Monday, July 31, 2006

in the home stretch...

Packing, sorting, throwing out, packing, moving, packing, finishing projects, packing...

Don't expect much else to come from me this week. Everything is in boxes, including my brain. (I think I packed it day before yesterday.) I even forgot TWO of my grandsons' birthdays. I should be fired as a grandmother.

I used to love to move. I still enjoy the clearing out part, just not the why-did-I-pack-that? I-still-need-it, I-have-to-unpack-it part. I don't enjoy carrying all the boxes down three flights of stairs either. I must be getting old.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I don't care if it rains or freezes...

Alternative liturgies abound these days here at Melrose. At Morning Prayer we're currently substituting readings from the Tao for the first lesson, and readings from the "illegal" gospels for the second. Our Lord's Prayer alternates between the "Prayer of Christ Sophia" and the "Eternal Spirit" paraphrase from the New Zealand Prayer book.

We've also created a new Sunday service called a "Celebration of Life." It begins like this:

Heart of Love, we stand with hearts and minds open to the inspiration of Universal Wisdom; may we step into each moment with compassion for all the created order, with respect for all that we do not understand,with love for all the beauty that surrounds us. May each moment bring forth a song of celebration from the depth of our being. So be it.

Good words, good goals to strive for. But where is Christ in all of this you might wonder. Everywhere.

It strikes me as ironic (and therefore absolutely right) that the more I learn from the wisdom of other religious traditions, the more I understand what a universal man Jesus really was. Strip away all the rhetoric our church has dressed him up in, and the man himself had an understanding of the way things are that very few wanted then, and very few really want now.

I think about him, of the things he did and said, and I just don't see the all-powerful almighty King, the one in charge of anything. It wasn't what he taught. He taught service, compassion, turning the other cheek, loving your enemy.

These are not the values our culture believes in, no matter what we profess. So ahead of his time as to be timeless... he spoke of God as his father because it was the language of the time. He'd probably be amused, maybe annoyed, that we took that particular gender item and ran with it. We've successfully ignored that he kept company with both women and men, that they were considered equals. We've also managed to skew just about everything else he stood for, and in the process have turned him into a magnificent idol.

I'm finding I love Jesus even more than I did... I just don't love the plastic one on the dashboard of my car.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

In the old days...

I used to be creative for a living. I spent days thinking up new ways to spin a logo, experimenting with colored lights on a transparent glass surface. I worked in animation for several years for a TV post production company. There was an editor at my firm who was both talented and driven. He thought highly of himself and his particular skills, and would sometimes browbeat clients into seeing things his way. He wanted award winning products, and if the client benefitted, well that was gravy.

I admired him for his skill and disliked him for his motivation. I think intentions are as important as the results. Some would disagree. The road to hell is paved with good intentions I am told. Nobody ever says the road to heaven is paved that way too. I think all roads are paved with good intentions, and the road to hell is also paved with bad ones.

Intention is certainly important in self help workshops. I took a few of those too. I forget the exact words, but the gist is: if the intention is strong (and clear), then the action will inevitably follow. If my intention is to get revenge for some slight I may have suffered, then my actions steer me to where revenge is possible. The problem with our complex personalities and issues is the intention is often cloudy. That protects us from having to own up to shady behaviors. "I was just teasing," we say. Right. Clarity is like truth... it's a double edged sword.

It's been a year since I started this blog. My intentions for it have changed several times as it's developed and flowed out of me. I can see the intentions behind the words when I read old entries, but I'm not so sure I was always aware of them as I wrote. It's a little like journaling but more public, so it's directed journaling. I have an audience. (Another double edged sword) Sometimes my audience agrees with me... always a nice thing, And sometimes they hate my guts.

But I figured out early on that my intention was not to be liked or praised or admired for my writing ability... not that I don't just gloat over all those things. My intention is to tell it like it is (for me) and let the chips fall. Sometimes I eat crow for it. I try to eat it warm, though... it's revolting to eat it cold.

Friday, July 21, 2006

What are the Questions?

What are the questions? Are they even the right questions?
Those are the things I brood over when I'm in a brooding mood.

I was watching a candle burn in chapel... really watching it.

It's been hot here lately and we have a fan going that oscillates back and forth to spread a little breeze to everyone. When that breeze passes over the candles they flicker, one will gut if the fan's on high. (Luckily it's the Gospel candle... good thing.) The Gospel candle never stands alone. I was taught that to learn the correct order for lighting and snuffing. (inside sacristan jargon)

What is my purpose in this lifetime? What is the candle's purpose?

To give light... to burn brightly. Not to melt wax... not in swoopy artistic drips down the side, not to gather the biggest pool of wax at the base, not to maintain the tallest wick, not to maintain the integrity of its original shape or color... the candle's purpose is to burn brightly. To give light to the darkness, to consume itself and all its resources to give that light. Not such a bad purpose for anyone, let alone an inanimate object.

If the wick is too tall, the flame will gut in the breeze. If too much wax pools near the wick, it burns too slowly, doesn't shed much light. If it burns too quickly and drips artistically, the darkness is absorbed by the artwork. None of these things contribute to the purpose of the candle. What can I learn from the candle?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I am not my mother (sometimes)

I take a risk when I write about my children... when I write about anyone who's still alive, actually, but friends are easier to placate when you say something that pushes their buttons.

My mother once yelled at me (when my kids were still small) "I hope your children give you as much grief as you've given me!" I can't remember what it was that fueled that particular incident, but she never got her wish. My kids are good guys.

I'm not even implying that they are perfect or that I agree with everything they do and say. My younger son keeps having children... his fourth child was just born last month. I'm concerned about global overpopulation and dwindling resources for his children's children. I'm also worried he'll have a heart attack from all the overtime he works to give them everything they think they need. Does that mean I love him less? Hell, no.

My older son is agnostic. He gets no comfort from believing in a loving and merciful God. He sees his life as all there is. Does that mean I love him less? Hell, no.

I was an only child. My mother had certain expectations about holidays and special events, and I was alone in providing her with what she deserved. Some holidays I hit the jackpot, others I was a sorry failure. But I resented the dutiful way I kept trying to please her. I resented the duty itself. Easter, Christmas, Mother's Day, her Birthday, an endless stream of occasions to be remembered.

My kids often neglect me on those occasions. I sometimes get a Mother's Day card (or gift) from at least one of them, but it's usually late. It makes me laugh. I laugh because they are not stuck with the duty gene that plagued me, and I am especially delighted when something arrives (on time) some years from both of them.

The truth is, I'd rather they forget it's Mother's Day than resent that it's Mother's Day and resent me for having guilted them into doing something. My mother would be aghast... or maybe not.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I just want them to be happy.

I think most mothers just want their kids to be happy. Even my mother wanted me to be happy. (She just never approved of how I was trying to make the happiness happen.) Mothers (and fathers) may want other things for their kids... success, a better or easier life, more loving marriages. But those are only indicators. They are not happiness.

I'm no different. When I had lunch with my older son, I listened to him talk about his work, his dreams, his obstacles, and all I could think was: "Just BE happy."

But I can't make him happy. Can't even share whatever it is that makes me happy, like sharing a bite of pie. He has to find/make his own joy in life. He's a brilliant guy. He's always been brilliant. It's his blessing and his curse... Because academics came easy to him as a child, he rarely studied. He got good enough grades with little effort and never learned that hard work can be rewarding in its own right. I say never. I don't believe that. He's learning.

He kept surprising me on this visit. He baked a scrumptious cherry pie from scratch. He took his wife and me to a girlie movie and never complained once. It was his idea that we go out to lunch together, just the two of us, and when he asked what I was in the mood for, I finally admitted (to him) that I really wanted a steak, and that I would actually like to gamble. (Afterall it was Las Vegas.) He laughed and took me to a casino where I could have both. I spent $5 playing nickel poker before I got tired of it. I am obviously not my Nana.

I had not seen my son in a while, but he'd grown up at some point when I wasn't looking. He takes his jobs seriously... not just work, but his role as husband and dad. I heard him tell his son he wished he'd stayed in the Navy, something I'd never heard him admit before. He's still the same in many ways, but there's a maturity that accompanies his actions now that I watched with fresh eyes and increasing pleasure.

He didn't get that way because his life has been easy. He carries pain every day, physical and emotional. He is still recovering from his fourth hernia operation, has so much plastic mesh holding his guts in, it has to hurt to just bend over. He must constantly adjust medication for a bipolar disorder and epilepsy. He steers his boat through troubled waters with grim resignation.

Just BE happy I scream silently. Some part of me worries that he may not be, and that there's nothing I can do or say to change that... part of me knows it's his job to figure it out. And most of me knows that he's already on the path.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Weather report

Vacations are an interesting barometer. I'm doing all the things I never do, never get to do, never even think of doing...

The first night was all-you-can-eat crab legs. I haven't had all-you-can-eat anything in so long I can't remember. Why would I? All I need to eat is plenty. It was decadent (and delicious) and as I watched my son and daughter-in-law and grandson, I felt a bittersweet composite of connection and separation. I'm certainly no Mother Theresa, but my enjoyment of a food I definitely love and rarely eat now, was spoiled by a nagging thought of how many people would this much food feed?

The meal also brought back memories of dinners with my ex-husband. Red Lobster would have these specials from time to time. We would skip the salad and baked potato and tuck into the crab, laying up leg after leg as trophies on the plate. Who could eat the most? I almost never could, pitted against a six foot man with a hollow leg, but I often came a close second. To what end? To hasten my cholesterol problems? Is the all-you-can-eat special an American tradition? Did we invent this self-inflicted punishment on our bodies? I wonder what unspoken need underlies our delight in such things.

Day two brought a gift from my daughter-in-law... a trip to the spa for a pedicure. I used to treat myself when I worked full-time. Now I must rely on the sweet intuition of the daughters I never had. Both of them are savvy, and this is the second pedicure I've been gifted with in my three years in community. The first one shocked my sisters when I arrived home with what I thought were sedately painted toes... but sedate is in the eye of the beholder. I quickly put my socks back on at their disapproval. This one I'll enjoy all week before I must consider how inappropriate it must look to be a nun with painted toes.

Day three was a shopping trip to an oulet mall (I got a new watch for $7) and lunch at Wild Buffalo Wings. Asian zingy spice and medium hot wings... sauce smeared on fingers and lips as we laughed and ate and laughed some more. There's a trivia game that anyone can play. The questions pop up on moniters scattered around the restaurant and each contestant selects his answer on his own little computer pad. We played this same game years ago when I visited, and I laughed at the fierce competion between my son and his wife. Some things don't change. But maybe for me they have. I seem to have lost my edge for competition, as well as my ability to eat it all.

It's the early morning of day four. I wonder what the barometer will show me today.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Old habits die hard

Getting ready to leave... my flight leaves Newark (cessport of the Northeast) this afternoon... and I realized yesterday as I ironed two shirts (I am not taking on my trip), that this was what I used to do when I lived alone. I would stay up all night, ironing everything in my laundry basket. I would also clean the bathroom, vacuum, and wash any dishes in the sink.

This particular habit probably stemmed from my mother's wish to appear more tidy than she really was. (Hence my wish to appear that way.) It's ingrained. Right now I'm waiting for everyone on the third floor to wake up so I can vacuum my cell. The good news about being a nun is I only had four items that needed ironing instead of a closet full, and there's only one room to clean. But the pattern persists.

"If I die, nobody will have to clean my dirty house." Except that most people don't die on vacation. My mother didn't. And her house was a mess when I finally had to face cleaning it out. There were dirty dishes hidden under the bed in her spare bedroom. There was usually a sink full when I'd drop in on her, and she was embarrassed to have me have to wash them every time. So she hid them, thinking she would find the energy at some point to wash them herself.

We really are a strange species.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Gifts and Curses

I had an English Lit professor my first year of college, who one day announced to the class: "The person with an excellent memory is cursed; he has no room left for original thought." He may have been quoting somebody else, but I took that to heart... and was devastated. I had an excellent memory. I could quote entire conversations verbatim, remembered stupid jingles from nursery school, knew all the counties in Maine in alphabetical order. Was I cursed?

This was the same professor who said all papers had to be typed, no exceptions; then made the exception for me because my printing was so perfect. If his sweeping generalizations were flawed in one area, might they not be flawed elsewhere? Why didn't I make that connection? I didn't. I stewed over my "curse".

I now know it was hog pucky, as has been much of the knowledge imparted to me in my lifetime. I've had to analyze life from my own perspective and come up with my own answers. I didn't do it in a vacuum, of course. I had lots of help, good and bad.

What I had going for me was potential. I believe potential is a God-given gift. I'll even say it may be what it means to be made in God's image. Think about it this way... When God spoke the first Word, the potential for creation was unleashed. It showered out of some void, creating a material Universe. One word set into motion a chain reaction, each choice in the beginning affecting and guiding the outcomes of a million events in the future.

Science has come far enough in its studies of the nature of the Universe to state that the laws of gravity, thermo-dynamics, etc... were all established early on. We originally decided they were separate laws, then came to understand they were all related. Even our potential for understanding has blossomed.

I'm not an intelligent design proponent. I don't think it's the answer to creationism. Both are stories we tell ourselves to make sense of a world we can't ever completely understand. Time seems linear to us, but it also has the potential to fold and unfold, and we get many chances in the ripples of our lives to develop and explore our own individual potentials.

I have (well I used to have) an excellent memory. Somebody told me that was a curse. At that point the potential for discovering and exploiting my own creativity hung in the balance. Did I accept the verdict and explore non-creative ways to get along for the rest of my life? For a little while I did. I've been unlucky in love a few times in my life. Was my potential for love squashed by those experiences? My expectations were shaped by them, certainly. But the potential is still there.

I said I thought potential was a gift. I do. But it's the way we perceive (and use) the gift that turns it into a curse. Life is not easy. It is a mystery, sometimes a very dark mystery. I don't have a lot of answers. But I have a lot of potential.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Bluestone Farm

Bluestone Farm and Learning Center... that's what we call ourselves up here at the Melrose Convent. We have six ducks, (currently) two dogs, a cat and a parakeet, and six sisters and one summer intern who share the load of farming, preserving, cooking, praying, and cleaning house (not necessarily in that order.)

Our convent (St. Cuthbert's House) used to be the retreat facility. It's a pre-revolutionary war house that's been added-on-to several times over the years. It's a once grand and beautiful building that's falling apart. The stairs all creak and there are four levels, if you count the cellar. But for the moment, it's home. There's another house across the road, once guest accommodations; it's in bad shape too, and has an unhealthy tendency to mildew when the weather is humid, no matter how many dehumidifiers we install.

Yesterday we all trooped over there armed with face masks, rubber gloves, and determination. Time to clean out all the junk that has been collecting forever. (We're going to have a tag sale.) All kinds of items were sorted into keep, toss, and sell. I love this kind of thing. Clearing out glory holes is not a job for sentimental hearts. You have to have a keen eye and still be ruthless. You also can't do it for too long and stay sharp, so we called it a day at noon.

We had a fourth of July barbecue with sangria, cole slaw, rice, and seitan steaks on the grill. Seitan is fake meat. We make it from scratch from vital wheat gluten, and one of my goals in life is to prepare it in every imaginable way to fool the discriminating meat eater. My sisters aren't as fussy about this as I am, but they don't mind eating my concoctions. The steaks were a hit. Today the leftovers were transformed into gyros, except they tasted more like fajitas... have to keep working on finding the right spice combinations to fake lamb.

But back to Bluestone Farm. We're farming organically, and eating (as well as preserving) the harvest. Kale is in these days. One of our sisters figured out a delicious recipe that takes out all the bitterness, using molasses in the boiling water. We are always experimenting, and it's a labor of love and ingenuity. But it's so much more than just feeding ourselves healthy food. We're committed to leaving light footprints on the earth. One thing that means is respecting the habitat of the critters who share our land, and at the same time protecting the garden from marauders. A giant paving stone on the dry duck food container has finally thwarted the raccoons. They retaliate by throwing rocks around the yard on their nightly forays. The deer ate all of our strawberry plants last year. This year row covers and stronger fencing kept them out. We have at least a dozen quarts frozen, waiting to become shortcake or muffins or jam.

I'm going to miss it here. But I can't wait to fool my sisters in the city with my new invention of seitan sausage!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Tick, tick, tick...

I like the image of the hourglass... each glittering crystal of sand flowing through the neck, sifting down to the bottom. You can watch time pass this way, and it seems a gentle thing, one grain at a time. The reality of time is much different than my sentimental constructions. It busts through the illusion and hits me with a two by four. Gravity's pull will not be stopped, and time is always running out. Out to where? I wonder. Just out.

The good news is: my list of things to do before I move is dwindling. That's progress. The gravel from the side of the house has been transferred to the steps that lead down to the duck pens. It will (hopefully) stay the mud slides from too much rain and winter snowmelts. The new Bluestone Farm and Learning Center logo is done and everyone seems to like it. That was a big one. But I have just begun the clearing out and sorting of file folders from all the graphics projects I'm responsible for. Those move with me now, every time I move.

The first year I moved from Melrose, I left behind a lot of things that were important to me. It was part and parcel of my vow of poverty. Some of them got tossed out by people who didn't know what they were, or didn't hold my same idea of "valuable". Now I know better. I take what's valuable to me... resources for art projects, craft tools that I brought with me into the community. It's a tough call sometimes. I weigh my vows against my need for necessary supplies to get the job done. Some people hoard precious books. I hoard exacto knives.

I leave soon for a week of rest time with my older son and his family. My grandson, who I've not seen in over six years, will be there too. I'm so looking forward to the trip, to reconnecting with each one of them... but it comes smack dab in the middle of all this packing and throwing out. Keep breathing, I tell myself. It will all get done.