Sunday, April 30, 2006

More thoughts on vocation

When I entered the convent it offended my pride that my agenda had money attached to it... or more precisely the lack of money. When I moved to New York City in 1995, I was going "to a job." People could understand the financial necessity, and I was simply doing what needed to be done. When I entered the convent, the situation was somewhat the same. I was going to a job. But not a job... a vocation. I had always made my various careers into vocations before, but they were still jobs. I could quit. And I often stayed at jobs that had become vocationally unbearable, but I always knew I could quit. Except in the military... and frankly I was miserable in the military. But I was very young then, and full of my own idealistic indignations. My indignations have mellowed.

The major difference here that I keep sidestepping is that I really believe God has a plan. Somehow I'm in it. And somehow this life is an integral part of how I'm supposed to do it.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Open to the Irony

I am open to the irony that the "prison" of the cloister will be my doorway to freedom.

I wrote those words a month before I moved into the convent on 113th Street. I was open, but with so many preconceived ideas of what life in community would be all about. I thought it would stretch me in ways I'd not been stretched, that it would take more courage to live in community than anything I'd ever done, that maybe everything I'd done before was only a dress rehearsal for this... the final choice. I was worried (a little) that others would see the decision as a cop out, an escape of weakness. That irony appealed to me as well.

Now I'm in my third year of this discernment process. it has been nothing like I thought it would be and has done everything I said it would do. How ironic is that?

Bible Characters You Love to Hate

Okay... here's a creative project: pick a character from the Bible— one you don't like, can't forgive, have huge judgments about. Is it Satan? Judas? Amnon? (He would be high on my list.) Write a story that helps explain why this person might have done what they did. It's a little like walking a mile in another's shoes...

This is my story for Cain.

You know how some people just seem to be born with a dark cloud over their heads? No matter how they try, or what they do, that cloud follows them. Nothing seems to work out right. Ever. That was Cain's story.

He had the dubious honor of being the first baby to be born. I say dubious, because while being first may be a good thing some of the time, in Cain's case it meant a lot of not so terrific things.

First of all, Eve was in no way prepared for just how much having a baby can hurt. How could she? Cain was her first. No Dr. Spock books, no trained obstetricians, no demerol... not even the benefit of Lamaze. Adam was a waste. He just sat by wringing his hands, wracked with guilt, while Eve screamed and hollered her way through labor. He didn't even know enough to boil water... and all that blood!

Eve's punishment seemed to be disproportionately harsh compared to Adam's. He felt so much to blame that he had to deflect it somewhere. (We already know that Adam was not the best at taking responsibility or being accountable. After all he had blamed Eve for the whole apple affair and now who could he blame for her pain? Obviously Cain.) Women seem to have a knack for losing track of how much something might have hurt, especially when nursing their child can ease the memory, but for the man who must sit by and watch the suffering... guilt is a dangerous thing.

All in all, it was a trauma for both of them... and what did they have to show for it? A squealing, mewling bit of a thing, helpless as... well, as a new born babe. Adam had seen animals give birth, but they certainly never pitched the fit Eve did. And baby goats could stand on their own in a matter of hours. What an adjustment. There was an intruder in bed between them now, always nursing or crying or fouling his fig leaves.

By the time Abel came along, they were both better prepared.

The boys grew. Cain, in an eagerness to get some approval from Adam, went to work with his dad in the fields. Abel, not wanting to get his fingernails dirty, took up sheep herding. He brought his momma a warm wooly coat for winter. That, and the smell of roasting meat on the spit was a tough act to follow for Cain, who arrived with a sack full of turnips for dinner.

The straw that broke the big brother's back, though, was when both boys set off to make their offerings to God. Wouldn't you know it... God didn't like turnips any more than his parents had. Cain's gift was rejected and Abel's was accepted. Cain snapped. Killed his brother on the spot.

Now Cain was shackled with another first in history... the first murder... the first fratricide. (Of course a case could be made that the Ten Commandments had yet to be delivered, but it was still a very uncool thing to do.) Cain was exiled. Adam's sin was visited on his sons in different manifestations... but delivered it was.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Silence is Golden

kpjara is a new bloggy friend who posted recently on the theme "silence is golden" on her blog Can You Hear Me Now?. It inspired me to find a poem I had written a while back.

For some reason my mother's death (fifteen years ago) has been on my mind. I keep remembering (and pondering) things that happened right before she died, right after... maybe because it's tax time. She and I had been estranged since early February over a support group I was attending for survivors of sexual incest. She hadn't spoken to me for two months, but she finally called in early April asking if I was still planning to do her taxes. I said yes, if she still wanted me to. She said she did, so I went over. I was appalled at how she had deteriorated physically in just the two months we'd been separated. She had a heart condition and emphysema and still smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish; it shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. We made up by not discussing the rift between us. That was April. She died in June. Here's the poem:

Silence is Golden

I'm trying to remember if any of my silences were ever "golden"
White silence I remember, when fresh snow blocked sound in the city
so clean, so pure, even the cabs forgot to honk.
Brown silence maybe, rich as the dense hot fudge
that melted the edges of my cold vanilla heart.

Oh yes... that one time
when the ashes of my mother hit the pale green surf—
floated for seconds on the surface—
then one by one each dazzling speck of dust and bone
caught the sun and sparkled gold
as it drifted to the sand below.
That silence... now that was golden.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

compassion with a capital C

"Compassion is Sympathy in Action." That's what the sign said at the top of the subway car. I wasn't sure I believed it. I've taken to questioning everything I read, but it sure sounded good. Authoritative. It was an ad for New York Life. Life Insurance? I guess compassion and sympathy would have something to do with life insurance... compassion for the living who remain after the insurance policy is cashed in and spent.

So... if this catchy little slogan is true, where have I seen it at work in my life? What immediately comes to mind is my friend's response to my mother's death. She said the predictable "Is there anything I can do?" And when I said the predictable "I don't think so." she went a step farther. "Would it help if I called some people for you? To let them know about the memorial service?" I gave her my entire address book. That was sympathy in action. I wasn't thinking clearly, but she was.

But was it Compassion? I used to think that word required a capital C... something larger, grander than the kindness she paid me... I thought of compassion as a love that always goes beyond the easy, the pleasant, the expected. Compassion is something above and beyond ordinary loving, a depth of pity that embraces and infuses some love-less part of each one of us. it's easy to love the lovable. It's the unlovable that take the extra effort.

I've broadened my view since then. It's the small kindnesses we pay each other that change the world, one heart at a time. It's how Jesus worked... one fallen woman here, one tax collector there. Must be how God goes about changing the world too.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Prayer for Monday

Eternal God,
I give you thanks for the gift of Life:
for health, and family and friendship.
(I'm remembering to thank you now,
before I forget again.)
I ask your compassion for those who are dying,
sick, hungry or in trouble.
Forgive me when I stumble and fail:
when I waste and destroy your creation,
when I don't care about future generations.
(You know those days, dear Lord.)
Forgive my indifference
to all the injustice and suffering in this world.
Be my light
(and for heaven's sake)
supply the courage I need to reflect it.
I know you are all I need, O Lord.
Help it to be all I desire.
Hear my prayer, Eternal God.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

It's baaaaccckkk...The Da Vinci Code

I stumbled onto an interesting blog called Church of the Masses by Barbara Nicolosi. If you've been living off the planet for a while, you may not have noticed that The Da Vinci Code is back in the arena of big news... and big controversy. The book was popular, but the movie, which comes out in July, will reach more people. At Easter National Geographic's controversial Gospel of Judas got minimal exposure compared to Dan Brown's somewhat sophmoric tale of sex, lies and intrigue. Barbara gives a thoughtful and interesting critique: her call for why we should dismiss the movie and watch something else.

I personally enjoyed the book. (probably for all the wrong reasons) and I love Tom Hanks and Ron Howard. I'll definitely see the movie anyway, no matter what anybody says, If I end up hating it, I'll have wasted a little time and money, but my curiosity will be satisfied.

The book was actually good for me. It led me to question not only my traditional Christian conditioning, but to explore more deeply who Jesus would be for me if any part (or all) of the story were actually true. My son, who is a professed agnostic, added fuel to the fire by sending the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail and my faith crisis deepened. In that book there are scraps of evidence in some of those Gnostic gospels that say Jesus let someone else die on the cross for him and stood in the shadows watching and laughing... because the officials had been so easily duped. Now wait just a cotton-picking minute! No way could that be true. Could it?

So... as I always do when faced with any crisis, I ran worst case scenario and worked backwards. The process was messy and painful but it meant enough to me to keep at it and (I believe) was well worth the effort. My faith is stronger and my own purpose clearer. But that's another story.

In her critique, Barbara states: "If you are going to risk your eternal soul, it should at least be over something noble and romantic and big. If you are bound to damn yourself, then at least let it be over a torrid and star-crossed love affair, or out of tragic hubris that sought know What Man Was Not Meant to Know, or over some insane and violent of country, or out of desire for titanic powers to manipulate nature or some Byronic despair over a cold world's rejection of a Great Artiste."

Wow... that's a lot of ways to lose your soul. (And I have run the risk of losing mine over some of the ones she mentions.) But for me the difference between being a sheep and a thinking human being is a willingness to take the risk. Maybe nothing is worth losing your soul over, so it doesn't matter whether the reason is large or small, noble or foolish. But to never dare, never to question, never to think is totally out of the question.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Last of the Box Questions...

1. When you think about being in heaven with Jesus some day, do you imagine yourself talking freely and having open back-and-forth conversations with Him or do you think He'll still be in the role of teacher - speaking in parables and constantly challenging your thinking?
Neither. I imagine a great warm enfolding as I am once again united with the source of all that is. (As often as I joke about adding questions to my list for God when I see Him, I really don't think there will be any.) Christ and I will embrace and form a shaft of white light that reaches to infinity in both directions. If you had a camera and could pull back and sharpen the focus, that shaft of light would become a thread, bending and weaving... over and under. Other shafts would become visible that are part of the weaving and as the camera continues to pull back you would see that all of life is part of an intricate pattern that forms the robe of God. Every time my shaft/thread touches another reflects a point in time when I was in relationship with another being.

2. When you picture heaven, is it always day? Day and night? Do you picture it as being back on earth or up in the sky?
I relate to the song Child of the Light that goes "in Him there is no darkness at all... the night and the day are both as one..." so no darkness, but no day or night either. I also like the banquet imagery because I love food. Lobster would be good.

3. What does the voice of God sound like? Is it vocalized or a telekinetic-type connection between He and us?
It sounds like love.

4. What will it feel like to us to be in His actual presence one day? How do you think you will react?
Immensely glad to be home and thankful for the wild ride.

Friday, April 21, 2006

More (Jill)-in-the-Box Thinking

1. Of the three parts of the trinity, do you feel especially drawn to one? Can you express why? Do you feel closer to one part in times of stress and a different one in times of joy?
Emotionally I feel closer to Jesus than the other two. He's my big brother, friend, teacher, Lord... all rolled into one. Intellectually I feel the Holy Spirit is the one who gets the work done... the mover and shaker. God the Creator (Father/Mother) seems more distant and cosmic.

2. When you say a prayer, do you imagine them taking on some shape or substance and actually going somewhere or do they instantly vaporize? Or, are prayers "just words"?
My mouth to Jesus' ears. Often there are no words, just feelings.

3. Mercy. Grace. Blessings. Joy. Sorrow. Peace. Gratitude. What color would these be if they could be seen?
Mercy = moss green, Blessings = rainbow (like Skittles!) , Joy = daffodil yellow, Sorrow = charcoal grey, Peace = Navaho white, Gratitude = lavender

What are your answers?

Oh...BTW my daughter-in-law clued me in to a site where you can make your very own church sign. Here's mine :)

Jack-in-the-Box Thinking

My friend Hey Jules at Faith or Fiction (link on the sidebar) has created a list of thought provoking questions to get us to think way outside the standard 4X4 box we often keep Jesus in... I can only wrap my brain around a few at a time. For the entire list go visit her blog... and start thinking.

1. What do you imagine the earthbound Jesus smelled like? Old Spice, no doubt about it. Well, okay I realize he didn't really smell like that, but it's what my Dad smelled like and aroma is the strongest trigger for most of our memories.

2. When you think about the Holy Spirit, what picture does your mind conjure up? How do you picture Him(Her) moving about? I see the traditional dove most of the time, but I also think of wind and breath. The ocean breeze with the smell of salt and fish also grounds me in a holy space. I sometimes sense a more feminine aspect, maybe to offset the two boys in the trio

3. What do the voices of angels sound like? Deep and throaty? Light and lyrical? Do they speak in your native language or do they have their own? Either masculine or androgynous, speak my language in my head. I answer out loud.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

It occurred to me...


That there's probably a market for a book like this... Burning questions about flaming, copyright infringements, whether it's permissible to link to other websites without permission...

What about stealing a blog image? (like this one, for instance) Well, I created it on The Generator Blog, but couldn't figure out how to download it so I just dragged the picture to my desktop. Inquiring minds want to know when they are committing a major faux pas... well DON'T you???

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Tagged (sort of)

Random thing meme: List six random things about yourself and then tag six more of your bloggy friends.

Six Random Things:

1. I love to sing but have to hear someone else so I can memorize the tune.
2. I was an elf at Santa's Village... my first paying job.
3. God is very fond of me.
4. I only read the instructions after I try something new.
5. My adolescent dream: to sing in a famous folk trio (ala PP&M)
6. I hate to talk on the telephone.

Six tags go to: Lilli Ana, Hey Jules, Natty, Mark Mossa, machnbyrd and Catherine Grace... maybe she'll finally give us a new post!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dead string

Just got an email that the cancer is back in my friend's brain. Besides being paralyzed from the last brain chemo, all the stem cells they harvested will sit forever in the freezer because now there will be no transplant. Hospice care looms on the horizon.

He worked hard all his life, made himself a tuna sandwich every day for lunch so he'd not waste his money. Yet when it came to others he was more than generous. I speak from experience because he was once my boyfriend. We weren't so good at that relationship; we made better friends. After I joined the community he'd come for Vespers and dinner on Sunday night occasionally. He liked the thought of me being a nun.

When it came to the church he gave his time, his money, his heart. And he had a big heart. He was looking forward to retirement so he could attend the Eucharist every day. My ways are not your ways, says the Lord. Lord, you can say that again. I was feeling the after-Easter let down all day today... snapping at my sisters, feeling blaaah in general.

Now I feel nothing. Nothing as in empty. (As in about to throw up.) As in totally bummed. No tears... just a hole in my gut the size of a basketball. Dread sting... dead string... dread sting... dead string

Monday, April 17, 2006

Uh oh... it occurs to me...


I can tell you already that the discovery of these little doodads is going to spur my more perverse sense of humor. That may be addictive.

Twenty Things That Make Me Smile

This meme from Sr. Lilli Ana (see her link on sidebar)
in no particular order:

1. Puppies, kittens, babies
2. A good nun joke
3. A letter in my mailbox
4. Comments on my blog
5. Hot showers
6. Soft yarn
7. Finishing a project
8. Smell of fresh cilantro
9. Someone saying thank you
10. Unexpected $5 in my coat pocket
11. Emails from my sons
12. Daisies
13. Surprises
14. My grandchildren
15. Their artwork
16. Good friends
17. Little birds at outdoor caf├ęs
18. Christmas tree lights
19. The ocean
20. Silly Simon's antics

Sunday, April 16, 2006

He is risen...

"Christ is risen! Alleluia."
"He is not."
"Yes, He is. Come and see!"
"Okay, I'm coming."
"Comb your hair first."

At 4:15 the vigilant stands outside the door. She knocks, opens the door and the salutation is: Christ is risen! Alleluia. The response is supposed to be: Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia.

I had hit the snooze alarm twice already, then turned off the alarm. Then turned on my light. Then dozed off again. The statement startled me awake. I knew I was supposed to say something... but I couldn't wrap my brain around the concept. All that came was: He is not. At that point sister improvised. She realized I was not even awake, and departed from the script.

For sleep I sometimes wear my hair in two pig tails, like a child's, and they manage to rearrange themselves in the night. One will be up high, the other pulled down... both are crooked when I look in the mirror. I must have been a sight. The disciples must have been a sight that first Easter morning. Mary Magdalene rushing in breathlessly, babbling like an idiot. The Lord is risen! and the inevitable response... He is not.

It takes time to comprehend the inconceivable, even when you've been forewarned... prompted ahead of time that this would be the reality. Jesus had warned his disciples that he would die. They couldn't wrap their minds around that. He had said he would rise again on the third day. That one escaped them too.

Peter and John may have said "Okay, we're coming." and off they ran, each trying to outdistance the other, to be first to see what Mary was babbling about. She probably didn't bother to tell them to comb their hair.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Holy Saturday...alternate realities

I remember moving through the days after my mother's death, on autopilot. I didn't make my bed, I barely ate, or when I did, I gorged on Kryspy Kremes. I went to work, but didn't accomplish much. But my mother was 78, I'd known her all my life. She died of a stroke, not at the hands of executioners. I wasn't even at the hospital when she died. I woke up with a start at midnight and looked at the clock. Twenty minutes later the floor nurse called. It was over.

There's nothing holy about Holy Saturday. Those who loved Jesus would have been in shock today. If they had slept at all, they would have woken up to remember that the nightmare of yesterday was not a dream. He was dead. It was over. What's so holy about that? A few centuries later we can sit out the day with anticipation while Jesus cools his heels in the tomb. Tomorrow is Easter. As Paul Harvey used to say, we know the rest of the story. They didn't.

While I have experienced loss, for me to put myself in their shoes creates an alternate reality. I've mentioned a Palm Sunday meltdown I had years ago. That was an alternate reality. I was in the church and then I wasn't. I couldn't see any details of where I was, couldn't hear them. All I knew for sure was something very bad was happening to someone I loved and I was helpless to do anything about it. The emotions were horror, guilt, grief... all rolled together. Multiply that by a hundred and you may come close to what Jesus' mother felt.

So today... while I wait outside the tomb, I'm thinking about alternate realities. What kind of world would have played it out differently? How would it have looked? The new string theories suspect as many as twenty-seven dimensions to our world we can't even imagine, maybe more. Those with paranormal abilities have a personal sense that there's more to life than we admit. Shamans know it. We track time as a linear progression, but I have experienced moments when time slowed down or stood still. Time warps and closes in on itself. Deja vu tells us this has happened before.

But if time progresses in a linear fashion, then one change may affect all the subsequent results. Imagine a world full of sin into which Jesus is born. His cousin John has set the path: repentance. Jesus begins his ministry and the miracles themselves are enough to get the Pharisees' attention. If this man can raise people from the dead, we need to listen to him. Even if we get killed by the Romans, he could bring us back. We need him to teach us what he knows. No betrayal, no crucifixion, in fact, the movement of compassion spreads. Even the Romans see how corrupt they have become and set about mending their ways. No fall of the Empire... it dissolves peacefully as the kingdom of God works in the hearts and minds of the human community. Yeah, right.

Okay then... imagine this one. I have (so many times) questioned God about the way He handled the crucifixion. The curtain in the temple was rent? That's all you could do?!? They probably had a new curtain up the next day.

I never got an answer to my question until now. No, that's not all He could do. In another reality the first soldier to wield a hammer was struck by lightning. And the next. They ended up tying Jesus to the cross to get him hoisted. But the heavens opened and a voice thundered... "What then will the landowner do to those tenants? He will come and destroy them and give the land to others." And the earth quaked and angels came, and all Jesus' bruises and cuts disappeared and it was judgment day for the earth. Like that one any better?

Why didn't you do anything, God? Because he asked me not to.
I beg your pardon? That's correct. Do you really think I was indifferent? That I didn't watch the whole thing in horror myself? I would have done anything for my son. Whatever he asked. I would have destroyed the world with fire and started over. But he asked me not to. He asked me to forgive them.

"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Oh. I forgot that part. Well, I didn't forget, I just didn't know how all of reality could turn on three words... one request.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

There's nothing good about Good Friday. That was my mantra for many years, even though I professed to be a Christian. There's nothing good about pain either, except to give you a frame of reference for when it quits hurting. I take drugs when I'm in pain. Jesus had no drugs.

When I'm sick or injured I want people to leave me alone. I don't want you to see me like that, sighing or moaning, groaning or crying out. My polite manners are the first to go when I hurt. Next comes my good humor and finally my balance. My focus is fixed on my pain, nothing else. That's embarrassing. Leave me alone.

Jesus was in torturous physical pain on Good Friday. He had no drugs and no privacy. So in addition to the physical, he endured the emotional pain of embarrassment and ridicule. That was the point. Punishment for high crimes, in his case, treason against the state, needed to be cruel and public. It was supposed to be a deterrent to others who might harbor the same terrorist views. Of course it didn't work then, just like it doesn't work now.

He was allowed no privacy in his agony, no quiet corner in which to die. Insult to injury.

But there was a third pain Jesus was feeling that day... the pain of abandonment by the one person he trusted to take care of things... his father. Where was God now?

There's a saying in the advertising industry: "What have you done for me lately?" You can't ever rest on your laurels. Last year's award winning campaign was last year. Israel's deliverance from Pharaoh's tyranny was way back when... what have you done for me lately, God? Where are you now? That thundering voice that spoke at his baptism: "This is my beloved son. In him I am well pleased." And later at his transfiguration, "This is my son, my chosen one. Listen to him." That voice was silent now.

Psalm 22 begins: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It's repeated every Good Friday in churches that observe the seven last words of Jesus. This was the moment where the rubber hit the road. Jesus was alone in all of this and he knew it.

It is, in fact, our human condition... that we are alone in this world. Cast adrift by God on a planet teeming with life—life that is not like us. The same shell of flesh and bone and blood that encases us to protect us in this world also traps us. Because we are endowed with intellect and spirit and we know we are incomplete. To be created in God's image is a double edged sword. We get glimpses of the greatness of God when he stands before us, but we are only flat mirrors of his reflection and when he moves, out of our line of sight, we are sure he is gone.

When I was younger I had a theory. I imagined myself sitting at a table with God talking over all the things I would experience in my lifetime. At the time I was leaning toward reincarnation, but this conversation still works for me if all I get is the one life: God says... okay this time I'm going to give you some artistic talent... and here are the lessons I want you to learn. It was all laid out in rough parameters and I understood it and agreed with everything we decided. Then I was born.

The catch was: I couldn't remember any of the conversation. I knew I'd forget going into it and I agreed to do it anyway. Why? Because I was standing in God's presence when I said yes. I had no clue how terrible it would be to be alone.

But God knew. He knew because He had already done it Himself. In the person of Jesus he felt everything we as humans have ever felt, experienced everything we'll ever experience and more. This sacrifice was more than atonement... it was a demonstration of how to live and how to die. We've forgotten our conversations before we were born, forgotten why this lesson is so important.

So God provided a tangible example. Himself. For no other reason than love.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I needed this, but why exactly?

You Are an Excellent Cook



You're a top cook, but you weren't born that way. It's taken a lot of practice, a lot of experimenting, and a lot of learning.
It's likely that you have what it takes to be a top chef, should you have the desire...
Are You A Good Cook?


I found this quiz over at sweetmemes. Well, yes, I'm a good cook. That's a no brainer. So why exactly did I need to copy, paste, html edit out the white background so I could proclaim to the world I can do something well? I can do lots of things pretty well, actually. What I can't do well is sing when I don't know the music. As a kid I used to love to sing. My grandmother would sing with me and she taught me all the old hymns and ballads popular in her day. I memorized everything she sang to me. My mother, however, couldn't "carry a tune in a basket if it were sheet music" and her encouragement was less than stellar. Over time I learned to sing softly (if at all) around her. Except when she died.

Come to think of it, that was pretty weird. My mother lay dying in the hospital in a coma. She had suffered a massive stroke, probably her third. She lay there a week until she died, and every day I'd visit for a few hours and sing to her. To this day I'm not sure if I was trying to comfort her or p*ss her off so she'd wake up. I hope I didn't add insult to her agony in those last days. She never woke up to say.

Last night at Tenebrae I was presenter for the Compline part of the service. The presenter essentially starts all the music, then the rest of the choir joins in. She "presents" the psalm tones so everyone will know which ending to sing. That was the easy part. However... we sing a medieval version of plainsong that has four bars instead of the standard five, (which means you can't hammer it out on the piano) and there were two responds that were tricky. One I couldn't figure out to save my life, or when I did figure it out, I couldn't remember what I'd figured the next time I sang it. I was up til 2:00 am the night before practicing... to little avail.

So last night I got through the first one without too much bungling but the second one (the hard one) I botched royally. If you didn't read music you may not have known exactly where I crashed, but you still knew something was off. Oh well.

The best thing about being sixty is that failures like this don't humiliate me anymore. If I'd been twenty or thirty or even forty... I'd have been mortified. My face would turn red, I'd either giggle or cry, and I'd certainly vow never to sing in public again. Ever. But I will. I like to sing.

So for today, I take solace in the fact that I can cook. Sometimes I can sing... but I can always cook.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

little disciplines

I gave up non-dairy creamer for Lent. (The flavored kind) That doesn't sound like much, but it's my favorite way to drink coffee... that first burst of caffeine in the morning, softened by a splash of vanilla or hazelnut or best of all, amaretto. I also gave up video games, but that one didn't last more than a week. I spoke to God about it and He understood completely and has already forgiven me. You think I'm kidding, don't you?

Giving up things just for the sake of giving them up takes a mindset that doesn't come natural to me. I understand sacrifice, but not when it's arbitrary. Last year I kept asking why do we all give up chocolate, movies, TV, ice cream... even on Monday, our Sabbath? Chocolate is a big deal for some of us, but it's nothing for others. So why not make choices that mean something individually to each sister?

"Because that's the way we've always done it." does not compute well with me either. But I complied last year and it didn't kill me. It didn't especially nourish me spiritually though. This year at Melrose the decision-making process was much looser. It was left to each sister to work out her own Lenten discipline. So along with the successful non-dairy creamer, I added some disciplines that have nourished me tremendously. For one, I stuck with the online book club... made it a priority to post as thoughtfully as I could, and in the process came to respect and admire some women who are on very different spiritual paths than I. I think the feeling is mutual.

I made the weekly train ride to the city sacred ground... time for thought, prayer, meditation, and in the process found that anywhere can be sacred ground if we only will treat it as such. Little disciplines reap huge side effects. Ordinary things done with extraordinary love become the foundation for a life worth living, But that's not the way I've always done it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

It's all in the details

Are you using the blackout curtains? I asked.
What blackout curtains? Nobody's told me anything about those. I haven't even seen any black curtains.
Yes, the windows all get covered like a World War II air raid drill. So no light can seep in.


So began a conversation about Tenebrae with the new sacristan. The look on her face said it all. More details? More things I have to do I didn't know about?

I can so relate to that look; it was mine last year. Two weeks before Easter, the then current sacristan left the community. She and I had both joined as postulants on the same day. Nine months later, we had been clothed as sisters together. Now she was gone. Emotionally I was still dealing with mixed feelings of grief, anger, relief and resentment. Now I had her job. I hadn't even mastered the day-to-day sacristan routines, let alone figured out all that was required of me for Holy Week. A different set of linens for Palm Sunday, Maunday Thursday, Good Friday and Easter... different altar cloths for Good Friday and Easter, polishing, polishing, polishing brass and silver, a string of endless details that created the atmosphere and the effects for this, the holiest of holy days in our Christian calendar. Blackout curtains for Tenebrae. What's with that? Tenebrae is a service of lights and shadows. An array of candles are extinguished in a particular order as lessons are read, responds and psalms sung. In the end everyone sits in total darkness. Total darkness that is, unless the street lamps outside the chapel windows are glaring through to spoil the effect. Blackout curtains.

During Holy Week, each observation of each particular drama has its own atmosphere and its own set of details. The sacristan's job becomes a combination of set designer, scrub maid, prop girl and Jill of all trades. There's a ten page list of things to do and when to do them that has been passed down over the years. Some things are crossed out, others have been added. The oddest thing about this whole scenario is that the job usually falls to the youngest (translate newest) members of the community... the ones who know the least and more often, have never even witnessed the finished product.

So, that was me last year. I survived, but barely. It's a true trial by fire and I'm sure there have been sisters who have handled it way more gracefully than I did. As I've mentioned before I'm a #1 on the Enneagram. We are folks who must know the right way to do things, because our self-esteem is hardwired to being able to do it right. When we know the right way, we can feel superior, and also lord it over others who don't know the right way. My stress and frustration was only furthered by this loathsome trait... I asked for countless opinions on how and when to do everything, studied the list, checked and double checked, drove myself to exhaustion. Even when other sisters offered to help, I still checked their efforts. By Maunday Thursday (with still three major services to go) I walked into confession in a state of turmoil.
"The only thing I have to confess is my attitude. I hate my sisters and I hate Easter."
The priest looked me over and answered in her quiet voice, "Well then, I'd say you have some work to do."

Yes, I certainly did. But the "work" I had to do had nothing to do with the work I had to do. We talked some more, I made my confession and felt a little more in balance. It lasted through Good Friday. By Holy Saturday I was back to being responsible for everything and had another meltdown. The next week they sent me to the country to detox for two days.

Now it's someone else's turn. We found the blackout curtains after lunch and got them all ready to put up tomorrow night. We located the pins for the other drapes, and went over the Exit signs that need to be covered up. Another sister is polishing the brass candelabras. Wednesday's details are pretty much under her belt. We talked a little about how overwhelmed I felt last year, and maybe that's given her some perspective, I don't know.

I only know you have to live through it to understand why. Your first year you don't get to go deep into the sorrow of the Lord's crucifixion, you get to feel crucified.

Monday, April 10, 2006

You can't get there on this bus...

Last week my friend from St. Bart's and I went on an adventure... a trip to New Jersey to visit our dear friend who's in a rehab center. If you know me well, you'll know the word adventure has varying connotations, depending upon the circumstances. This was one of those adventures from hell.

To begin, we were supposed to leave at 12:30 but didn't make it out of the church til 2:00. Secondly, the trip, which included a subway ride, PATH train to Newark, then city bus to Kearney was supposed to take about an hour. My train back to Brewster (from Grand Central) was to depart at 5:19. Tight, but doable. Except for just a few minor details: His directions were correct, but not quite complete. The PATH train took longer than anticipated because we went to Newark from 33rd by way of Journal Square, instead of the direct shot from the World Trade Center. Oh, and we stopped to buy a sandwich on the way because neither of us had eaten lunch. (Even though it was already now past 2:00.) Finally we arrived in Newark and spent a good fifteen minutes going the wrong way to the bus platforms. By this time I was beginning to see the writing on the wall regarding my 5:19 train to Brewster. Oh well, stuff happens.

We arrived at the bus platform with just enough change between us to make the fare as the #76 bus pulled out. No problem, we'd catch the next one in another ten minutes, it would give us time to eat our sandwiches. Three more busses with different numbers came and went and finally another 76 pulled in. We got on, and my friend asked the bus driver "This goes to Clara Moss?" (Clara Moss is the name of the rehab center.) Bus driver said "No! you're on the wrong bus. I don't go anywhere near there. You mean the hospital, right? You need to take the subway."
"It's the rehab center."
"You can't get there on this bus."
So we got off. We checked the directions. They said #76, but maybe it was the #72. We waited for that one. Once again we got on, asked the bus driver the same questions, and received the same answers.
"You can't get there on this bus. You need to take the subway."

That couldn't be right. The directions came from someone who'd already visited and she's taken the bus. Back to the terminal to find customer service. Maybe they could tell us which bus to take. The gentleman from customer service was sure of himself.
"You need to take the subway."

At this point my friend remembered his cell phone and called the lady who'd given him the directions. He was asking her all the wrong questions. At this point a nice description would be... I threw a hissy fit.
"Give me the damn phone!"
I talked to her for a few minutes and found out the name of the street the rehab center was on, cross referenced it with the map for the #76 bus and sure enough, the street was there. Paydirt!
To his credit, he did at this point call the rehab center and asked for the cross street where we should get off. Wilson. Yes!
Back to the platform. The next #76 bus was an express (because of course by now it was rush hour.) We waited and waited and waited... and at last got on the local. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the rehab center. It was 5:00.

I got home to Brewster that night at 10:30, way past my sisters' bedtime to come fetch me at the train station. I took a cab. What luxury... he actually knew where he was going.

Gospel of Judas?

Some of us watched a National Geographic TV show last night called The Gospel of Judas. Those are two words you don't hear together... especially this time of year when the focus is on why Jesus had to die. I remember sitting in a dark church one Maunday Thursday, railing at God: What kind of father are you anyway!?! How could you, why would you do this to your own child? Many people have tried to answer it for me over the years... but it's still one of the things on my list to ask God when I see Him. "My ways are not your ways, saith the Lord." No kidding.

Anyway, there is a Coptic codex (old papyrus book) that was supposedly found in Egypt, near the site the Nag Hammadi library was discovered. It has been painstakingly analyzed, carbon dated, and translated by Coptic experts who all agree it is authentic. The Codex contains a gospel... of Judas, and a very different take on who he was, and why he did what he did in those last days.

The funny thing is I've heard this story before. Now that's eerie. I have also always felt that Judas was maligned in the Bible for reasons not readily apparent. There are too many instances where Jesus can read the minds of the people around him. You're telling me he didn't know he had a bad apple in his barrel? I don't think so. No, the portrayals of Judas get worse with each successive Gospel until John outright slams him, calling him a thief, liar, agent of Satan.

In the Gospel of Judas, he's the only one who gets who Jesus really is and what his mission really is... the one chosen by Christ to do the unthinkable... to turn him over to the authorities. Whoa! That would certainly give new meaning to "the first shall be last and the last first."

The reality is this gospel is just one of many of the Gnostic gospels circulating during the first three centuries after Christ's death. There were dozens, possibly as many as thirty, of these gospels floating around. They were eventually squelched and thrown out as heresy when the current version of the New Testament was compiled. There were lots of reasons for the editing and censoring. Many had to do with the continued survival of the early church, but some because the gnostics were mystics and believed each person could tap into God's grace directly. No need for a hierarchy of church fathers telling you what to do, how to behave, how to be Christian. I probably would have been a gnostic.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Palm Sunday

Coffee without cream isn't coffee. It's a whole different drink. And while I know that there are folks who will disagree, it's the way I learned to drink it as a child, when I was seven years old. (My short term memories may be slipping, but my long term ones are still very much in tact.) I was sitting at the breakfast table with my mom. Packing boxes littered the kitchen because we had just moved into a teensy weensy apartment. My dad had recently skipped out to marry another woman, who just happened to have another daughter. We were two abandoned girls in a cheap crummy apartment.

My mother was pouring herself a cup off coffee, and I said, "I want some too."

Normally she would have said, "when you get older." But that morning she got down a cup and saucer for me and poured half a cup. She pushed the can of evaporated milk across the table. "Okay, try it, see if you like it." I added the milk and several spoons of sugar before getting it just right. "I like coffee." I said.

"Well, I guess you're old enough to drink it, then." she said. And that's the way I've drunk it ever since. I've switched from sugar to splenda, and from evaporated milk to raw milk or non-dairy creamer, but it's still the only way to drink coffee. In New England coffee with cream is called "regular". Southerners don't make that distinction, but it makes perfect sense to me.

So what does this remotely have to do with Palm Sunday? Just this: coffee without cream is not coffee, and Holy Week without the passion of the cross is not Holy Week. Here in Brewster we are focusing our lives... our worship, meditation, rising and going to bed, work schedules and food consumption... all around the sacredness of the Universe, in particular, our Mother Earth. Our species has lost its connection to this greater picture of God's love through creation, and we are making a deliberate effort here to live sustainably, creatively and carefully, giving thanks for the natural world and all that is in it. I wholeheartedly support that effort. Yet, when we were deliberating over the liturgical choices for our very first Holy Week at Melrose, I was uncomfortable. I wanted to be here and I didn't. I prayed. The most exquisite clarity came to me when I accepted that for me, the traditional observance of this coming week's events was the connection I needed to make with God.

I suffered a major meltdown on Palm Sunday several years ago during the Passion Gospel that the Episcopal Church insists on enacting. Ever since, this one Sunday has been a killer for me. As a protestant child I never experienced it as anything other than a triumphal march around the church grounds, singing hosannas and waving palm fronds. The Passion wasn't even mentioned where I went to church... or if it was, I never noticed. We went from palm fronds to Easter eggs. But as an adult Episcopalian I was introduced to this anachronistic element... from Hail the King! to crucify him! in less than ten minutes. What's with that?

Several explanations were forthcoming when I was finally brave enough to ask. One was practical: Most folks can't get off work for a three hour service on Good Friday so we give them a mini version on Palm Sunday. That didn't cut it for me. Another version made a little more sense in an existential sort of way: Life changes. Sometimes instantaneously. One minute you're flavor of the month, the next you're fired for no good reason. (I could relate to that.) Still, I've never been at peace with the way we do it. Give the man a break! Let him be triumphant for the whole day, not just for the time it takes to read the Gospel. But nobody's asking me.

Holy Week, as it has been observed in our community, follows through with what we know of the last days of Jesus' life. Each day goes deeper into the mystery and brings us closer to Good Friday. The traditions were designed for this purpose, and it can be an emotional and spiritual wringer if you surrender to it completely. I got closer last year than I've ever been, but I also had a ton of overwhelming sacristan duties that tapped my strength, tried my patience and interfered with my focus. I want to go for it this year. And a little voice is telling me I need to. Holy Week without the passion of the cross is coffee without cream. and I just can't drink coffee black.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Mmmmore mmmemes

I found this very cool blog called Sweet Memes (sweetmemes.blogspot.com).Here's an interesting one to try: Go to Wikipedia and look up your birth day (excluding the year). List three interesting facts, two births and one death, including the year.

Facts:
1946 - The UN General Assembly voted to establish its headquarters in New York City (my city).
1962 - The Mona Lisa was assessed at US $100 million, the highest insurance value for a painting in history.
1999 - Charles M. Schulz, creator of the comic strip Peanuts, announced his retirement.

Births:
1503 - Nostradamus, French astrologer and mathematician (d. 1566)
1897 - Margaret Chase Smith, American senator from Maine (my birthplace) (d. 1995)

Death:
1591 - Saint John of the Cross, Spanish friar and poet (b. 1542)

Now wasn't that fun?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

ABC's of me

Okay, time for a little lightness. Here's a meme just in from my daughter-in-law...

Accent: none actually, CBS standard English (how boring)

Booze of choice:? Vodka with Kahlua

Chore I hate:? vacuuming

Dog or cat:? Both

Essential electronics: Laptop, digital camera

Favorite perfume(s): don't wear them, but I like nice smelly bath stuff

Gold or Silver: silver

Hometown:? moved too often to name one... maybe Jacksonville, Florida

Insomnia?:? Not usually

Job Title:? Sister

Kids?: Two sons (one has a birthday tomorrow), one granddaughter, 3 and 1/2 grandsons

Living Arrangement:? convent with five other women, one cat, one dog, six ducks

Most admired trait:? Honesty (also the most disliked trait)

Number of Sexual Partners:? Now? none. (before? none of your business)

Overnight Hospital Stays:? Two bouts with pneumonia and two childbirths

Phobia:? Burning alive

Religion:? Christian with Buddhist tendencies

Siblings:? not a one

Time I wake up:? Between 4:30-5:15

Unusual talent/skill:? I can teach you to ride a motorcycle

Vegetable I refuse to eat:? slimy okra... I'll eat it fried

Worst habit:? Laziness

Yummy foods I make:? Enchiladas, guacamole, scones, muffins, okara burgers, salmon spread... ad infinitum (did I mention I love to cook?)

Zodiac sign: Sagittarius

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Salt

Today's Bible study from Mark 9:42-50... was one where the translations we always use were quite different. One spoke of the refiner's fire, the other two of "being salted by fire". In one translation the verse goes on to say "if salt has become bland, with what will you renew it? Maintain salt among yourselves and be at peace with one another." That sparked our imaginations as the discussion turned to salt as a healing agent. One sister had had a canker sore on her tongue recently, and had used salt water to rinse. Salt water stings when it hits an open wound... but it also seems to draw out the poison.

We thought about ourselves as community... how we each come into the group with our own woundedness and how inadvertently we do rub salt into each other's wounds. My reaction to your action triggers old baggage in both of us. It can get pretty salty. Yet in this passage this is considered a good thing. The refiner's fire is not meant to destroy, but to make pure.

There's a fine line, though, in using salt to sting someone, just because we think they should smart a little, and using it to heal. That's where the be at peace with one another comes in, I guess. Not an easy balancing act.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Meditation space

Still thinking about those golden calves... The funniest thing happens sometimes, when it's time for me to think. I get the time. I travel by train into the city once a week to do my volunteer work at St. Bart's Church. It's an hour and a half train ride. I never rode trains much before... always planes for long trips and autos for short. It's the American way. I either need to get there fast (because my time is too valuable to waste) or I need to be able to stop when I want to (because my convenience is more important than those gas emissions.) We are blessed to have mass transportation here in New York State, but a lot of times we still don't use it. I've been blessed to use it three times in the last week.

The train from Brewster to Grand Central has become a meditation space. I buy a cup of coffee at Suz' Caboose, and it usually lasts til Katonah. So does the view. I look out the window at the landscape and watch for changes. Yesterday a swan with her two babies was on the lake. Even at that distance I could see how fluffy and uncoordinated they were. Once the coffee is gone, I pick up my knitting. Knit one Hail Mary, knit two full of grace, knit three the Lord is with you. And so it goes. I think about the luxury of being a religious: having time to pray built right into my schedule. Who else gets that? I think about the companionship of the sisters I live with. If one is driving me bonkers, there are four others I can seek out to be with. There are six of us to share the cooking, the cleaning up, the daily chores. Who else gets that?

I think about everything I've learned since coming to this community: how my attitudes have softened in very significant areas, yet how I'm still the same person, with the same issues. Those issues play out differently, but they are part and parcel of who I am. I have changed and I have not changed. (Another one of God's practical jokes?)

Is this community a golden calf? I think it could be if I allow myself to get caught up in doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons. And what would be the right reason? My relationship with God. Does this community enhance and support that relationship? Hey... so far so good.