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.