Tuesday, May 30, 2006

First Awareness

Have I mentioned yet that I totally believe in guardian angels? After we moved to New Hampshire, a year later, I went back to Portland for a visit, and looked up my old friend. (She had been pretty much my only friend from fourth grade through sixth.) Seventh grade and puberty had changed her dramatically. She wore a bra and was beginning to smoke and take an interest in boys. She insisted on helping me buy my first bra, which I wouldn't really need for another four years, but we stuffed it with toilet paper in the ladies room of the department store. I was excited and embarrassed. I wasn't ready to grow up. I had buried all memories of inappropriate afternoons with my grandfather, and had embraced the simple country life. My new friends were socially retarded and I liked it that way. Our idea of fun was reciting all fifty six verses of the Highwayman and squirting catsup at the final gunshot, ending that beautiful maudlin poem in hysterics and tears.

The meeting with my old changed friend made me sad, (she had grown up way too fast for me to comprehend) and yet grateful to be alive in a way I hadn't ever experienced. I was now convinced that guardian angels were at work and I had been blessed with one. Mine had obviously moved me out of a dangerous world—junior high in a big city—to a small town country setting.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Ongoing saga

Recapping my childhood—early years of moving from place to place—Navy base to Navy base... all pretty much a blur except for photos that jog my memory of the stories my mother told. Jesus was a friendly adult who was fond of children, indulgent and interested, much as many of the adults I knew. I was already learning that relationships with adults were far more satisfying than with my peers.

Communion was a perfect cube of white bread and little party drinks in tiny cups. Baptism was a ritual both scary and exotic—a huge see-through pool, where people descended in white robes, and were dipped backwards like tango dancers. This was my Grammie's church—Southern Baptist. I was six. One of the stories from that time was that the church elders informed my mother that I was taking communion illegally since I had not been baptized (in the dip and dunk sense). My mother was outraged. I had been christened in a Congregational church and baptism was baptism. I was indeed eligible to receive, and if they said anything more, we'd take our business elsewhere.

But it didn't matter for long, because my Dad had called that night from Guam to say he was divorcing us. Since we'd been living with his mother, (a tricky spot she was in) we moved. First, to a crummy apartment down the street for three months, and then to Portland, Maine: to my mother's parents. Nana was a Unitarian and her church didn't have a cross or communion. I missed the little party drinks.

My relationship with Jesus was sustained by the Roman Catholic Church. When we moved, it was the dead of winter and a parochial school was right across the street from my grandparents' apartment. I attended The Sacred Heart of Jesus for half a year. The nuns were incredibly kind to me. I was a skinny, sorry little protestant, whose daddy had left her, with an incredible memory and a voracious appetite for the catechism—what wasn't to love? The sisters would scold the boys who hadn't studied with "she knows her catechism, and she's not even Catholic."

I was learning to love music. Although Nana was a Unitarian, she knew lots of songs: ballads and gospels and hymns. She taught me many of them, and we'd sing together. The Hit Parade was a favorite TV show, and I'd memorize the songs and sing them in school at Show and Tell. Once I sang "A Secret Love" and the sisters were convinced I was singing about Jesus. With their nurturing, I was trying to bloom.

I was also being molested on a regular basis by my grandfather. Nana, who was supposed to be babysitting, was a gambler. She'd be off at Bingo. I became withdrawn, and played alone in my closet. I made a pretend apartment for myself and my dollbaby, safe and hidden from the dangerous world outside. (To this day I'm still a cave dweller, at home in dark cramped spaces.)

Those years are also blurred. By sixth grade I wa "acting out" although neither I nor anyone else knew exactly why. Just as life was becoming unbearable, we moved, my mother and I. To New Hampshire—to a new life in a small rural town. I left all the bad stuff behind and started over. Starting over was definitely becoming a habit.

Friday, May 26, 2006


We observe our material world with each of our senses: sight... light, dark, gray, colors; hearing... high, low, loud, soft; touch... smooth, rough, hot, cold; smell... sweet, acrid, taste... salty, sweet, bitter. What we call our sixth sense logs on to give us more information... intuition, deja vu, premonitions. But that sense also tells us there is even more... much more. Theories abound: string theory, chaos theory. Mystery is everywhere.

And somewhere, in between all the matter is the mysterious void. Science has determined that the empty space between subatomic particles is much larger than the particles themselves. That's reflected when we look out toward other galaxies: more space than planets, suns, twinkling stars.

What does God do with all that space? Maybe if it's movement that holds the material world together, then the space is the stillpoint of God. The ability to go inside out would get us there. We could have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge to Go Inside Out in the garden. But no... we had to pick the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Pieces of the Puzzle

Sometimes during meditation I am quiet, peaceful, not much going on except breathing. Those are the rare times. Usually my mind picks up a piece of the puzzle of who God is, who we are, why we are, where we are in the great stream of creation.

I examine the shape, tumble it around in my brain, trying to fit it into something I've read, something I think I already understand. I look for patterns, recurring tendencies. One of those tendencies is irony. (It's probably my favorite, since I keep coming back to it again and again.) Another is movement. Our universe seems to be all about motion. Earth moves in orbit around our Sun, photons and protons move in a subatomic dance we can't see. We refer to our lives as journeys; metaphors permeate our language.

If I tried to paint a picture of this concept, the canvas would not be flat and the paint would be like quicksilver... rolling liquid moving over and through the surface.

If I wrote a symphony there would be fast movements and slow, the dynamics would change, dissonance balanced with harmony. There would be a recurring melody that you could sometimes hear clearly, and sometimes not at all. But it would be there. Maybe in the pedals... so deep and slow you'd miss the cadence... playing on and on without us ever recognizing it.

And the movement seems to follow a pattern. God seems to like circles and ellipses, spirals especially. Our own lives often come full circle. I find myself facing the same problem I faced years ago. But I've moved to somewhere else on the spiral path. It's the same problem but I am not the same. That recurring melody sounds different played through another instrument. We cannot stop. If we stop moving, we die.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why indeed?

A few posts ago, Anonymous said... Why do you expose yourself so to strangers?

Excuse me? My immediate reaction was: Who are you? (As in: who are you to challenge me about my writing when you can't even identify yourself? Short answer: Why not? Next short answer: None of your business. And what makes you think I'm doing it for strangers, anyway? And besides that, blah, blah, blah etc...)

Okay. Obviously Anonymous had hit some kind of nerve for me to spin off like that. (Good information, even if it wasn't information I especially wanted to look at.) I realized I had automatically placed a certain judgmental inflection in his words. Or her words, but I had also automatically made Anonymous a he. He thinks I shouldn't be exposing myself to strangers.

Okay... try looking at it another way. Maybe he (or she) is asking a simple question... no judgment involved. Why? Except for the so. Expose yourself so. How much is so? Okay, get over it. Do you want to answer the question or not? Well, if Anonymous does have a judgment about my revelations, then it's actually pretty ironic for me to answer the question carefully or thoughtfully because that would require me to reveal even more of myself to this stranger. Ah... Paradox. Annoying, frustrating, intriguing. Why do I expose myself to the possibility/probability that strangers will read the very personal story of my life? Why indeed?

This is the most coherent and honest answer I can come up with:
First, because it's who I am, what I do. I have never played close to the vest with the details of my life. When I was involved with a married man (for many years) my friends knew about it. When I was struggling in my marriage I didn't try to hide it. I don't like secrets and I'm a blabbermouth. I find it easier to be open and honest about who I am and let the chips fall. That way if people like me for who I am, they aren't surprised and disappointed to find out later I was really somebody else. If they don't like me for who I am (or what I do) then we don't have to make nice and pretend. It cuts out all the dissembling and that's a good thing because I'm no good at it.

But there's more to it than that. I have a story and I'm willing to tell it. Everyone has a story, and everyone's is unique and important. Mine is worse than some and not nearly as bad as others. But there are universal elements in each person's story, and sharing those elements brings us closer as a human community. I believe that. When I talk about feeling guilty because my mothering skills were slim to none, that may strike a chord with some other mother who feels inadequate. In that single moment of harmonic vibration she knows she's not alone. I may never meet her in person... she's a stranger. But we share a common bond. That's not a bad thing. When I speak of envy, loss, grief, resentment, passion, pride... all these are part of the human condition. We are more alike than we give ourselves credit for. I'd like to promote that thought.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A True Story: Why My Brain Works Like It Does

I was born left handed. My dad was a lefty, and I got that particular strand of DNA.

I did just fine until first grade, when the desks (and scissors) were all built for right-handed children. My teacher had bought into the "right handed is right" syndrome, so I was taught to write my letters and numbers with my right hand. In the second grade, a new teacher noticed that, while I wrote with my right hand, I did everything else with my left. She asked my mom..."Was she born left handed?" My mother confirmed this fact. "Oh, well, then... she really should be writing with her left hand too." I was switched back... learned to write with my left hand. Enter third grade: Uh oh. My first grade teacher had been promoted. She was now my third grade teacher. Switch back again. By fourth grade my handwriting was the most illegible henscratch you'd ever want to see. I was embarrassed. Essay questions were the worst. I got points off just because my teachers had to decipher the penmanship. I practiced, a lot. It was a lost cause.

By junior high I had figured out a solution... I printed everything. That seemed to work. When I was in college I even printed my term papers because typing was beyond me. I carefully lined up onion skin paper over a ruled sheet and my lines were perfectly straight, my letters like 14 point courier type. Life was good.

But what about all the psychological aftermath of all that switching? Was I scarred forever? Actually I don't think so. I think it's why my brain works the way it does... both sides now. I have a strong creative side, but I can balance a checkbook, ride a motorcycle, work an algebra problem. (Well I used to be able to work an algebra problem.) I am as comfortable with arts and crafts as bookkeeping and filing. Who knew?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Cocoon to Free Radicals

Am just emerging from a mini (two day) silent retreat... spent in our little "hermitage", which, in a past life, was a storage shed. The building sits just at the edge of our woods. Inside there's a bed, rocking chair, a little table, even electricity—although I didn't use it much. No facilities. The best part is a giant picture window that looks out on the forest. I watched a bee collecting pollen for the better part of an hour, I think. I didn't have a clock, so time was relative.

Being silent and alone (on purpose) is like entering an altered state, like being in a cocoon. Perspective shifts... I wasn't very hungry, but loved eating the things I never eat: a pear, banana, apple, orange... that's more fresh fruit than I've consumed in the past six months! I slept, read, knit, journaled, slept some more... watched out the window, prayed, slept some more... tried to figure out how to use an ancient wood burning tool. I'm trying to make a sign for our pea field, using a medium I'm not very good at. That was part of the plan too, I think.

There wasn't a plan, really. The plan was to let it all just flow, one activity into the next, however it happened.

This is part of what I came up with: Cosmic Fairness... an option larger than my puny little brain can totally grasp, Dip in. It's there to be enjoyed, used, given away. There is enough for all. There is especially enough for you. Get it, little girl? You can drink all you like. No rationing. None. Nada. There is enough. You are enough (next big concept). It flows in you as well as around you. The cosmic river of abundance flows through your veins. You know that on a chemical level. It's the less sophisticated parts of you that shut that knowledge down. Too free radical. That's what you need: free radical thinking. And breathing. Breathe in those free radicals. They'll help you unstick. Life is a river, and it flows through you, in you, around you. You are within it as it is within you. That is the secret. That is the lesson. Listen to the lesson.

I am addicted to the unnerving, unswerving love of God.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Legend Continues—Unhappy Childhood

Sometime (I was probably twelve or thirteen), I remember writing on a scrap of paper: "When I grow up and someone asks, I shall tell them I had a most unhappy childhood." I remember writing it down and somewhat smugly burying it beneath the panties in my underwear drawer.

Of course my mother found it. Maybe I wanted her to... but it made her angry. She was a struggling single parent, when the term single parent hadn't been coined. She felt betrayed that the one person she worked so hard for—me—was so ungrateful. I was ungrateful, and intensely lonely.

I rarely went "out to play"”. Besides there being nothing to do "out", it was dangerous. Even before I started kindergarten I learned that bullies could be lurking in the shadows, behind every corner. I packed toys underneath my doll blankets when I went out with the stroller so I could bribe the kids who threatened to beat me up. My mom was exasperated. "You have to learn to stick up for yourself!" But I was terrified of pain. and bribery worked. I was awkward and gawky, uncoordinated at team sports. I tripped over my own feet. Any activity involving a ball was hopelessly beyond me.

My world was one of escape into books.

I was also too geeky to be popular. Popular was the term that summed up self-worth like success does today. I wasn't popular, but neither was I destitute of friends. I had friends. But many of my friendships were bought and paid for. My allowance was spent in treating others to candy bars.

I missed my father. At least I missed the image of what I thought he would have meant to me—the imaginary potential of him. And I let it be known that I missed him and that too was a betrayal for my mother. She was the one who stayed, for God sakes, the one who didn't desert me. I was the child she chose to raise, stayed on to raise, (after my dad's ignoble departure) sacrificed her life (the best years of, I might add) to raise. What thanks did she get for all that sacrifice? But that was her schtick—mine was something else. I was not my mother's daughter. I was unappreciated, just as she was. I was some alien child, with a quick and sarcastic wit, a talent for just about everything except sports, with nobody to relate to. No brothers or sisters to harass or protect me, no extended family to pound some perspective of humility into me— just me and she, and the constant clash of wills. "Willfull" was the term she used to describe me to her friends. Willful and stubborn and hard-headed. And boy-crazy. I, on the other hand, remember myself as intelligent, but shy and easily intimidated. Maybe not intimidated by her, but by everyone else.

We neither understood nor appreciated each other then. And so my mother drank to ease her pain, and I eased mine by writing messages to myself and hiding them in the underwear drawer.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Legend: Chapter II

So... the last chapter left me grieving and feeling infinitely sorry for myself. Enough of that. I'll come back to the rest of my childhood at some point, but for now the chronology seems to be moving forward.

We (my husband, baby and I) settled in Jacksonville, Florida, and started feeling the parental guilt of raising a child with no church. My husband was what they call "unchurched" and I was pretty much dechurched. I had been christened as a Congregationalist, but my mother wasn't much of a churchgoer. Nana was a Unitarian and my dad's mother was a Southern Baptist. We tried all the usual protestant suspects but nothing clicked. It was from dozens of Christmases spent with my aunt and uncle that I remembered the Episcopal church. For them Christmas wasn't Christmas without midnight mass. My mother had hated it. She called it "more hossing up and down than a three ring circus!" But I remembered with great fondness the liturgy, music, smells. We tried one in our neighborhood and were warmly welcomed. My husband and son were baptized on the same day and after adult confirmation classes, he and I were confirmed together. We were now active members of the Episcopal church.

The Legend of Moi: Chapter I

Some folks have expressed an interest in how I got to where I am. It was definitely not in a straight line. The same issues keep cropping up no matter how many times I think I've put them to rest... but I'm happy to say a few I figured out early on and have not had to deal with them more than once (or twice.)

I was born in the winter of 1945, a full month ahead of my mother's due date of January 12th. I arrived at four pounds, three and a half ounces and had to be left in the hospital for a month... just the first of many disappointments my mother would suffer at my hands. All this is the legend, of course, the story that was told to me about me from my birth.

it took over fifty years for me to outgrow the legend, to rethink it, reshape it and remold myself into the person God actually called me to be. An art therapist articulated it with a somewhat glib expression: "all that was had to be, so all that is could be." That may be one of those universal truths, but it didn't make the trip any easier.

I've made a lot of stops on the journey, traversing external landscapes and the dark places within. Trails were sometimes rocky, steep— but the few glimpses of glory always worth the climb.

I was born into a Navy family. We moved a lot and my dad was gone a lot. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, as many women were at that time. When I was six my dad left my mother to marry someone else... someone else who just happened to have a daughter my age. The call came in the middle of the night and I awoke to my mother sobbing into the phone. I stayed quiet until she crawled into the little bed we shared in my grandmother's middle bedroom. "Mommy, doesn't Daddy love us anymore?" She was at a loss, but she assured me that no—I was certainly loved—and always would be. Of course that was the first of many lies she would tell over the years, so that he became a mythical figure, along with that woman who had the power to destroy our lives.

I think she believed it. Maybe she had to. I remember her telling me (years later) that they had argued a lot, but that both believed they would somehow stay together because of their love for me. Neither could imagine ever giving me up. Obviously he was able to overcome that hurdle. It left lasting scars.

It was fourteen years later that I located him by joining the Navy myself, three years more before I saw him in person. All those years of searching, wondering, believing in a fantasy figure left me with no way to cope with the man I met. What a jerk. He showed me wedding pictures from his wife's daughter's ceremony. He had walked her down the aisle, not me. He could barely look me in the eye, while his wife, the supposed wicked witch of the west, was gracious and welcoming. I thought I had learned a valuable lesson that day about the flimsiness of preconceived assumptions. I cried all the way from San Mateo to San Francisco, an hour and a half of bitter tears for seventeen years of false hopes. I found out many times later that I hadn't exactly learned the lesson.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Talking to Trees

Ireland is where I have felt at home... more than anywhere else on Earth. I've been on two different Celtic pilgrimages there, both wonderful, both overwhelming at the time, both with far-reaching ramifications on my thinking and living.

Now I am involved with a community that recognizes how disassociated our human society is from the natural world... how we have become disconnected from the Earth and the understanding that we must live in harmony, not domination. One of the exercises on the last Ireland trip was an effort to get the participants to reconnect with nature on a purely intuitive level. The instructions were actually pretty lame: Go out into the countryside in search of a tree. Ask it a question. Wait for the answer. Come back and journal about the experience. Oh please! But, not wanting to be disruptive, (everyone else seemed on board with this) I kept my mouth shut and went in search of "my" tree.

At first a few seemed to be calling "Pick me! Pick me!" and I passed them by. They were too beautiful, with rich canopies of leaves, strong trunks and shapely branches. Although it hadn't been diagnosed at the time, a stress fracture had crippled my right foot, and I was in pain. Stiff, strong hiking boots were keeping me somewhat mobile, but it still hurt to walk on unlevel ground. I thought I had found one in the far corner of a field, but a stream blocked my path and I took that as a sign not to cross over. I headed west for a stand of scrawny saplings, but they weren't for me either. Then I saw her.

She was bent almost in half... had been struck by lightning, and other trees next to her laid across her trunk, weighing her down. She was pinned in this position, never to grow straight again. A broken branch hung down to the ground and made an archway to walk through, to stand under. As curled and worn and damaged as that branch was, with moss and lichen growing up her arm, she still sprouted leaves that were green and full of life.

I acknowledged her strength, her fortitude, her willingness to cling to life... and asked my question. The answer was one I'd heard before. I was ready to discard it as an old answer I had made up, not hers. "All you need to do is be." But the tree went on to say more: "even in your dying you will provide nurturing for some living thing—all the way to the grave you can still give the gift of living."

Now at sixty, that message means even more to me. Pray she was right.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The price of failure

Oh dear. Sometimes when I ponder (and acknowledge) my failures in life (as in the Mother's Day post) people who know me only recently are quick to protest. The person they know does not compute with the person I'm describing. "You did the best you could." And that is certainly the truth. But the best I could, as reassuring as it sounds, was not so great. I know that about myself. That doesn't mean I didn't do a lot of things right. I did okay some of the time, and really well some of the time. But the perfect mother I am not, and pretending that I am/was is something I'd rather avoid. (The perfect wife I was not either, but that's another story.)

Here's an example: one thing I tried to teach my sons was the value of saying "thank you." Did they learn it? You couldn't prove it by me. Christmas, birthdays, special occasions... come and go. Packages get mailed (on time) and money exchanges hands. Do I get a thank you? Hell, no. Often I have to ask two or three times if the package ever arrived before there's any acknowledgement. Go figure.

Does my faith in God affect them? My younger son converted to Roman Catholicism because he married a Catholic and believed in one religion per family. Their stepfather and I couldn't agree on a church, and ended up with the Unitarians for a while in an attempt to compromise... it didn't work. Once divorced, I returned to the Episcopal church my first husband and I had joined together. My older son is an agnostic... both children seem to be the polar opposites of a bungled faith life.

My second husband accused me of escaping into workaholism to avoid being home. There were financial reasons, good ones, that I worked so hard, but he was probably right. Work provided an atmosphere of appreciation and respect I didn't get at home... I wasn't going to lose that. My younger son is a workaholic too. But he works hard at everything: being a dad, providing a good life for his family. Did he get that from me? I don't know. My older son is tremendously supportive of his wife and her difficult job. Did he get that because he saw I didn't? I don't know.

Who can say why we really do things the way we do? Why we go on for what seems like forever making the same mistakes and then one day wake up and change? There are plenty of things I'm still changing. Plenty more where they came from.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day

Motherhood did not come easily to me. I was a rotten mother, actually, and totally inept. (I became pregnant with my first son so I could be released from my military obligation, pure and simple.) Someone talked me into breast feeding and I almost starved him to death. When, in desperation, I finally stuffed a bottle of enfamil into his little mouth, he took one sip and smiled the most beatific smile I'd ever seen. He drank the entire bottle. When he was old enough to eat oatmeal I thought it might be nice to give him a raisin (afterall my oatmeal tasted better with raisins) and he choked on it. Totally inept.

Through the grace of God he survived that first year and I got a little better at mothering. My husband was gone for several months on a Med cruise and I had friends who would pass him around at the local coffee house, feeding him cold juice and cookies. We were all protesting the war then. "Have stroller will travel" was the code of the evolving hippie mom.

My second son was born three years later on Mother's Day. He was not planned... and as with most things in life, the second time is easier. Plus he was an easier baby. He was so placid and easy to care for, I neglected to pick him up and cuddle him as often as I could have. My motto... if it's not broken, don't fix it. He seemed to thrive in spite of my neglect.

When they were old enough to play together, GI Joe was popular. Finally I could play dolls with my kids. But I wanted to dress Joe up in his outfits and they wanted to blow him up in his jeep. Ours was not the house on the street where all the children congregated to play. I liked my own kids, but other people's children drove me crazy. Mine were sent next door or across the street. "Take your brother! Be sure to hold his hand!"

I could never achieve that parental devotion so clearly evident in my daughters-in-law. I'm not interested in sports... so T-Ball, basketball, anything to do with a ball were events not supported. I managed to get to a few band concerts, plays, orchestra recitals... but I can't say I enjoyed them. Lump those events with visits to the dentist, and you could probably detect my lack of enthusiasm.

My older son and I did share a love of reading. He came to me once after Christmas and handed over a book he'd received. "You'll love this one, Mommy." It was Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I read it, loved it, and then bugged him for the next in the series. "Aren't you finished with that one yet?" After that he was my main supplier of all things fantasy and science fiction.

My younger son and I shared a love of drawing. he would hole up in his room drawing intricate medieval battle scenes... wide angle, mid scale, and close ups of warriors slugging it out with swords and battle axes. He was always the quiet child, melting into the woodwork. He escaped (like I did) through work. He bought himself a lawn mower and cut grass for the neighbors.

Our homelife at that time was difficult, violent and abusive. He coped by disappearing. The older son coped by fighting back, acting out. I coped by trying to make peace, distract the source of violence. After way too many therapists and counseling sessions, nothing was resolved and the family survived as separate disinterested housemates with nothing in common but the roof over their heads. I was not capable of protecting them or myself. It was in this respect that I failed most as a mother.

Now my sons are grown. They are both husbands and fathers. They are both interesting and vital human beings. I wish I could take the credit for their unique personalities, for their wit, their intelligence. My half of their DNA is all I can claim and that was God's doing. The fact that they both seem to love me in spite of everything is also by the grace of God. And you should know that for that I am truly thankful.

Friday, May 12, 2006

No comparisons

I remember when I first started coming to the convent for Madeleine L'Engle's writing workshops. I'd ring the doorbell and wait... and wait... and from somewhere deep inside the bowels of the cloister a disembodied voice would answer "Yes?"
"I'm here for Madeleine's workshop."
"I'll be right there."

Eventually a sister dressed in black would come to the door and usher me up the two flights of stairs to the chapel. Her skirts would swish as we ascended the staircase, no talking, all very hush hush. The place was so quiet but the stairs creaked. I felt myself trying to climb and tiptoe at the same time.

If I were early, there was time to meditate or pray briefly. The pews creaked too. Shhhh! I thought to myself as I tried to maneuver from seat to kneeler and back again. Then Vespers would begin and I was awash in the medieval chant of the psalms. We would try to sing along, but the tones and the endings kept changing, and the guests didn't have pointed music, only the prayer book to refer to... Some of the women (who thought they knew the music) bellowed it out and their mistakes were obvious. There was a welcome card at each seat that said to sing softly. Guess they didn't read that part. I sang softly. I felt very right about that, very superior.

Later, when I was a nun myself, and had the music to refer to, I would alternate between annoyance and amusement at more guests who tried to sing along. I came to appreciate how much courage it took to risk getting it wrong, how I had not had that courage.

Somewhere in the past three years of my candidacy, I've had a conversion, much like St. Paul's... in that the scales have fallen from my eyes. It's been gradual and sometimes painful, but I've reached a point where I do realize that comparison is an illusion created by something other than God. God does not compare us in judging us, if He even judges us at all. As every snowflake is unique, so is every single piece of creation. We are unique.

Perhaps the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not forbidden because God wanted to test our capacity for obedience. Perhaps it was forbidden because it was useless information that would only create a stumbling block to our growth with and in our Creator. There's no comparisons, no right way to do it, no perfect path to Wisdom.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Eulogy II

Before the doors would open at 7:00 am the volunteers would gather in a circle. People would shout "Prayer Time!" to collect any strays from the back rooms. Dan always asked the blessing. It was always the same. He had decided at some point (before my time) exactly what he wanted to say and had written it out and memorized it. It was a long prayer and I don't now remember the entirety, but he would end it by saying: "We thank you for the volunteers who have come out to work this day. May they always remember that as they serve the people from the street, they are also serving you." It was a good reminder. The "people from the street" are homeless. Some of them have addictions, others are a little crazy. On any given Sunday there could be loud complaining, maybe a scuffle. We were there to serve them, but, not used to being served, they took advantage of the situation. "I didn't get an egg" someone would tell me and I could see it bulging from his pocket. "More cereal!" another would shout, after having eaten three bowls. And God help us if we ran out of hot food. The whole line stopped and we waited... some more patiently than others. Dan was amazing at timing when we would run out, and he'd be there with a fresh pan. I'd be on my last ladle of stew and I'd hear his voice "Hot stuff coming through!" as he maneuvered his cart through the throng. Once in a while he was late and it was a point of honor to him... a point he had lost. He had a hard time with forgiveness, especially for himself.

He told me once about his black pit... a place where he kept all of his grievances... past sins, past slights, past wounds. It all went into the pit. It had a heavy lid, which moved just enough to stuff something new inside, then it snapped shut again. There was so much there he didn't want to look at, was afraid if he let any of it out it would explode like a volcano... or that if he ever started crying he might not stop. I know the feeling. When we keep things bottled up they become larger than they need to be, the pressure is tremendous. But as I've said before, he was a private man. I suggested a therapist. He laughed. No way that was going to happen.

When he had cancer I heard he was seeing a therapist. (Finally!) Then I met her in the hospital and realized she was a physical therapist. Duh...

His funeral is tomorrow. I'll attempt to read the lesson from Romans: I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love. Of course it won't be that translation, but it will speak that same truth. The pit he feared and tended so carefully is gone. Nothing can separate him from the love of the God he loved.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Eulogy for Dan

This may take a while. Several posts, actually. Or not.

The Head Spiritual Director for our weekend retreat (my own spiritual director and good friend) had taken me outside into the hall and told me: "Dan has finally ended his battle." I looked at her blankly, hearing exactly what she said and not comprehending a word. She repeated her words and I nodded, still not getting it. "They tell me he died peacefully." Died... Dan... Oh. I finally understood.

I don't mention my friends by name on this blog. (Often they know who they are anyway, just by what I write.) But this friend is dead. My words will not hurt him now. And I need to pay tribute to his memory. He was a good man, a long time friend, he loved God with all his heart, and his heart was pure gold. That is not to say he wasn't the biggest pain in the ass you'd ever want to meet... he definitely was that too.

His name was Daniel, which means "God has judged." The Old Testament Daniel, an exile in Babylon, had risen to a place of honor among the ruling muckety-mucks for his skill in dream interpretation, among other things. He got into trouble (like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago) for refusing to worship the pagan God of the Month... and was tossed into the Lion's Den. He survived that ordeal, but he died eventually too. We know that we all die eventually. Knowing doesn't necessarily prepare us.

I've said we were long standing friends, but several years ago it was more than that. He's had more than one girlfriend since me, and I've been increasingly fine with that. I could say he drove me to the convent, but I actually took the subway. He did drive me there once to pick up all my artwork after my exhibit... but I ramble.

He was a private man. Not me, I'm out there. I don't hide my feelings (or my relationships). At first the only way anyone knew we were dating was because I told them. He worried about that. He liked keeping his private life private. It never occurred to him that holding my hand in church every Sunday was not exactly private. One New Year's Eve he took me to a black tie party at our parish... I was Cinderella, he was prince charming. Those were the days.

He was a sacramental man, and worship was sustenance to him. He read Morning Prayer every day at his office. Some Saturdays we'd meet for the 10:00 am Eucharist at St. Bart's and then he'd want to walk over to St. Mary the Virgin for the noonday Eucharist there. He looked forward to retirement so he'd be free to go to church every day. (At the time I thought this was peculiar...) look at me now.

He was a man of habit and routine. It was comforting to him to do things the same way every time. He drove to work by the same route, always made a tuna sandwich for lunch. Not me, I like adventure and change.

He taught me the value of duty. I would argue for joy over duty any day. His dedication was awesome. Volunteers were expected to arrive for the breakfast feeding program by 6:00 am; he came in at 4:30. When the kitchen was a mess he'd complain loudly, but he'd also clean it up. He taught me the correct way to make peanut butter sandwiches, Al's way. He'd talk in his stern drill sergeant voice saying "You gotta do it right! Al's watching you!" I told him "Al has better things to do," and switched to tuna because there were no rules for those. Precision was important. "Cut those hot dogs into one half inch pieces, the meatballs exactly in half. Al's watching you!" He was merciless in his "quality control" and I was merciless in making fun of him.

We were like oil and water. Someone said this weekend "and you kept trying to make salad dressing..." That's true, I guess. The things we held in common were important things—love of God, dedication to service. But we disagreed about so much it was comical. We drove each other crazy. It was easier to be friends, and as a result, our relationship deepened on a spiritual level. It appealed to him that I became a nun. Since I was no longer a threat, he was more affectionate and open to intimacy. I liked that part too. I miss him.

Home from the war

I have not been on vacation. Cursillo is not a nice getaway, a quiet retreat where you can rest, collect your thoughts and come back rejuvenated. (Especially for those on team.) Too much sugar, not enough sleep, too much caffeine, intense emotional stimulation, too many details to remember, late nights, early mornings... I think of medical residents on call in ER... or a M*A*S*H detail.

The description: war zone— is not a bad one, each new day bringing another acre of mine fields, unexploded bombs laying buried just below the surface of consciousness, waiting to detonate— waiting for the trigger...

I don't believe Cursillo was designed to be this way, but maybe it was. The earliest movement catered to young men returning from the horrors of WWI. Post traumatic stress syndrome had not been labeled as such then, but it was real. To bring a man back to faith in a loving and forgiving God, after so much violence and disillusion had to have been major.

That's not the current focus. Today, Cursillo is a weekend designed to build leaders, especially lay leaders in the church. It's for people who are already committed Christians, to give them a jump start in areas where they might need a gentle nudge (or a two-by-four across the back of their heads). The Holy Spirit works both ways, depending on what you need. I've been on team four times, plus my own weekend as a candidate, so I've "been there, done that." You'd think.

But every weekend is different. Always the participants change, so the mixture and diversity differs each time. The topics for the canned talks are constant, but we bring our own spin to each one, so that changes too. More importantly, life has changed since the last time. Life goes on.

And life goes on outside the retreat center. While we were walking the stations of the cross, singing and praying, eating and listening to meditations, rushing around attending to all the organizational details, life (and death) were going on outside. The news came on Friday that my dear friend with cancer had died the night before. Many of us on team knew and loved him deeply. He had been a strong supporter of the Cursillo movement, and we were shattered by the shock. The news came on Saturday that another close associate, a brother at Holy Cross, had died that day walking down the hall for the noon day office. So much death, so much grief. So much pain.

"In the midst of life, we are in death..." when those words are not just words but become real and personal life takes on its deepest meaning. We had friends willing to hold us, cry with us, help with our duties... to love us, to heal us. Every step I took triggered another mine. I was blown to bits and patched up, only to be blown to bits again. I realized that survival of the fittest means very little in the mysterious body of Christ. If one arm is injured the other compensates... the weakest link is made stronger by the alchemy of love.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

To whom it may concern:

In the next few days it may appear that I've lost interest, have nothing left to say, have quit blogging... nothing could be farther from the truth. I'm very much alive and well and irreverent... but off (in less than an hour) to a Cursillo weekend until Sunday evening. No internet access... :(

For those of you who've never heard of Cursillo, it's basically a short course in Christianity. Originally it was a movement in the Roman Catholic Church, instituted after WWI to help returning soldiers "get back their faith".

Yeah, war can do that to a person. Anyway, since then the movement has spread to the Episcopal, Methodist and other Christian churches and goes by other names like Road to Emmaeus, Tres Dias, Kyros, etc...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

nobody... no body

I had so many selfish reasons for entering the convent. I wasn't aware (at the time) they were selfish, but am discovering it now. For one, I was sure I needed structure in my prayer life. I could not pray the daily office by myself once, let alone four times a day; my internal discipline was nonexistent. I had plenty of quiet already. I had friends and faith and beauty. Why did I think those were not enough? Or at least not what I needed? They just weren't. I needed a new way to express what God intended me to be, or so I told myself. I needed a better venue and the community looked like a fit.

I have since learned that people often visit several communities before deciding to submit an application. It never occurred to me. I never even checked out other orders. I had been welcomed here, why would I shop around? And there was that belief that God had pointed me toward this community anyway. I had taken writing classes with Madeleine L'Engle here. I had been offered (and accepted) a one-woman art exhibition. I was drawn to the wild and whacky earthiness some of the younger sisters exhibited. The older sisters scared me a little... so stern. In living among them, that's been turned upside down. The older sisters are living examples of compassionate humility. They have their priorities in vertical alignment with God. All else is secondary. And as they have aged right before my eyes, I've been given glimpses of their wry humor and gracious acceptance of this difficult transition. The younger sisters (like me) are still getting their acts together, and that's been a necessary disillusionment. I would not have traded this experience for the world.

Another thing that's been turned upside down is my reliance on the daily office (or in monastic parlance the Divine Office.) The only thing divine about it is the community of other sisters. Jesus said: "when two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be present." Sometimes it is only two or three of us, as we struggle with the language of war, of exclusively masculine divinity. The liturgy does not always feed us spiritually, and so we struggle. The ancient music, the chanting, is haunting and beautiful... but is it enough? Cross that with psalms that insist upon heaping high the corpses and it gets confusing, annoying, distracting.

So it's beginning to come down to the simplest formula of all: that the Christian life to be lived, understood, worked... has to be in some community. It's where the rubber meets the road. The body of Christ is nobody when it's only a body of one.

More... You gotta love it.

Having made several car trips to the city in the past week, I couldn't resist posting this.

It's from my new favorite creative place: The Generator Blog
In addition to the church sign (posted a while back) are a number of other "You're own words here" photos to play with.

Monday, May 01, 2006

I am from...

This challenge from Can You Hear Me Now?

I am from sturdy English stock with a splash of Irish and Scot.
I am from summers on my Uncle's farm with no indoor plumbing, a stinky outhouse, a hayloft to jump into, and fresh picked blueberries on my cereal.
I am from long car trips where I had my own "erp" bucket so nobody had to keep stopping for me to be sick.
I am from a great grandfather who was a stonemason by trade, but who painted landscapes in his spare time. They lined the walls of my grandmother's apartment, and I would stop and stare in fascination at each one.
I am from a Navy father, two Navy husbands, two Navy sons.
I am from the ocean, fearless of the waves, the undertow, the drop offs. I have almost drowned twice.
I am from the mountains, bleak craggy peaks, crystal blue skies, smells of hemlock and pine.
I am from never tell a lie, never snitch on a friend, never go on a trip unless you've cleaned the house.
I am from God is Love, Jesus is Lord, and live today like it might be your last.
I am from waste not, want not and make do with what you have.
I am from laughter and sarcasm and making fun of everything, especially the holy.
I am from start over, start over, start over.