so kind hearted, and let me tag along sometimes when he went out with his pals.

In the early years as a young gay man, he got along famously with my mother... they both liked to drink. She even called him a queer to his face, and he put up with it. He brought his boyfriends home to meet my mom long before letting them meet his own parents. But he couldn't hold down a job. Usually his partners were the breadwinners and that got old.

My uncle, on the other hand, was hard working and a good businessman, and had amassed a sizeable nest egg for his retirement, not to mention he stood to inherit another $80,000 from his mother when she died. He deliberately set up a trust fund for his son, with so many legal locks on the principal and contingencies for disbursement there was no way anyone could go through that money before it ran out. What he never bargained for was dying so soon after his retirement.

A bizarre chain of events unfolded... my uncle died and my aunt followed within the month, and then my uncle's mother kicked the bucket the very next week. Nobody anticipated all that life insurance with nobody to inherit it (to filter it) before it went to the sole surviving relative... my cousin.

Wahoo! He and his then current lover moved to Las Vegas and they lived high off the hog for a couple of years. I don't even know how much money he inherited (my mother estimated over $300,00 plus furniture and antiques) but he went through it in nothing flat. Then his lover split. At the time I was pinching pennies to raise two kids, I had no sympathy. He and my mother were estranged, and I just lost track of him. I heard he had moved back East, and had a new partner. He still had the trust fund, although it was stringently doled out only four times a year.

Decades later we reunited. I don't even remember how or when we resumed our correspondence. I may have called him to let him know that my mother died, but once reconnected, we exchanged letters and Christmas cards every year. I visited him one Thanksgiving in the 90's, and three years ago he died.

Toward the end of his life he had a series of cancer and surgeries... prostate, lung, colon. At the last he lived in a wheelchair tied to a colostomy bag. His attitude was still optimistic and he was still dreaming. His joy was his computer and he had a string of email friends he was in touch with every day, me included.

It never occurred to me to look down on him because he was gay. That was a non-issue. If I were going to judge him for anything it would have been for his extravagance and foolishness with all that money. But it was his money, not mine. Once I accepted that it was never mine to spend or manage, I could forgive him for the way (I thought) he wasted it.

The same is true in my relationship with God. Who gets what and how much... of God's grace and blessings is not mine to determine. It all belongs to God to give or not. Like the owner of the vineyard in today's Gospel: those who worked for one hour got a full day's pay. It was his money, quitcherbellyachin.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

In the language of our times

Hebrews 9:24-28

Our celebrant preached on the Epistle rather than the Gospel this morning. Nice change, especially since just about everything that could be said about the widow and her mite has already been hashed over a hundred times. We know what Jesus said, we know what he meant, we just don't care to follow His instructions... myself included, I'm sorry to say.

In the letter to the Hebrews, (as our celebrant explained) there's a different problem... one of understanding Scripture based on prevailing worldview. The theology being explained in that letter was from Leviticus, written centuries before. The worldview then and the worldview at the time of the letter were significantly different, and our worldview now is different still. He went on to suggest that an understanding of all three helps to make sense of what otherwise would be just a lovely and poetic metaphor. I can relate. So much of the Old Testament seems (to me) to be poetry, not fact, especially in light of scientific discovery. It's close enough in a metaphorical way to comfort and enlighten, but not so far-fetched as to give me reason to doubt. I've been challenged before on my simplistic acceptance of what the Bible says, just as I've been challenged in my skepticism as to whether Jesus really said all that stuff. But that's a whole 'nother issue.

(In the letter to the Hebrews) the real world was heaven. The shadow world was here, where we live. Christ was from the real world, but entered the shadow world, bringing light. His incarnation transformed our world in ways we cannot necessarily see, but nevertheless transformed it. Sin, though seemingly still with us, lost its deadly hold on this world. "Once for all " as the text reads.

The whole point of the homily was to encourage us to translate Scripture in today's language, expressing the writer's same conviction in Jesus, but in the context of our present understanding. It reminded me of a book I read: The Holographic Universe. Current string theory and holographic theory explain in a new language the difference between the real world and the world we can actually perceive, much as the analogy of heaven and the shadow world. The language exists. We should use it.

Ancient Tarot Wisdom... or not

My daughter-in law had this quiz on her site and I took it twice and came up with two different Tarot characters... Maybe that means I'm schizophrenic. Mybe not... they both describe me pretty well.

You are The Moon

Hope, expectation, Bright promises.

The Moon is a card of magic and mystery - when prominent you know that nothing is as it seems, particularly when it concerns relationships. All logic is thrown out the window.

The Moon is all about visions and illusions, madness, genius and poetry. This is a card that has to do with sleep, and so with both dreams and nightmares. It is a scary card in that it warns that there might be hidden enemies, tricks and falsehoods. But it should also be remembered that this is a card of great creativity, of powerful magic, primal feelings and intuition. You may be going through a time of emotional and mental trial; if you have any past mental problems, you must be vigilant in taking your medication but avoid drugs or alcohol, as abuse of either will cause them irreparable damage. This time however, can also result in great creativity, psychic powers, visions and insight. You can and should trust your intuition.

You are The Wheel of Fortune

Good fortune and happiness but sometimes a species of
intoxication with success

The Wheel of Fortune is all about big things, luck, change, fortune. Almost always good fortune. You are lucky in all things that you do and happy with the things that come to you. Be careful that success does not go to your head however. Sometimes luck can change.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Rest in Peace

R.I.P. Malachi

Much has been written about whether there's a spiritual destination for our pets: Do they go to "heaven" when they die? Will we find them waiting when we arrive? I read an email story about a man turned away at the pearly gates because dogs were not allowed, so he and his dog kept traveling down the road, only to find the real heaven where all God's creatures were welcome.

While it was a nice story, it still smacked of God testing us yet again. What's with that? Why do so many of our stories about God deal with testing? Personally I think it says more about us than God.

Malachi was born on Christmas day in 1990. The runt of the litter, born of a calico mom and a black manx dad, he was distinctive from all the other kittens who were either calico or black. He was an odd combination: gray tabby body with gray points and HUGE blue saucer eyes. And half a tail. It was love at first sight. I picked him out and then went home to wait for him to grow big enough to leave home. After a week or so, all the other kittens were thriving except mine; it was a large litter and he just wasn't getting to the food counter in time. The owner took them all to the vet for their baby shots and the vet advised her to put him down. "That cat's never going to be right. He has a birth defect, maybe an undeveloped digestive system." But she knew I would be heartbroken, so against all odds, she took him home and force-fed him from a bottle. He got the hang of it after another week and began to gain weight and play along with the others.

He was not an especially intelligent cat. (Maybe he did have a birth defect.) But he was the most loving cat I ever owned. He came when I called, woke me up in the morning with a kiss on the nose, accompanied me to the bathroom and drank out of the faucet. Every time I moved, he went with me: to New York City in 1995, to Queens in 2000, to Long Island City in 2002, and finally in 2003, when I entered the convent, he went back to Florida to live with my ex-husband. He was not fond of other cats and there was a housefull, so he peed all over the carpet to show his disapproval. I personally would not have put up with that (he never peed on my carpet) but my ex-husband gets along better with animals than people, and he was gracious and forgiving. Malachi finally settled in and made friends, and (mostly) quit peeing on the carpet.

About six months ago Malachi was diagnosed with feline diabetes. Today he drew his last earthly breath, just a month short of celebrating his sixteenth birthday... a pretty long and exciting life for a cat who was judged "never going to be right." He was blessed at St. Bartholomew's Church on St. Francis day for three consecutive years. He had flown on an airplane, ridden the subway, and made a cross-country trip by car. (He liked to move but hated traveling.) And he got to spend his retirement in Florida.

Is he in heaven? You betcha.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


It's been a long time since I memed anything... they get old after awhile, but this one from Rev. Ed had too many things I've actually done, and I felt like sharing (bragging? confessing?):

Which of these 100 things have you done? I've marked the ones I've done in italic.
1. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
2. Swam with wild dolphins
3. Climbed a mountain (Mount Washington even!)
4. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
5. Been inside the Great Pyramid
6. Held a tarantula My son's... yuk.
7. Taken a candlelit bath with someone. (Showers too)
8. Said "I love you"’ and meant it!
9. Hugged a tree
10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise.
14. Seen the Northern Lights
15. Gone to a huge sports game (Does a Rangers game count?)
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables.
18. Touched an iceberg
19. Slept under the stars.
20. Changed a baby'’s diaper. (Duh)
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon. (several)
22. Watched a meteor shower. (way cool)
23. Gotten drunk on champagne
24. Given more than you can afford to charity. (usually auctions)
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope.
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment (wet my pants too)
27. Had a food fight.
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger
30. Had a snowball fight.
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can.
32. Held a lamb. (in more ways than one)
33. Seen a total eclipse.
34. Ridden a roller coaster.
35. Hit a home run (you must be kidding... can't even hit the ball)
36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking.
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment.
39. Visited all 50 states
40. Taken care of someone who was drunk.
41. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country.
42. Watched wild whales.
43. Stolen a sign. (It said No Berry Picking.)
44. Backpacked in Europe
45. Taken a road-trip.
46. Gone rock climbing
47. Lost over 20 pounds. (Pregnancy counts)
48. Midnight walk on the beach.
49. Gone sky diving (It's a long story)
50. Taken a train through Europe. (Switzerland)
51. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
52. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger'’s table, and had a meal with them.
53. Milked a cow(not very well)
54. Alphabetized your CDs
55. Sung karaoke (secretly wanted to... too chicken)
56. Lounged around in bed all day
57. Gone scuba diving.
58. Kissed in the rain.
59. Gone to a drive-in theatre.
60. Started a business.
61. Taken a martial arts class
62. Been in a movie
63. Crashed a party
64. Gone without food for 5 days
65. Gotten a tattoo
66. Got flowers for no reason (There's always a reason)
67. Performed on stage. (High School)
68. Been to Las Vegas.
69. Recorded music. (Does singing into my own tape recorder count?)
70. Eaten shark
71. Buried one/both of your parents (I didn't dig any holes, but I scattered my mother's ashes)
72. Been on a cruise ship. (Probably stretching it since it was a dinner cruise on the Potomac)
73. Spoken more than one language fluently
74. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over.
75. Been to the Statue of Liberty.
76. Had plastic surgery
77. Survived an accident that you shouldn'’t have survived
78. Wrote articles for a large publication
79. Piloted an airplane
80. Petted a stingray
81. Broken someone'’s heart (Depends on who you talk to.)
82. Broken a bone
83. Eaten sushi
84. Had your picture in the newspaper. (and very embarrassing it was.)
85. Parasailed
86. Skipped all your school reunions
87. Shaved your head (Not exactly, but I got a buzz cut once.)
88. Caused a car accident
89. Pretended to be "sick" (It's called a mental health day)
90. Surfed in the ocean
91. Saved someone's life
92. Fainted
93. Been in the room while someone is giving birth. (Do I count myself?)
94. Hitchhiked (picked them up too)
95. Adopted a child (Been adopted.)
96. Been caught daydreaming
97. Been to the Grand Canyon
98. Called off a wedding engagement
99. Donated your blood (I can't anymore——veins too small.)
100. Become a follower of Jesus Christ

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What goes around comes around.

Ever since I was introduced to that concept, I've been aware of just how fast the coming around can be. A few weeks ago I was labeled imbecilic for a post I wrote about Jesus and the disease of bipolar disorder. Fair enough. (that it was tongue in cheek is beside the point... some people find it in poor taste to laugh at [or about] God.) But recently that same commenter accused me of bad theology and a poor understanding of church history. It was done in the same breath as a slam to ECUSA. I thought I was at least in good company, and felt only mildly smug that this person used poor grammar and couldn't spell. In their haste to gloat over my lack of knowledge and understanding, they typed too fast. (There's no spell check available in the comments section, as most of us have been embarrassed to note.)

So today I come before you, with egg on my face, because of yesterday's post: The lesson actually stopped at 9, not 13. Oops. So... never mind.

But... my own lack of attention to detail and inaccuracy in yesterday's case is in itself, a good case in point. We all make mistakes. I blow it on a regular basis these days, and some of the time I can rightly attribute it to old age. My mind is no longer the steel trap it once was. (I think I may have said that already in a recent post.) Not only is my memory failing, but my ability to proofread, sing, walk two miles and stand for long periods has gone kaput.

That I can be picky about other's failings makes no sense. I'm in the same boat with them. And as soon as I get an inkling of a suspicion that in some way I'm superior to the next guy...Wham! what goes around comes around.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

How does this relate?

Luke 13: 1-13

Today's Gospel lesson is one of those seemingly mixed bags. It always makes me wonder why the framers of the the liturgical calendar lumped some things together... were they on a deadline? Were lessons divided up by word count?

Today we hear Jesus consoling and warning in the same breath: The Galileans who were killed by Pilate were no guiltier than anyone else, yet if you don't repent, then you'll die the same way. Now wait a minute... which is it? The Message gives a clearer picture when it translates "... but if you don't turn to God, you too will die." As in really die. Die in so many ways, on so many levels.

When I am not focused on God, (or just unfocused) anything else can command my attention, get me off track and out of whack. Then little things that hardly matter irritate me and I end up in a funk for no good reason. I die to the joy of living, breathing, tasting, being in this physical incarnation. I die to the connection I share with other people, to my connection with God. Repent means simply "to turn". Turn from and turn to. My dad used to bellow "Time to turn to!" when he wanted us to get to work. And repentance is definitely work. It requires so much more than "oops, I'm sorry," or "awww I'm sorry... again." Being sorry means nothing unless it's followed by a change... a change of heart which leads to a change in behavior.

Next Jesus tells a parable about a fig tree which hasn't born fruit. The owner wants to cut it down, but the gardener says "let me fertilize it and give it another year... then if it doesn't bear fruit, cut it down." Okay... seems like we're getting another chance message here: one year to get your act together, or else.

But in the final paragraph today, Jesus heals a woman who has been crippled for eighteen years. That's a long time to be bent over in pain. He touches her on the Sabbath in the synagogue and she stands (straight up) and praises God. The end. (Well... the end of today's lesson.) So what's that got to do with repentance and fig trees anyway? How does this relate?

Tomorrow we'll read how everyone was furious, and how they will say it was because He was healing on the Sabbath. I don't think so. That's just the excuse. He touched a woman in church. And it distracted them from their focus on God. Jesus was focused, the woman was focused, yet all those detractors seemed not to notice. I'll bet KJS can relate. I can.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Where are your marbles?

Although I was born into historic times, most of my life I never noticed much. I stood (or sat) on the fringes of every major change to sweep across my country: beginning with the end of WW II, and onto to the subsequent fear of Communism, Nuclear Destruction. (There was one bomb shelter in my town, a novelty that never quite caught on.)

The Civil Rights and Women's Movements passed me by. I joined the Navy during the Vietnam Conflict because I needed a summer job. Later I sang protest songs in a coffee house because I liked to sing. I was not one of those people who felt I could, or even wanted to, change the world.

Once I watched a movie called Same Time Next Year and was shocked at how incredibly amazing my century had been: the changes in thought, technology, music, culture. I had not even been involved and felt a little sad, left behind. Occasionally I'd go to some political rally but I was generally bored with the rhetoric. As I've mentioned before, the people I voted for always lost their elections, so I gave up voting.

So... how ironic that at the tail end of my life, I seem to have landed smack dab in the middle of the greatest crisis our species has yet to face. Worldwide population is out of control. Extreme hunger, disease and death stalk more than a third of Earth's inhabitants. As a nation and a culture we continue to exploit each other and the natural resources to live an affluent life denied everyone else. We wonder why people hate us, why they'd blow themselves up to get our attention.

Most of us who call ourselves Christian ignore the main focus of Christ's Word... service, sacrifice, generosity. We focus instead on who may and may not get into heaven, who may and may not belong to our club. And if someone we disapprove of (for any reason) is able to join, let alone lead, we pick up our marbles and look for another place to start a game.

Katharine Jefferts Schori was invested as the Presiding Bishop of our church yesterday in Washington, DC. I was actually there. That she is the first woman is historic, of course. (And did I mention I was there?) That she preached her own sermon may have been historic, I don't know. That she focused on the Word of Christ rather than gender victory or the deadly schism we're currently dealing with, was, in its own way prophetic. To read the entire thing yourself, it's here. The woman is no slouch, and it's already obvious she will be loved by many. However, like Jesus, she's going to make waves and more than likely, a lot of enemies. I will probably never change the world, but I can change. And I can refuse to allow or watch another crucifixion.

Friday, November 03, 2006

All Souls and my Grandmother's Toast

I don't eat toast much anymore. The convent keeps a good stock of English muffins, and if I eat breakfast at all, it will be one of those. But today was all mixed up. First, we had to pack lunches for our trek to Washington, DC for the investiture, and when I walked out to pick up my coffee cup there was a loaf of my sister's homemade sour dough bread on the counter. So I cut a slice and popped it into the toaster.

It was then that I went back in time. As I started spreading my butter, I realized the toast was hard as a rock. I spread the butter evenly, softly, and then I mashed harder, smashing the bread. My grandmother always smashed the toast when she buttered it. In her kitchen, at a checkered oilcloth, I sat waiting patiently for her to do her magic. After tasting her toast, I never let anyone else butter mine, especially if they spread lightly, never marring the surface. Hers tasted better. I decided that arbitrarily, as kids will with their food preferences.

So I took my first bite of the unsmashed side of my toast. Then a bite of the smashed side. It tasted like my grandmother. Rest in peace, Nana. I said your name yesterday at mass. I said Grampa's name too. Vengeance belongs to the Lord.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

All Souls

For all the faithful (and unfaithful) departed...
may they rest in peace.
May all souls be redeemed in God's sight
when the kingdom comes at last...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Feast of All Saints

This morning's celebrant decided that since today is a major feast day of the church, that he could and would give us a few thoughts to reflect upon. Weekday celebrants are not required to give a homily; in fact, they are discouraged from doing it because we have a schedule to maintain... Morning Prayer at 6:30, Mass at 7:00, breakfast at 7:30... too much to do in too little time, and a sermon that lasts more than five minutes upsets the apple cart.

But we like this guy, for one thing, and he pretty much kept it to five minutes. His question was: what exactly makes a person a saint? How are they different from the rest of us in their saintliness... what criteria gives them the right to have St. before their names? He was looking more for an inner dialog as he threw out his own main point, but two of us approached him later with out own additions...

Brutal honesty was his criteria. A saint lives his or her life for God and is true to that call, whatever and however it's perceived. Even when that honesty is offensive, and leads to big trouble, they persist. Another sister added transparency and I added consistency.

What would you add?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday Rave

Today I'll give equal time to the other side:

Top Ten Things I Love About Riding the Subway:

1. The haunting music of the Aztec flutes as I ride the escalator up from the 7 Train.

2. People who give up their seats to the elderly or young mothers with children.

3. Getting there in half the time of a bus or taxi.

4. The magic of perfect timing when I'm changing trains.

5. The neverending diversity of performers, hustlers, panhandlers.

6. Watching the rats scurry along the tracks.

7. Helping a stranger find their way to the right train.

8. The mosaics, tilework and other decoration.

9. Churros.

10. Grand Central Station.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thursday Rant

Every Thursday I ride the Subway over to St. Bart's to do my community ministry. Most days it's a really efficient and inexpensive way to get clear across town, with only a minimum of rudeness and inconvenience. I must just be in a bad mood today, because today's ride prompted the following:

Top Ten Things I Hate About Riding the Subway:

1. People who lean against the pole so there's nowhere to hold on, except way up high or crotch level. Neither option gives a good grip.

2. Men who sit with their knees spread wide open so their rear-end takes up one seat and each leg takes up half a seat on either side.

3. People who stand smack dab in the middle of the spot that says "Step Aside". What do thy think that means, anyway?

4. Spitters.

5. People who insist on blocking the doorway; won't move into the middle of the car so other people can fit in.

6. People who won't wait for those getting off before they try to shove their way in.

7. People who think the floor is their personal trash can.

8. Metrocard toll machines that say "swipe again" and again... and again...

9. Loudspeakers that squawk/distort the message into some foreign language.

10. People who cluelessly block traffic... i.e.: don't notice that the right side of the escalator is for standing and the left side is the fast lane for those who like to climb.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Belief-O-Matic™ knows

Even if YOU don't know what faith you are, Belief-O-Matic™ knows. Answer 20 questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more, and Belief-O-Matic™ will tell you what religion (if any) you practice...or ought to consider practicing.

Okay, I'm always up for a quiz, especially if it's remotely related to spiritual topics. So I answered the twenty questions and came up with:

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%) What!?! Some of my worst memories are of a UU church we attended during my second marriage. (Apologies to all UU's, but this particular church pushed every one of my buttons.) First of all, as a Christian I was unwelcome. Granted, we were living in the Bible belt and there were Christian churches in abundance, but the point of us attending the UU church to begin with was to find a compromise for worship somewhere. I was told (laughingly), "We're a church for fallen Christians and saved Jews." Excuse me? that meant they slighted both religions equally. In addition, after each sermon, (address,) there was not a time of quiet contemplation before moving on to the next order of service, there was a "talk back session." Anyone who felt inclined to stand up and soapbox their own views was permitted to do so. This included critiquing the speaker's address, arguing his references... oh, just picture a general free-for-all. It drove me crazy. Yet apparently 100% of my answers fit the UU profile. Go figure.

2. Liberal Quakers (99%) Really? I know nothing of what Quakers believe, but I guess I believe most of it. Who knew?

3. Hinduism (98%) ???? Maybe. I like elephants and Gods with lots of arms.

4. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (96%) Okay, now we're talking.

5. Mahayana Buddhism (92%) I didn't know there were different kinds. Gotta look this one up.

6. Neo-Pagan (87%) No surprises there.

7. Orthodox Quaker (87%) As opposed to Liberal Quaker, that is.

8. Theravada Buddhism (80%) Now I really have to do some studying.

9. New Age (69%) Oh please. How passé.

10. New Thought (63%) What the devil is new thought?

And the list goes on... apparently I believe in 50% or more of the principles of Reform Judaism, Seventh Day Adventist, Jainism, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Sikhism, Taoism and the Bahá'í Faith. (I missed being a Scientologist by 2%)
So what does this all mean anyway? Aside from the fact that I'm not locked into any religion's dogmatic precepts, it essentially tells me that many faith disciplines subscribe to the same precepts. Maybe we should shift our focus to just how much we share in common rather than how much we disagree.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I miss the mountains...

A friend gave me some tickets to the Broadway Cabaret Festival last night. I haven't had tickets to really good live entertainment in years, and the whole experience was amazing. I used to work in a profession where tickets were available on a pretty regular basis, and I got spoiled. Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Broadway... I saw some wonderful Broadway shows, plays, classic operas, all the important symphonies. I was spoiled in that I came to appreciate what New York really has to offer in the way of excellence. I used to dress up for these free events. I once bought an evening gown (at Filene's Basement) for a New York Philharmonic opening night. Those were the days...

Last night's performance featured two amazing singers, each with her own style, reunited for the first time since a Tony award nominated duo in Sideshow. They sang together and separately, each with her own unique presence and style. One of the songs: I Miss the Mountains was rendered in such an understated and heart-breaking manner that it made me cry. (I cry at the drop of a hat, but that's beside the point.) I don't remember the source, but apparently it was from a musical about a mother who had suffered bipolar disorder and had been successfully medicated. The medicine exacts a heavy price to abort the cycle of manic to depressive to manic again. Life is evened out, pleasant perhaps, but no longer very exciting. I can relate, in more ways than one. My oldest child is medicated for this disorder, his teenage son was recently diagnosed. Both of them have traded their destructive emotional roller coasters for a flat ride.

Where did this chromosome for soaring highs and plummeting lows come from? While I have never exhibited symptoms requiring me to be medicated, I have consistently and instinctively chosen the opposite ends of the pendulum to swing toward. My emotions range from deliriously joyful to sorrowfully depressed, and I seem to shun the intermediate states of pleasant, peaceful, even tempered. A lot of those wild swings have mellowed with age, but I do understand the longing for the mountains.

And on another level, I look at my current life. Friends, who knew me before, say I appear more peaceful, grounded. Yes, that's true. And there are moments...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I have to be moving.

When I was younger I used to think I was not a normal human being. It began in junior high when I thought I could not possibly have been my mother's child, so I must have been adopted. My mother was not amused. Later in college, I thought I might be some kind of fallen angel, with too much wisdom and too little experience to cope in the human world of emotions. My shoulder blades stuck out when I was a kid. I would reach around and feel them... was I sprouting something or were these nubs left over from some hack job? Over time the possibilities widened... alien? Someone who had been abducted by aliens?

Of course in the end I had to face the fact that I am as human (and normal) as everyone else. Bummer. You mean I have no excuses? No mysterious and incredible story to explain the pain, the talent, the insight, the turmoil? It would seem not. And yet...

I have an affinity for things angelic. I'm drawn to pictures of them, to stories about their hierarchy, to the notion of six wings. I have spent hours drawing possible configurations of where all six of those wings might attach, how they would flap to achieve liftoff. I personally like the standard two wings coming out of the shoulder blades routine, but they look terribly heavy. (As a young woman, I longed for large breasts too, but couldn't possibly carry that weight on the front of my body, no matter how much guys were attracted to them.) Would that much weight on the back of your body be a problem?

In my dreams I fly without wings. I really just soar, actually. I take a bounding leap and magically stay aloft. Sometimes I sail off a cliff, sometimes just get up speed on a long stretch of beach. I have to be moving though, it's key. Wonder what that's about?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Oh get a grip!

My mind is racing a million miles an hour. There is no peace, only a hectic, frenetic chaos of thoughts... What brings this on is beyond me. I try to listen for the still and the small, but everything is large and noisy and demands equal attention.

This too shall pass. I know that. But buzzing is not necessarily unpleasant. It can be a diversion from decision making, from obligations, from responsibility to (and for) my life.

I'm not feeling especially responsible today. I want to goof off, sleep, drink a glass of wine. I've been working hard and although it's not all done, it's winding down, and that's the worst time for me. It's close enough to burnout that I start blowing things off, but I'm not so fried that I can't rally when I have to.

Three deliveries at the church yesterday... lots of groceries. Lift that barge, tote that bale... it occurred to me that I do the same work on Thursdays that my first husband does full time. He's a "Grocery Manager", which he informed me was a glorified title for "stock boy." He's not happy with this job. I thought about that too. I love stocking shelves. I love the whole space management challenge, the attention to detail of rotating what came in last week to the front. I love that this is a service to my colleagues who serve the poor. And I only do it on Thursdays. How would it be doing this kind of manual labor six days a week? (Probably not so joyful.) I volunteer my time; he does it to put food on the table. So, even though we essentially do the same tasks, it's not the same. Yesterday I came home late, so tired I went straight to bed. No supper, no Compline, just hit the pillow. Wonder if it's like that for him?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Did Jesus have a bipolar disorder?

Luke 10: 17-24
Okay, okay... I realize for some those will be fighting words. Burn-me-at-the-stake words in a past life, but then the term bipolar hadn't been coined when women who ask spiritual questions were being burned. I would have been toasted for some other reason, equally valid (or ridiculous) depending upon your point of view.

Today's Gospel got me to thinking along those lines, so if you're not offended yet, bear with me. The seventy (two) have just returned triumphant. They have successfully ousted demons and cured illnesses in the name of Jesus and are flying high. Jesus, himself, is unusually exuberant. "I watched Satan fall like a lightning bolt." and he goes on to say some very uncharacteristic things about himself: "I have given you authority to tread on scorpions and snakes and over all the power of the enemy and nothing will hurt you... All things have been handed over to me by my Father and... the only ones who know the Father besides me, are the ones I choose." (my paraphrase) Pretty darn sure of himself at this point. And sure enough to tell his disciples they can't be hurt. Uh oh.

Jesus has not yet begun to talk in terms of the suffering Messiah. That comes later. (Later... when he spirals down?) But if Scripture doesn't lie, and I never said it did, then there's a huge shift about to happen in this same man who in this passage is boisterously confident in a way I've only witnessed as a manic state, either from cocaine or illness. (And I know of no reference to Jesus and coke in the Bible.) It was just a thought.

Monday, October 16, 2006


When we do what's called "African Bible Study" we read the appointed passage from three translations. After each reading, there's a different response. The first go-round, you simply repeat a word or short phrase that pinged for you during the reading. (If nothing pinged, you make up something.) The second time is more of a current events question: How does this passage relate to you in the world today? Then lastly: What are you called to do (or think about) based on the passage and discussion? Easy enough. Except the things that pop into my head at the time, are almost never the things I wind up with at the end of the day. I've only begun to notice that. Life at Melrose was often so busy that once Bible study was done, I was done, and on to the next activity. Here it carries with me throughout the day. My life is more solitary in the city. I have larger chunks of time alone in my cell, to work on design projects, my Lincoln Center file conversions, my own blog. All that quiet is conducive to deeper (if erratic) thought.

My spiritual director asked about my prayer life, my meditation... how was that going? She wanted to know if I counted my blog as meditation. Well, no. Not exactly. I would, she said. Really? Cool.

Well of course it's a form of meditation. I think, I write what I think, I revise what I write, and in the process think of something else. And I do write for an audience, so I can't just blather on, naming names and asking God to "fix it" like I might do in a private journal. (Like I always did in my private journal.) No this seems much more adult to me. I have to redeem my own situations a lot of the time. Isn't that also what co-creating with God is about? I think so.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Easier for a camel...

Mark 10: 17-27

Today's Gospel is the one preachers like to avoid, especially if they have lots of wealthy parishioners. The rich will have a hard time getting into heaven. Ouch. Our celebrant this morning seemed relieved to be preaching to the choir on this one... after all, most monastic communities have the vow of poverty as a mainstay of their rule. Each woman I know who has entered here has given up a lot in the way of earthly possessions to arrive on the doorstep. Not all of it has been sold and/or given to the poor, though, as Jesus instructs the young man in today's parable.

I chose my recipients for the things I gave away. Some friends got clothes, others furniture, my daughters-in-law got jewelry. Some items went to the Goodwill or Salvation Army... but nothing was sold, or the proceeds given to the poor. Even in giving away, I was in control of who got what.

Nor is it all gone. I still have ten boxes stored in a friend's attic in Queens. They contain items I might need if I discern I'm not called to (or fit for) this life. Things like: a couple of towels, a blanket, some mugs, a pot to boil water. Lots of the boxes contain books... art reference books mostly, things I couldn't bring here but wasn't ready to part with if I had to start over. If and when I make this a life profession, those things must be disposed of, either assimilated into the community's store or given away. Most of what's left will be easy to unload (I think.) I was saving it for a rainy day, and once you make your life profession you figure you'll just cope with the rain.

The young man in today's story had many possessions. And Jesus essentially said: blow it all way... and then come follow me. So the man went away grieving. Grieving. What was he grieving? That he couldn't follow Jesus? That the test was too difficult and he wasn't ready (or able) to even attempt it? We don't know. All we know is he went away grieving. It doesn't say he went away mad. It doesn't say that.

Grief is something that washes over us in stages. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a book on death and dying, outlining the five stages of grief. The final stage was acceptance. Maybe this young man reached that stage, did what Jesus required and came back later. We know that Jesus loved him... asked him to follow him. We don't know what went through Jesus' mind either as the young man walked off, except that he immediately told his disciples just how hard it is to find the kingdom of God if you're wealthy.

Our celebrant shed some light on why that is: for one, money gives us a sense of security, even when we know (intellectually) that it can't buy love or good health. We feel more in control of our options when there's money at hand to throw at a problem. But when you're poor, the only option you have is to trust in God. Nothing is secure, nothing is safe. Only God can help you then. Exactly. Who else would be in control in God's kingdom except God?

Saturday, October 14, 2006


A sower went out to sow... (Luke 8: 1-18)

Thus began yesterday's Bible study. We talked about all the familiar interpretations we've heard concerning this parable: finding the different kinds of soil within each one of us... that it's not just about those people, but about each of us on any given day. That some of the words of God are harder to hear than others, so we receive those words with a different attitude. We talked about thorns and gravel and the incredible waste involved in sowing seeds all over the place. What responsible farmer does that? Don't they plow, carefully prepare the beds, and then carefully plant each seed within the beds?

Apparently not God. God seems to have an abundance of seeds to scatter, and if some fall on the road for the birds to eat, well they just do. Extravagant. (My first husband once called me extravagant because I'd spent nearly half his paycheck on baby pictures of our six month old son. He didn't mean it in a nice way. I took it badly.)

ex‧trav‧a‧gant [ik-strav-uh-guhnt]

1. spending much more than is necessary or wise; wasteful: an extravagant shopper. (that would be me)
2. exceeding the bounds of reason, as actions, demands, opinions, or passions. (that would be God... on the cross)
3. going beyond what is deserved or justifiable: extravagant praise. (God again)
4. Obsolete. wandering beyond bounds. (maybe that's God too)

One through three are familiar enough, but I've never come across the definition from number four before. Wandering beyond bounds? What does that mean? Our God certainly wanders beyond the boundaries of time and space, of physical matter. The laws of physics are defined and suspended at His command. How does that fit with obsolete? Oh I get it.
A sower went out to sow... no farmer sows like that anymore. But maybe they once did. Once, when both non-genetically modified seed and the word of God were abundant enough to scatter.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The need for sacrifice

My mother had a martyr-complex. It became her identity. I was saying this to my spiritual director last week, as she helped me probe into why I need to rescue the underdog in many situations... why I am attracted to the notion of loving someone in a sacrificial manner (in theory anyway).

I did not describe my mother with the venom I once had for this martyrdom notion. (It's been a long time since I was the object of her sacrificial love.) However, that the same action which repelled me in her, would be evident in me, is not lost on me. I am my mother afterall.

"Your mother was endangered." she said. I hadn't thought of it that way. I always perceived her as a fighter, resilient— damaged, yes, but still... a tough old bird when it came right down to it. She was endangered. Fragile. Like we all are in God's eyes. There is an innate desire in most of us to protect the fragile, to rescue them from harm's way. I once poured my mother's whiskey down the sink. It may have been a pathetic attempt to remove what I thought was harmful, but it didn't stop her from buying another bottle. Neither has God's sacrifice stopped the human race from its hell-bent path of destruction.

Or has it? Sacrifice may not be just for the recipients. There may be something even more basic in the need for it that we are missing. What is it you haven't told us, God?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


cru‧ci‧ble  [kroo-suh-buhl]

1. a container of refractory material used for heating substances to high temperatures.
2. Metallurgy. a hollow area at the bottom of a furnace in which the metal collects.
3. a severe, searching test or trial.

I get bored so easily. It's one of my faults. I don't know how to undo a fault like boredom, except to make sure I keep myself busy, try new things, vary my schedule as much as possible.

Keep myself busy. No problem today. I'm supper cook, afternoon doorbell girl, I have a 1:00 appointment. I'm in the process of printing and cutting over a thousand pet medal tags for a giftshop I do occasional work for... I've just sent off today's braille and large print files to Lincoln Center... are you tired? Not me, I'm energized.

My printer was on the blink for several days and has just been repaired. (Thank heaven for service contracts.) I have a stack of printing projects on the back burner too. I ask myself... what is it about all this work that makes me happy? Because it does. Aside from the boredom issues, I must have work/worthiness issues. If I can work, I can feel good about myself. Until of course, I work too long and hard and experience burnout. Then I don't feel so good about anyone.

Balance. It's a tight rope you must struggle to stay on in community. It's very easy to fall off on either side. But my balance point is not the same as yours; we are unique. And understanding that one sister may need more rest on any given day than another is part of the mix. Realizing that I need more rest in any given day is even harder. This place is a crucible for sure, and I am blessed to be swimming in the heated soup of our various personalities. If you can't stand the heat you'd better not join a convent.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

an unpaid political announcement from the ostrich

The National Council of Churches, an ecumenical organization made up of all kinds of Christian churches and communities (from Orthodox to Baptist, Methodist to Quakers... Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical, Anglican, African-American——you name it) has published a pamphlet called "Christian Principals in an Election Year." (Who knew?)

Since I've had my head in the sand for a lifetime, I had (have) a lot of catching up to do. I consider myself a middle-of-the-road Christian. I know that may sound strange coming from a nun, but I am not the evangelical sort, who feels the whole world needs to know and believe in Jesus. Nor am I the sort who believes every word in the Bible came from the mouth of God. I believe in Jesus, but I read the Bible with a skeptical eye. I read the Universe Story, the Gnosticc gospels, The Tao of Pooh... I listen to the birds. And a little birdie told me about this pamphlet (thank you, Daniel).

It lists ten points to consider when you choose your candidate come November. It gives you the websites for voters' registration, and a study guide if you want to form a group to discuss all this stuff. If you want more information, the site is here.