Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jesus was not white

As an artist, I have a tendency to create images of a Jesus who looks like me: white... I know better. Jesus was born a Jew, a fact many have ignored (or glossed over) in their quest to create the perfect Messiah. What does a Jewish baby look like? While he was probably not the darkest black of the Ethiopians, he was most likely a baby of color. One of my sisters called me to task for my white babies... so I went searching the internet for sources. Not too many to be found, as it turns out.

On Christmas morning we sing carols before and after breakfast, one of our traditions. There is as much energy around the impersonations for the Friendly Beasts as there is in trying to get our harmonies on key. This year our favorite camel couldn't remember her signature noise... she couldn't remember that she had always produced this camel noise for as long as I can remember... so at least five years. It was a turning point for sisters who are still in denial about the big "A" word. We muddled through. There is no turning back time, not collectively anyway. So here's a new baby, (not white) surrounded by his friendly beasts.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

God's desire

In her sermon on Christmas Eve, our celebrant suggested that Christians are charged to do two things at this time of year: to return to Bethlehem, and to remember the garden. She reminded us that in the Orthodox tradition, December 24th is actually the feast day of Adam and Eve... the feast of the beginning. The Christmas tree was originally decorated with apples, a reminder of that time before time, when we lived in wholeness. Before we knew we were not good enough.

Once we knew... then the endless misunderstandings began. She painted a picture of a God who desires to be in relationship with what God has created... yet we manage to keep screwing it up. Wholeness was shattered in the original Eden, but still God did not give up.

Fast forward to Bethlehem. A radical new way to approach relationship with us... to be one of us. Like us. Ordinary. Suffering. Laughing, working, eating, drinking and eliminating... Everything that humans do, God would do too. God with us: Look at him. See ourselves. See our God.

Bethlehem today is still occupied, still unsafe for children and other living things. The names of the powerful change but their ways are still violent, fearful and deadly. And each year we remember... it doesn't have to be this way. God wants relationship with the created beings of this world. No wonder they say "Patience is a Virtue."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

the day after

I remember Christmases past when on Christmas morning you could barely see the tree for all the mountains of gifts piled in front of it. I think back on those as the years of excess... when things were so important because the important things were so lacking. I cannot say it was anybody's fault... the culture contributed, major dysfunction in the family, never having conversations that went below the shallow how-are-you-I-am-fine variety. To have those conversations would have been dangerous at best. To invite the kind of vulnerability required to go deeper was just not safe where we lived. We did what we could...

I spoke with both of my sons yesterday evening... after all the hustle and bustle of our busy day here. Although I had just seen both of them earlier in the month, that had been an odd get-together because it centered around my life profession. My birthday was the week afterwards and my sisters went overboard to give me a lovely party... almost as if they suspected my kids might forget. They did.

My older son lives in a time zone three hours earlier, so his hustle and bustle still revolved around dinner. The other had a million in-laws in the house, so our conversation was mostly drowned out and peppered with other conversations with the people around him. I was placed on hold a few times during both conversations and wondered briefly why I had even called at all.

But I knew. I called... to hear their voices... to engage. To remind them that although I am a nun, I am still their mother... and that I still love them. I cannot pile up presents to the ceiling to show that love, and even if I could, I wouldn't do it anymore anyway. It was an illusion, like so much of our culture's approach to life. We have forgotten we are in fact okay. Just as we are. Flawed, yes. God knows why.

That is part of the mystery we can't come to terms with. It kills us to imagine a perfect God who could/would create an imperfect world. Because we equate perfect with good. And... we can't imagine an imperfect God. Why not? Explain to me exactly why God has to be perfect.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Short week...

The week of Advent IV is a day and a half long this year. That's what happens when Christmas falls on Tuesday. We had our normal Monday rest day yesterday (although only a few got any rest.) Most of us were about the business of last minute Christmas preparations. Some were cooking or baking, some grocery shopping, while others attended to the assorted rest day activities for the elderly sisters.

I made a haul at the Farmer's Market... six poinsettias and two big bunches of assorted mixed Christmas boughs. We used to take the car to Staten Island for our Christmas flowers (when the budget was four times what I spent yesterday.) We no longer have the car, and are scaling down in other areas as well. It felt good to spend so little and create so much. I approach flower arranging the same way I approach cooking: collect the leftovers and see what I can make that doesn't look or taste like a rerun.

So this year we have a big basket of assorted boughs under our altar, mixed with the late-blooming herbs from our garden, holly and some sweet kale flowers. A large red velvet bow adds the color. Today we set up the creche, hang a wreath on the altar cross, and will be close to being finished.

This entire Advent has been a bit of a blur for me. I was focused on other things. The liturgical year has never quite matched my spiritual cycles anyway... except for Holy Week. But I remember some Christmases past when I never even celebrated Advent until I was taking down the tree. It's easier to celebrate subliminally now, and I recognized an odd pattern with the prayers for each particular week:

Advent I Give us grace so we can cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light... We can do this ourselves. We just need a little help.

Advent II Give us grace to heed the warnings (of your prophets) so we may forsake our sins... Okay, we're not getting it yet, we see that. But all we need is a little help and a reminder now and then.

Advent III Stir up your power... and with great might come among us. We are so totally blowing it, you'd better do something dramatic to get our attention.

Advent IV Purify our conscience... by your daily visitation... so your Son will find us prepared... It's all in the ordinary everyday encounters that we are sanded down to anything close to perfection. Attention to detail, acknowledging the small errors in judgement or compassion. Practice, practice, practice. Ignoring our conscience is the easy way out, but it never works for long. It's a short week to practice.

Friday, December 21, 2007

knock knock

Jesus said, "Knock and the door shall be opened..."
He didn't say it would necessarily be the exact door you knocked on. Yes. doors open, but they are not our doors... they are God's. The point is to knock. The door, any door may never open on its own.

This has been a hard lesson for me. I used to get really upset with God for offering me Door #3 when I had specifically asked for Door #1. I never got Door #1, no matter how many times I asked... demanded... bargained... begged... I would sometimes decorate Door #2 and pretend it was Door #1, but that never lasted long, either.

Door #3, now that I've trudged through it, is way cool. Exactly what I needed, wanted, longed for. Who knew?
Knock knock, who's there? God. God who? Godcha again. Hahahahaha

Monday, December 17, 2007

Amazing performance

I've attended a lot of performances of Handel's Messiah in my day... All were memorable (in their own way) but yesterday's performance at Trinity Church Wall Street stands out as the best by far. For one thing, the soloists were not over the top, being divas for their own exaltation. Their tones were pure and intensely focused, but it was the text that stood out, not operatic calisthenics. In particular the soprano who sang the final aria was awesome. Her voice soared without the gale force normally associated with those extremely high notes.

Ever since I was a teenager and was taught it was not only polite, but important to "stand up" at the first strains of the Hallelujah Chorus, I've always looked forward to that one moment when the audience rises. There's something to be said for standing up for pure joy... the physical act reinforces the emotion the music already evokes... one supports the other and as the chorus swells in volume and pitch, my heart swells as well. Who cares whether King George actually stood up? Who cares if some programs now discourage the practice? Some people want to stand; they should leave well enough alone.

I'm always a sucker for the Hallelujah Chorus, no matter how awful the choir might be. Yesterday's choir was most excellent, however, and we were there as guests of one of our celebrants. Our seats were amazing. I always wonder what people must think about a bunch of nuns in the expensive rows. Behind us, the "general seating" was packed. But the truth is, we didn't buy the tickets; people give us these things... especially at Christmas. We get grapefruits from Texas, oranges from Florida, candy and cookies, wreaths for our front door and chapel... it's a magical time of receiving for us.

The brilliant conductor had been a student of one of our founding sisters. She had encouraged his musical talent and was intensely proud of his achievements. She told me how, in the fourth grade, he would bring his compositions to her and say, "Sister, I have written you a symphony!" I sat beside her at the concert and she had brought her own dog-eared score. She followed along through the entire performance. Afterwards we went up to greet him, and he gave her a big hug and kiss.

The conductor introduced us to another well-wisher who was standing in line: a priest he had known at Trinity for many years... the same man I had known as an interim priest from my old parish in Jacksonville. Small world, isn't it?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Back in the saddle again...

These photos were actually taken this past year when we had a cookout on Pentecost Sunday. Our grill broke down (no gas) so we ended up cooking the hamburgers and hotdogs indoors. Still, they are indicative of the first place I returned last week (after all the hullabaloo over my life profession.) I was back in the saddle again and very happy to be there.

I made soups and salsas, croutons, bread sticks and used up leftovers galore. Once again, I felt at home in my own house. Thursday at the pantry was the same feeling... back where I belong, where it feels right, where I can do the most good. Sure, it was great being "Queen for a Day" but unlike Cinderella, I actually like what I do.

Today I'm making Christmas cards for several of the sisters. Stay tuned. You may get one here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Three out of seven ain't bad

In the Life Profession ceremony the bishop doesn't lay hands on the person. That strikes me as odd, actually. We lay hands on each other for so many other important things: baptism, confirmation, weddings... you'd think a hit from the Holy Spirit would be par for the course. I'm not complaining, just wondering.

I say I'm not complaining for good reason. I've been hit with the Holy Spirit before... at my confirmation, when the bishop did lay hands on me. I opened my mouth to sing the closing hymn and out came a string of unpronounceable syllables. It was more than embarrassing; it was out of control. The residual effects weren't any better: six months of sleepless nights and cramped fingers as I poured forth an unending string of lyrics to religious folk songs. Like so many gifts from God, you sometimes have to really look for the blessing.

For people who thrive on roller coasters an all-expense paid trip to an amusement park would be a great gift. Spiritual roller coasters are just as exciting, unnerving, gut-wrenching and vomit-producing as the physical ones... When I was a kid my cousin would con me into going on those rides and I've done a few with my sons, but I can't stomach the sensation.

The "seven-fold" gifts of the Holy Spirit are confusing. The terminology has changed a bit from the early translations, but the content is in tact. Since we are the Community of the Holy Spirit, we take these gifts pretty seriously. Here's the run-down:

1. Wisdom: not regular wisdom, or street smarts, as in she's a wise old bird... but holy wisdom, divine light of the soul. When you have this gift you can actually see and savor God's light in everything. (I imagine auras around trees and people... that kind of thing.) I don't seem to have this gift. I would love to see auras but I don't.

2. Understanding: or another good word would be discernment. I'm pretty sure I have a smidgen of this.

3. Counsel: that would be encouragement, or spiritual tact... it helps you see Christ in each other, something we give lip service to most of the time. I know people who have this gift. They are amazing.

4. Ghostly strength: not like superman or vampires... this refers to passion and perseverance. it would be a real good quality to have as a monastic, considering the monotony of the life. I didn't get that one either.

5. Knowledge: again, not book learning, but insight... the ability to "get" the external truths. I figure I have some of this one.

6. Godliness: or piety. You can stop laughing. I know this one passed me by.

7. Holy Fear: yet another misnomer, I think. Fear in this case means awe. And I am definitely in awe in the presence of the holy.

Remember the TV show Star Trek Voyager? The Borg was called Seven-of-Nine. I could call myself "Three-of-Seven" but why limit my options? There's always the possibility I'll get some more presents along the way.

Monday, December 10, 2007

highlights

I gave a generalized (admittedly muddled) synopsis in my first post as a life professed sister, so now I'm remembering the highlights...

1. I already mentioned the exchange with the guy in the mosaic. No need for more detail there.
2. I knew my grandchildren had been asked to carry the elements up to the altar at the end of the offertory. I expected the two older ones, but lo and behold, here they came all three... the center child Gabriel is only three years old and he was carrying the huge silver bowl-full of wafers. So precious and tiny between the other two, and so solemn and careful. They were delightful! Most everyone loves a toddler and this was no exception.
3. I was one of the chalice bearers. Giving the wine to so many people who knew me and loved me and were celebrating with me was amazing. And very humbling. Funny aside... two toddlers of the Roman Catholic faith (who shall remain nameless) received their First Holy Communion (bread only) at the hands of an Episcopal bishop. So don't tell their parish priests!
4. My sisters' response to my family (and my family's response to my sisters) was phenomenal. They were so loving and welcoming and engaged with each other. I think that means both my sons will return with everyone in tow next time.
5. Having a drink in a bar (in habit) with my two sons after everyone else had crashed... priceless.

synopsis

I bet people who read my blog are expecting some kind of status report. (I don't know that, of course. I just imagine that after all the build up and the drama around the discernment and preparation, they'd want something for closure. I imagine questions like "What was it like? Was it wonderful? How do you feel?"

And without a doubt the disappointing (yet truthful) answers will be... "It was okay. I guess it went well. I'm glad it's over. I really can't remember a lot." What I do remember comes in snatches... a glimpse of something here, a conversation there. But for those of you who'd like to have more than that... here's what I can remember:

I got shooed out of the kitchen right after breakfast because the assembly line for plattering the little party sandwiches was in place. My three friends from out of town were helping. My family took off for Central Park to tire out the kids so they'd behave during the ceremony. I got dressed. At the last minute, I decided to change from the dressy shoes to the comfortable ones; then decided they needed a polish. Got black shoe polish under my fingernails. Spent fifteen minutes scrubbing. When it was time to leave, I rode with the three older sisters in the Access-a-ride van. (Our driver must have wanted to be a fireman when he grew up because he whipped around corners like he was going to one.) I remember thinking "I need to throw up now."

Most of the pre-service activities are a blur. I remember trying to knit, trying to ground; that was hopeless. I was somewhere up in the dome. A sister from another community, who was recently life professed, assured me that I would be calm. (She didn't have to sing a solo at her profession.)

The processional hymn (St. Patrick's Breastplate) was grand, but we could have used a few more people in the procession to make it come out right... All the hymns were wonderful, (well duh, I picked them) but especially the Offertory anthem, which was a piece our own Sr. √Člise had written. St. Bart's choir did a magnificent job, as did the organist and choirmaster. When I look back on it like this, I realize just how many people I still have to say thank you to.

As the hymn "Come Holy Ghost" was being sung I was gazing straight up into the mosaic of the Transfiguration, focusing on the central figure. Of course it's a rendering of Jesus with his arms out to God, but just then it looked like Jesus with his arms out to me. We had a brief moment... me and the guy in the mosaic. That's probably when I actually said yes, although there were a series of questions and answers I rattled through before it was over. My singing was not so hot. I got through it without a mortifying giggling fit, that's the best I can say. The sermon was funny and pretty much over the top. I remember thinking I wonder who he's talking about, because it can't be me.

What I remember most was the sea of faces from my past... members of the Cursillo community, friends from other religious orders, celebrants who serve at our altar, parishioners from St. Bart's, people I used to work with... my family... each group was represented. I was handed cards and gifts and flowers... I can't remember who gave me what if a card wasn't attached.

I had dinner afterwards with my family and out of town guests and only then did I begin to return to my body. The amount of psychic and physical energy an event like this takes is unbelievable. I think I like being a guest at someone else's event way better than at my own. (Good thing I only have to do it once.)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

omens

I think we are a superstitious species. Maybe it comes from being self-aware, maybe from not being self-aware enough. Whatever the reason, looking long and hard for meaning can be tiring work. Shortcuts help. I think superstitions fall into that category. Example: I actually slept well last night. On the eve of this auspicious day, that's a good sign. Not only did it mean I am functional already (at 5:00 am) but that I was able to drag my sorry butt out of bed in time to make a batch of almond scones for my sisters, family and friends. What better way to start a life of service than to serve? Except I'm not exactly starting a life of service... I am dedicating myself to a life of service. All that means is I can give myself less slack if I oversleep. Or something.

I think I'm out of silence. (Not totally sure about this... but one of my sisters spoke to me this morning.) My "silent retreat" sign is in my pocket, just in case. Now that I can talk, I have very little to say. Funny how that works. It's almost time for Morning Prayer. If I can sing, maybe it will be another good sign for later this afternoon. If not, well... nobody's perfect.

Here's the recipe for almond scones:

3 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/8 tsp salt
6 TBSP sugar
8 TBSP canola oil
15 TBSP buttermilk
3 tsp almond flavoring
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Whisk all dry ingredients til blended. Add canola oil and mix with a fork (then finish with your fingers) until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in almonds, buttermilk, and flavoring. (If I don't have any on hand, I make my own buttermilk from yogurt, milk and a dash of vinegar.) The mixture will be sticky but not runny.
Drop spoonfuls onto baking pan and flatten slightly. Brush with buttermilk and add a few more almonds on top of each.
Bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes, until lightly browned. Makes 18-20 scones

Friday, December 07, 2007

foretaste

Okay, so the warm fuzzy blur snapped into clear focus when the doorbell rang yesterday. It was that time... My younger son and his family had arrived. I peered out my window to the street below and there they were... in a white stretch limo no less, (so much for the link I sent for the cheap van service) and I could see the tops of their heads as each one emerged... Helen, little John, Mom holding three-year-old Gabriel. I watched my son help the driver unload the suitcases, watched him go back to hand him a tip, watched them all disappear beneath the overhang so I could only imagine them standing on the doorstep. No one had answered the door. Where was everybody anyway? My family was here! The doorbell rang again and this time I saw the phone light indicating there was communication over the intercom, heard my sister walking down the stairs from the fourth floor. Hurry up! let them in! It's cold out there and they've just come from Florida! Later as she showed them their room on the third floor, I was hanging over my fifth floor railing, listening... no audible conversation but the distinct piping voice of Gabriel. I longed to run down the stairs and hug them all.

I thought all these things, but could say nothing, do nothing. I am in silence. I am at the mercy of other people's kindness, other people's efficiency. One more friend arrived last night; two more will come this afternoon, and my older son will arrive this evening. Each time the doorbell rings I want to scream. When it rings twice in a row I want to bash in the wall.

All this from the woman who is supposed to be bliss-filled, at peace, ready to turn her life over to Jesus. The irony is not lost on me. As my mother used to say: I am a nervous wreck. I could barely sing in chapel last night or this morning. My voice just wouldn't push out the sound. Will it be like this tomorrow? When I will be the only one singing? I need to get a grip. Soon.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

It blurs from the edges in...

My past several (few that seem like several) days have blended into each other so much I have to check the calendar to make sure I know when now is. Silent retreats can produce an altered state, much like labyrinths or isolation tanks or drugs. For me, time is the most deeply affected... my sense of it, anyway.

When the daily structure is removed, my internal rhythm makes its own will evident. I recognized this before when I was unemployed... I took naps in the afternoon and stayed up much later than normal. Some of this pattern has surfaced again because my room is so cold. I make my bed in the morning, but am back under the covers before noon. I read, knit, read some more... and eventually fall asleep. I have vivid dreams I don't remember. I leave my room only on the briefest of forays... to eat, dump the trash, work on the creche pieces down in the art room. I went outside for a walk the other day and almost froze to death, nothing I care to repeat anytime soon.

Mine is a corner room on the fifth floor. I hear the wind whipping over the roof above, and two of my walls face the outside. My window is large and in other seasons lets in a golden light. In winter the light is gray and cold. The other day (which one?) I remembered a turret room in a house I lived in as a teenager. I appropriated that turret room one fall and hauled my desk up there to be a writer, to live like Jo March in Little Women. I had a fountain pen that leaked and left my fingers black just like hers. I did well in my little attic garret until winter came. The same howling wind and freezing windows drove me back downstairs to the relative warmth of civilization. So much for fantasies.

I've finished reading The Secret Magdalene by Ki Longfellow, yet another take on who Mary Magdalene might have been. Now that the Da Vinci Code's uproar has abated, stories are coming out of the woodwork that publishers would have rejected as unthinkable before Dan Brown's smashing success.

The truth is, they are all dead... all those apostles and disciples and early followers of Christ. We have no clue who they really were or what they truly witnessed or believed. We have only our own relationship with our creator, whoever or whatever that may mean to us in this time and this place. Who we choose to be and with whom and by what power will probably also be misrepresented by future generations. So what is important is now. Now, as I am experiencing it, blurs from the edges in. It's quite beautiful.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

in silence I am...


Day 1:
sleep til 10:00, coffee, refill water bottle, knit.

An abundant supply of wine and an inadequate supply of food from the Bishop's installation the previous evening have left me with a massive headache on my first morning in silence. To my credit I did not moan (or swear) aloud, although no one would hear me... there are two thick doors separating me from my sisters this week. Of course I can still prowl the halls and go about the few duties left to me, but I am like a wraith that nobody sees.

I have started knitting a hat and scarf for the Ecclesia Christmas knitting project... warm winter garments for the homeless congregation they minister to in Madison Square Park. I am following the pattern to the letter, but my hat, only half done, seems huge. It might fit a giant. It is red... red, the color of martyrdom, of the Holy Spirit, of Christmas. As I knit, I pray. I pray for the woman I met at the reception, whom I have met at other receptions. She wears her judgment about her shoulders like a worn out mink. She is not happy with her parish priest and singles me out to express her frustration. I cannot help her, because I do not agree with her assessment of her priest. Still I can listen. I pray for them both.

2:00 pm
I sneak down to the kitchen and fix a sandwich. I read from Matthew Fox's The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. I have tried to read this before, but it is densely packed with imagery that always sends me off on my own tangents. Then I forget to come back to the book. This happens again as I read about the concept of "creation mystics".

3:30 pm
I unpack all the beautiful creche pieces from their swaddling blankets underneath the altar. One by one I transport them to the art room downstairs where I will (yet again) mix Sr. Lucia's ancient dry pigments with polymer medium and touch up all the nicks and chips. This too is another of my retreat projects.

4:30 pm
I take a shower.
I knit. Pray. Think. Knit. I attend Evening Prayer, supper alone in the small refectory.
I knit, think, read, journal, sleep...

Friday, November 30, 2007

born for crisis

My room looks like a tornado hit. My bed is piled high with packing boxes (no, I am not packing) and my floor space is littered with possible projects for the coming week. You'd think I'd want to start my quiet week of prayer and reflection with a neat room, an orderly place to commune with God. I am, in general, a tidy person.

But no. I go through phases of chaos and the need for disorder; and this is one of those phases.

Today I must accomplish a number of things that require me to speak. I must get a decent haircut. (I always cut my own bangs and they are always crooked.) So I shall go to the little place around the corner, where all the sisters go... and get a real hairdresser to trim my split ends and even up the fringe above my eyebrows. A last minute flurry of emails to possible celebrants will orbit cyberspace, and there is a bishop's installation I must attend this evening. My room will only get messier as the day progresses, because I am preparing for crisis... an unknown crisis.

It's ironic that this Sunday's readings will address this niggling fact of our existence... we can plan, but never really know the future. I was reminded this morning of Paul Tillich's words: that the most painful human reality is that we don't know, yet must choose. As I prepare to prepare... for the choice I have made, those thoughts will be part of what I ponder. I am sixty-one. I have possibly fifteen to twenty years left to spend here, but maybe I will be diagnosed with cancer and be dead in six months. I don't know. Only God knows. So the choices are iffy. My community may change dramatically over the next several years. Many of our sisters are already in their eighties. What am I signing on for that I haven't anticipated?

But those are not the things I worry about. I have thrived on change all my life. It is the sameness of this life that scares me. But more than that, it is my ability to go deeper into the mystery that I suspect. Chaos is where the creative spark takes shape. I have simulated chaos by emptying the closet and unpacking boxes. By the end of the week of silence I will have examined everything and rearranged all the molecules... to better suit the evolving nature of this decision.

Wish me luck. And grace.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

the opposite of sin

Yesterday we attended Madeleine L'Engle's memorial service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Most of the sisters from our house were there; she was a beloved friend and Associate of our community, and she often gave workshops and lectures to benefit the community's financial situation. For a couple of the sisters that friendship spanned almost fifty years, and they were eager to be there, even if it meant taking a taxi for a block and a half. The service was lovely and well-attended. The sermon preached was a loving tribute, and a reading from Walking on Water, her book that explores the relationship between art and faith, brought her spirit into the present, even though her mortal body now rests in the cathedral columbarium.

As we walked (slowly) back home from the reception, one sister told me that she and Madeleine were the same age. Not true. Madeleine would have been 89 today and my sister is only 86. (Only 86!) At that age, who can quibble? Would that I could have the vertical relationship with God that my sister has. My relationship is much more untidy. My faith comes in fits and starts. But just as Madeleine stretched my mind and my writing skills, my sister stretches my spirituality.

As Madeleine said, "The paradox of faith lies on the other side of reason." Another quote (that will give me plenty to think about on my long retreat) was: "The opposite of sin is faith, not virtue." How well she understood the paradox of opposites, as well as the paradox of faith.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Holding out...

Jesus said, "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
—Luke 24.36


One of the more enigmatic statements of Jesus that has always stirred my sense of mystery... As our religion has evolved through the centuries, we have attributed a lot of talent, knowledge and identity to the One we call the Son of God. Jesus, on the other hand, rarely tooted his own horn, went to great lengths to make his disciples understand that all of God's children are beloved, and in this case, made it clear he himself had no clue about when the "end of time" would come.

God (the Father) was holding out? On one of the three persons of the Trinity? And what about the Holy Spirit? Did that One know? Or was it simply in mortal form that Jesus had forgotten everything he knew before birth? That in leaving his God status behind, he was forced to become "as one of us"... dull, stupid, bound by human form and appetites?

I have often had lucid dreams of being with God before my own birth, mapping out the challenges, the pieces of experience and wisdom I was to learn in my incarnation. I don't know if I believe in reincarnation or not, but I don't disbelieve. I hear conversations in my head... "and you will have intelligence and talent. That will be one of your challenges... to treat gently and with compassion those who do not see clearly the way you do." Obviously I have a long way to go on that one. I have never suffered fools gently.

Yet there are those who think believing in God is foolish. Perhaps they must suffer me. It comes back to the constant theme: we are all in this together. No one gets in or back (to heaven) until we all get in. Everything is one and the One is everything. Except for that Father figure. He's holding out. Mysterious, huh?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

End of the season

It's been a quiet and restful Thanksgiving weekend, considering we're nine nuns living together. We had few guests for dinner Thanksgiving day, not like in the "old days" when preparations started at Oh-dark-thirty, as one of our sisters calls the crack of dawn. I was up to pop the birds in the oven at 6:30, but that was very reasonable, since my only responsibilities this year were turkey and gravy. (And nut pie.)

Our celebrant at mass gave a fascinating history of how the fourth Thursday of November had evolved from its early beginnings. He spoke of the anomaly that Thanksgiving is, a day of solemn prayer dictated by the state, not the church... that our own prayer book was twelve years behind the eight ball in including a collect for Thanksgiving Day.

He explored the theme of a state-dictated day of thanksgiving by asking, "if all are to give thanks, then to whom and for what?" Good question for a country finally looking recession straight in the face, grappling with the price of fuel, a shrinking economy, high unemployment, soaring medical costs, and the looming unpredictability of climate change. Denial no longer works for anyone but the wealthy, and their numbers shrink as the gap between rich and poor widens.

One of the readings appointed for Thanksgiving talked about "first fruits," the income-tax-like offering to God for the harvest. It was not a thank offering, it was 10% of whatever you harvested, whether the year was lean or abundant. In lean years there may not have been much thanks to spare, especially when 10% of very little left your family in debt with nothing to eat. The point was, of course, the belief that everything belonged to God to begin with. Nothing was ours by right. He wondered aloud that if we really believed that, and behaved as though we did, would we take better care of the Earth than we do? My answering thought was "Probably not."

I thought of how hard we are as a group on our belongings here in the convent. Everything is communal property, no personal possessions, and we chip bowls and wear out vacuum cleaners and take little heed about stuffing the washing machine to overload capacity. If these things were ours, would we treat them better? I know how I took care of my own things before I came... and the fact that I had bought and paid for them with money I earned meant they had to last. We have lost that element here, as I think we lost it in the larger sense in our dealings with Earth and her resources.

In his final final wrap up, he asked the question: what are blessings? It was an excellent theme to ponder on Friday as the community went into a day of silent retreat. No flurry of Christmas shopping... we stayed home and prayed, rested, and ate turkey sandwiches.

As I pondered all of my other blessings, I learned that both of my sons will be present for my life profession. What a gift. What a wonderful way to celebrate the last Sunday in Pentecost, the end of the season, the doorway to the next steps.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

mish mash

Today's lessons: Isaiah: ...the former things will not be remembered
They won't? But that's one of the consolations we have as mortals... memory. And reason. Will reason be gone too?

Thessalonians: ...do not be weary in doing good
Okay, I needed to hear that. But you realize, of course, how wearying all this can be... Of course you do. Yes. I will try not to be weary.

My brain was already moving lickety split from the first two lessons, when the celebrant stood up to read the Gospel.
Her sermon focused on the Collect for this Sunday as it speaks specifically to Scripture. She thought that the lessons today point this out very well... that there was no overarching theme that we could easily summarize with these three lessons. She went on to talk about the danger in quoting scripture out of context, or certain passages selectively... the danger so evident in our church today where specific verses are used to beat people over the head, exclude them from the Body of Christ. Her point, reinforced in the prayer was this: Scripture should enlighten and transform, not be used as a weapon.

My mind raced again... a tool for nourishment not a weapon for battle... they shall beat their swords into plowshares. Get it? She went on to give the example from Thessalonians that "those who do not work shall not eat", and countered it with "consider the lillies of the field", reiterating her point about selective passages.

I immediately thought Bible Jeopardy! One team answers with a verse and the other team contradicts with another verse. If Jesus is supposed to have said it then that answer trumps what Paul said. if God is supposed to have said it, that trumps everything... There are some real possibilities here, don'tcha think? Maybe a cartoon?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Craft Meme

Pat tagged me. She was so polite about it, emailing me first to ask permission. I swore off memes for 2007, but it's almost over and I fudged once or twice before anyway... so here you go:

1. When did you start and make craft?
Probably in first grade. My teacher had a whole clay village set up for us to play with, once we'd completed our "desk work" and were waiting for others to finish. I remember liking the smell of the modeling clay, and enjoyed making little people to populate the town. Oddly enough, when I grew older I had no talent for pottery or ceramics, or anything else three-dimensional. (That was a bummer because I had tons of ideas.)

2. Why did you start creating?
It was fun. I was good at it. (And I was worthless at sports.)

3. Why do you create?
Because it's fun. And I'm good at it.
Seriously, when I go into creative mode, I tap into an energy and an engagement (with the project) that is exciting and satisfying. One spark of inspiration becomes a catalyst for more creative ideas and some kind of chain reaction happens. I have the ability to harness it, but not control it. I usually have more ideas than the skill to execute them. When I can add skill I can add product (if you will), but I'm also undisciplined and get bored if the skill is too hard to master.

4. What do you create?
sacred artwork (manipulated digital imagery)
greeting cards
logos, newsletters, business cards, brochures, marketing materials
a blog
cartoons
food that is attractive and tastes good
the occasional poem

5. How has this changed since you began crafting?
I started out with arts and crafts, forever the love of my life. I've dabbled in most of the classic artsy-craftsy stuff: batik, macrame, ceramics, basket weaving... but all those activities require supplies, the money to buy them and the space to store them. I've cut back on anything that takes up a lot of room. I have a laptop and a decent printer and only keep enough paper stock on hand for current projects. I also have a spiral binding machine, so I can make little books out of my cartoons and artwork... it all comes back to arts and crafts.

I think I'm supposed to tag someone. Tag. You're it!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hindsight

Luke 20: 27-38

Today our celebrant took a different slant on the lesson from Luke's Gospel: the familiar story of the Sadducees questioning Jesus about a woman who had outlived seven brothers, each one having been her husband. So... they asked, at the resurrection, who's wife would she be?

It was in the answer, quoted from the Torah, she said, that Jesus demonstrated his brilliance and his knowledge of God, and of the difficult understanding of resurrection. "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" God told Moses. I AM. Not I was, because now, of course, they are dead.

This concept of resurrection rests in the present, in the now, not in the future of generations of children to carry your DNA forward, not in a future judgment day when all hell will break loose and you will go either to eternal bliss or to eternal damnation... but here and now, in this very present moment where God lives, whether we can see signs of His blessing or not. In an alternate reading for today, Job claims that exact concept for himself, in spite of everything he has lost. For I know that my redeemer lives... whom I shall see on my side...

The charge, then, was to look for blessing when there is no sign of blessing, to believe in the blessing and claim it, declare it, in the present moment. I have been struggling with this problem on the shallowest of levels these past few days. By all outward appearances nothing was moving forward. It was only after I surrendered my desperate need to know the concrete plans for my future that I was told the plans had, in fact, been made and all was well.

Hindsight, as they say, has twenty-twenty vision.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

addendum

The invitations are mailed.
I have readings, and hymns.
We're back on track until the next train wreck... :)

All shall be well...

Spirituality begins with acceptance. In other words, I begin here. In this moment. I am not a pawn or victim or puppet. And in beginning here, I accept my imperfection–my brokenness, my divided and fractured being… That here, even with the untidy parts, the untidy emotions, I can embrace the Sacrament of the blessed present. . ..in this conversation, this conundrum, this moment of grace, this serendipity, this problem. —Terry Hershey

All shall be well. And if not, we keep on keepin' on. I am in retreat. It is a very nice place to be.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Nunzilla

I once saw some sort of reality TV show that featured brides who were all losing it... "Bridezilla" I think it was called. Some had domineering mothers, others had incompetent caterers or the flowers were all wrong, or the dress didn't fit. Others were just prone to pre-wedding jitters and took it out on whoever happened to be in the line of fire. It wasn't pretty.

I feel like I'm behaving like Nunzilla today. I'm not a bride; this isn't my wedding, exactly, but everyone keeps telling me it is supposed to be the important day in my life as a sister. Although the date is exactly four weeks away, the official invitations have not yet been mailed. We are waiting for stamps.

I had an appointment to meet with the organist to plan music today, but that couldn't happen. I'm supposed to deliver the contents of the program to the church sometime soon... but the contents have not been decided upon. In this case, my mother is a committee. Committees don't decide anything without a conference call. Scheduling a conference call is next to impossible when those who must conference wear so many hats they barely have time to change them. It is nobody's fault. It simply is.

Knowing that my sisters are already under enough stress, I have been trying to move things along on my own... but that is easily taken as wanting to control everything. The fact that I can be/have been known to be a control freak does nothing to help that stereotype.

Because I am frustrated, I am to the point of saying... "Fine. You figure out what you want me to do, when you want me to do it, and I'll just show up and stand where I'm supposed to, say what I'm supposed to, and we can get this whole thing over with."

Except of course I don't really mean that. I want the ceremony to be lovely, symbolic of more than my giving up out of frustration or disgust. I want it to mean something profound to me and to the people who are attending because they support this choice. At the same time, I must come to grips with the reality of the life I am asking to lead... I will not be in control of much of it; I will be expected to submit obediently to a lot of things I don't especially like or disagree with. I'll have less leverage as a professed sister than I have now. The simple irony of that makes me smile.

Maybe I just need to lower my expectations.

Monday, November 05, 2007

What's this about?

It's been a long time since I've had a wandering dream. Usually it starts out the same... I'm on my way to attend some important event, always a little late, and take what looks like a short cut, only to end up somewhere way out of my way. The more I look for someplace familiar to begin retracing steps, the more difficult the journey, the more lost I become.

This morning's dream started out in a basement that supposedly led to an underground passageway that led to another building... but I got lost. I came out too early and was in a backyard/alley. Of course, instead of turning back then, I decided to keep going, headed in what I thought was the right direction. There is a funny "Bert and I" joke: You can't get there from here.

I was in the country at one point, on a college campus, another time I thought I'd found a route and almost fell off a cliff. I hopped some sort of open air train and landed out in the Bronx, where (in my dream) the subways didn't even run.

I was in habit, too. Is that significant? It was certainly significant when I was in a huge garage full of forklifts and dump trucks, and I lifted up a floor-to-ceiling doorway to get out and got grease all over me.

I was riding another train and two women were discussing nuns in habit. One of them said, "Most of the Catholics don't even wear habits, now, and they look terrible." The woman standing next to her (and me) said, "Well those that do, don't look any better." I hadn't looked in the mirror since early morning, and I imagined I was a disheveled mess.

At one point, I decided to try to enjoy being lost, to look for something interesting, to take my own advice to a directee, and "stay present to the moment." It lasted a few minutes before I was searching again.

Eventually I woke up. Since we just lost daylight savings, it was still early enough to feel good about not wasting my (somewhat) day off. I hadn't panicked or cried in this dream, but I was ready for it to be over. Waking up resolved nothing... Just left me wondering "What's this about?!?"

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Time to move the bed across the room

I was just saying to my younger son "I'm more stable (emotionally and spiritually) than I've been in a long time." Mostly I think that's true.

But when I look back on my life, that's not really saying much. I've had huge bouts with instability. Whatever damage was done to my six-year-old psyche when my dad left my mom to marry another woman with her own little girl, it stuck with me into my adulthood.

I was forever falling in love with the first guy who looked twice, not to mention the ones who never looked at all. I was forever crying my eyes out over abuse (real and imagined) and because of my emotional profile, I attracted abuse of all kinds. I was a wimp as a child and a wimp as an adult. (Sisters reading this may be thinking differently, but I was not always as confident or competent as I appear to be now.)

I was as insecure as they come when I was in my twenties... trying to please, trying to make people like me. Only time has helped me build any kind of character, or maturity, or equanimity... and it hasn't come easy.

Pain is the huge leveler, whether it's emotional or physical or spiritual. Sometimes they are so interwoven it's hard to sort out what's really causing the most trouble. I've had a lot of headaches lately. Some of it is sinus. The weather is changing and we recently turned on the heat. But much of it is stress related. There is stress around my upcoming life profession, stress having to do with family issues, both inside and outside the convent, and then the general malaise that comes and goes for seemingly no reason at all. Nobody is happy all the time. If we were, how would we know?

Benedictine orders take a vow of "stability." It's not exactly what you might think: it's a commitment to live in a particular monastic community for life. I was raised by Navy, married Navy; I have relocation blood in my veins. Even during my formation period in this community, I have moved five times. Staying put will be difficult.

Whenever I feel the urge to relocate, I change the furniture around. It works. Otherwise I'd be chafing at the bit to move again, find some reason why I should, harp on it, make everyone around me miserable... instead I move my bed across the room. Some might call it maturity. For me it's just common sense.

Maybe it's time to move the bed.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Feast of All Souls

I've said this before and I'm saying it again...

changing the NAME of today's feast day from All Souls to The Faithful Departed, is another example of insufferable arrogance and prejudice. Originally "the faithful departed" was a subtitle. Those in the know, knew they were praying for people who had remained true to the faith, but it also gave anyone the freedom to pray for those souls not exactly deemed in favor with the current prevailing tides.

Heretics have always been proclaimed from the rooftops by others with more narrow views of the dogma. Innocent wise women were condemned as witches; babies born out of wedlock, or who had died before baptism, were not buried in holy ground. It seems we have never agreed on who is worthy or holy enough to enter the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps a more appropriate prayer would be: God help us all.

Don't we have enough to condemn us already without turning a day of solemn prayer for the human race into another way to exclude those we don't think qualify? Give me a break!

end of rant.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Luke 18:10-14

Two men went up into to the temple to pray...
Jack and Jill went up the hill.
One went home to his house justified...
Jack fell down and broke his crown.

It's me, it's me it's me, oh Lord,
Standin' in the need of prayer.

I have been feeling grouchy and irritable... smack dab on the heels of feeling at peace and in love with the world. What's with that? I was telling a sister yesterday, "I'd blame it on PMS, except I don't have any hormones."

Our celebrant this morning talked about the fallen state of our humanity. I've often thought it was a set-up, this fall of humanity... human nature begs us to do whatever is forbidden, even when we know better, have been there/done that, and know it will only lead to pain and heartbreak. He said, "In a world where there is no sin, there is no need for redemption... Not because we deserve it, but by God's grace."

Redemption for Christians, is the willing sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. God Himself atoning for our failure. Yet who created us? Who gave us free will and a natural tendency to rebel? The buck stops there. The irony, of course, is that God proved it could be done, obedience to God's will, by setting his own example: fully human, with the same free choices that the rest of us have. Jesus didn't like it any better than we do. He begged not to have to die by crucifixion, and yet, did nothing to save himself. On the cross he must have wondered if it had even been worth it... had God abandoned him after all?

Another irony is, that as depressing as this story sounds, it still gives me comfort and purpose. I was thinking of the girdle cord I will receive when I am life professed. I was looking at the one hanging from my sister's waist and thought: that would make a good noose.

Freedom and bondage, obedience and free will, life and death... they are not exactly opposites after all, even though we may wish to view them that way. Our eyesight is too one-dimensional in this respect. As Paul said to the Corinthians, "We see though a glass darkly..."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

bits and pieces

First of all... SAVE THE DATE:
December 8th — afternoon (Probably threeish) I will make my life profession at St. Bartholomew's Church in NYC. More details will be vouchsafed.

It's especially fitting that this ceremony will take place at St. Bart's: when I moved to New York from Jacksonville, Florida, St. Bart's was the parish I joined. It was where I pushed my comfort zone off the map by volunteering in their homeless shelter, where I finally said "Yes, I'll do Cursillo", which led to my volunteering at the breakfast feeding program. It was where Sr. Mary Lois, OHC, was life professed in a public ceremony I attended... and realized (duh) for the first time, that women actually choose this life, it's not foisted on them as an also-ran. (You know what I mean... you can't be a doctor so you'll be a nurse, you can't be a priest, so you'll be a nun.) As a post WWII baby, that mentality still sticks with me, even though I have been one of the ones to break the mold.

I still volunteer at St. Bart's on Thursdays, and they were gracious enough to extend the offer. It's a beautiful place, a big place, so everyone who wants to come, can fit.

Second of all: My friend pat sent this cute cartoon:

Recently we had someone staying with us who is exploring whether (or not) she might have a vocation, and whether (or not) this is the community to test that call.

I never thought I had a vocation. But I definitely felt led to this community. One of my first dreams after moving in was of hearing a commotion in our back garden... my ex-husband had rented a backhoe and was trying to dig through the building to "rescue " me.

Since then I've had a number of dreams, and he and I have had a number of discussions about the future... whether there would be a future described as "ours" or if mine would be here. God has made it clear on so many levels that this is it.

So... against all odds, that's what I'm doing on the 8th of December. If you're free that afternoon, you're invited.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What would it take?

I was dreaming... on days when I'm able to get up, go to the bathroom, and go back to bed, I dream. I was at some kind of retreat or conference centered on a tragedy or disaster somewhere in Africa. There was a map of that country with outlines showing the region that had been affected. Whatever it was, it was pretty huge. (Take that outline and superimpose it on a map of our country, I didn't think that then, but I'm thinking it now.)

We, the participants, were about six or so. We had traveled in a panelled van to some remote lodge in the woods. I had joined at the last minute, not knowing exactly what we were doing, thinking "field trip" I guess. Actually there was someone else on the trip I wanted to get to know better. The facilitator had made a few presentations and was now working the room, moving from one of us to another. We chatted for a minute; I realized I had already seen at least part of the movie he was going to show next. I told him I had not actually seen the entire thing. (I had been bored.)

He lowered his gaze and asked, "So what would it take for you to get serious about this issue?"

After dinner, we were each asked to stand up on stage and speak to the others about what we had learned and what we planned to do. My mouth was still full of food as I made my way up to the microphone. I had no clue what I would say. But at the mike, I had one of those moments. I swallowed the last of my mouthful and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. I wanted to dance it, what I felt in that moment, but I only twirled once. I was on stage in front of a group of serious people finishing up their very sumptuous meal. All before me had given little speeches about how they were either writing a check that evening or were going back to their parishes to drum up money for the cause.

I spoke my truth... to his question to me, to not really being able to relate, to having enough on my hands as it was, to being a nun with no money, to my prejudices and fears, to my inability to feel their emergency, and my inability to do anything about it from only a sense of duty.

What would it take? It would take being there. It would take being kidnapped, set down in the middle of the crisis, with no way to escape. My present is my reality. My sisters' needs are my concern. I woke up with all this in my mind. Dark shadows of global crises and my ability to focus only locally.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

itching for the myths

2 Timothy 3: 13-4

I am the "mass reader" this week. That means I read the lessons, lead the psalm and the prayers of the people. The Gospel did practically nothing for me... I'm not especially fond of the parables where Jesus implies that only by being the squeaky wheel will you get results. In this world, maybe... but with God too?

But Paul's letter to Timothy hit home: Evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation from faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus... I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Our celebrant gave an excellent sermon on the temptation to think we know it all, and therefore to be righteously justified in proclaiming our own agenda. He has a unique humility (not often found in very many priests) and used himself as an example.

I thought about persistence and patience. I thought to myself: "Impossible." When I am persistent, people just think I'm a pain in the kabotza. When I am patient, they ignore me and figure everything is all right. How do you in fact, correct, rebuke and encourage... all in the same breath? But the stakes are too high if you do not even try.

All Scripture... is useful to teach us... what is wrong in our lives. There's a lot that's wrong in our lives right now. And I see myself and those around me itching for the myths we'd rather hear.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

complaint department

Complaining is the pressure valve of the powerless. In themselves, our complaints don't mean much. Answer one, and another will appear. The specifics are just an opening to vent. The deeper issue is having little or no power in a world where power seems to be everything.
—Tom Ehrich


When I read this the other day I had just finished complaining about something. It made me laugh, but more than that, it stopped me in my tracks and made me think. He's right of course. About all of it... that it generally does no good, that I use it as an internal release valve when things aren't as I think they should be. While whatever it is may not necessarily be my fault, I'm still upset.

There were a few cracks on the past Cursillo weekend and things fell through. I was doing my best not to complain; after all, I was supposed to be offering spiritual direction, not bitching about somebody else's lack of attention to detail. But the strain of not complaining was as great as the problems themselves. I recognized my own tendency (need) to vent.

How do we change this? Putting a lid on it only builds the pressure. Accepting everything as life the way it is, seems too passive. My way of dealing has often been: vent/apologize... vent again. It keeps me sane but not much changes.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Where are the nine?

Luke 17: 11-19 (again)
I remember today's lesson; I blogged about it last November, so when today's celebrant began his sermon, I thought to myself... "I wonder if he read my blog?"

Talk about "Save me, Lord, from presumptuous sins."

He started out with the same premise, that the nine were off doing exactly what Jesus had told them to do, heading for the temple to show themselves to the priests, but that was where the similarity ended. Our celebrant teaches at General Seminary, and has for years... his take on this Gospel would be more thorough, more thoughtful, with a whole lot more to walk away with and think about.

He told a story about a monk who was working in the monastery garden when Jesus appeared. At the same moment, the chapel bell started ringing, calling the monk to the Daily Office. What to do? Here was Jesus, smack dab in front of him, yet the bell was insistent... come and pray. So he went and prayed. When chapel was over, he came running back to the garden and was (probably surprised) delighted to see that Jesus was standing there waiting for him. Jesus told him, "If you had not been obedient to your obligation to pray, I would not have waited."

Ouch! How many times have I skipped one of the Offices because something was more pressing? And what could be more pressing than Jesus in the flesh, standing right in front of me? From my perspective, that would certainly supersede any prayer requirements.

But wait, there's more. Our priest went on to explore the vow of obedience in both of these stories, with examples from secular life as well. The point he made, was to look for the benefit. In the choice between keeping and breaking the rules, in following or disregarding a command... ask yourself who will be served? If it's for your own benefit or convenience that you break the rules, then that is sin. If you have nothing to gain, in fact something to lose, by breaking the rules, but someone other than yourself will be served... then that is when breaking, not keeping would be the appropriate thing to do.

I couldn't help but put myself in the place of that poor monk. Would I have gone to chapel? I think not. I like to think I might have said, "Jesus, the chapel bell is ringing, would you like to come along?" But I'm kidding myself. I would have stayed in the garden, made a picnic, asked forgiveness, created a party. The bridegroom was here and I would not have left him waiting among the cabbages.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

weekend mentality

I haven't made my bed yet today. Usually it's the first thing I do in the morning, but today I went straight to the shower, turned on the water, (it takes forever to heat up) checked my email, posted my cartoon, found some warm cuddly clothes (it's suddenly cold here in New York City) took my shower, and headed downstairs. By then it was close to 5:30.

I was breakfast cook today. Actually the only time the breakfast cook cooks is on Sunday. Other days it's really breakfast setter-outer... cereal, milk, yogurt, fruit, bread, butter, jam... all the cold breakfasty things we eat during the week. But when I'm Saturday cook, I like to make muffins or scones; after four years I still have a weekend mentality.

One of our elderly sisters came down early for her coffee just as I was removing the muffins from the tins. She came over and whispered confidentially, "You are such a good cook, and you were married twice, and how either one of those husbands let you go is beyond me... because the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, you know." I told her "Well, sister, I wasn't always such a good cook."

Aside from the fact that marriages fail for reasons other than food, what I told her was true. I was always a decent cook, as my mother and grandmother before me, but I was not always "such a good" cook. While I inherited the depression-induced frugality genes that compel me to use up leftovers before they become compost, my own artistic talent requires that those leftovers be appropriately reused so that they are disguised. Soup is my favorite venue for disguise, and now that cold weather is here, my love of soupmaking has been activated. Yesterday was cream of broccoli, today will be beef vegetable. Soup- salad- bread: my favorite meal. I could eat it everyday, as long as there's variety.

After the muffins, I continued to play... (I'm supper cook tonight too). I was thinking about what had changed that I had somehow graduated from decent to good. Another sister calls me "a delicious cook."

The time factor is huge. When I worked all day, cooking was reserved for the weekends. I worked long hours and there were no "Rachel Ray 30 minute meal tips" back then. But time alone is not the answer. Audience... I have a larger audience now. It means a lot to cook in large quantities and receive praise in large quantities. And last, and by no means the least, nobody tells me what to do, how to do it, or whines that it isn't quite as good as "Mom's."

I hope my sons never do that to their wives. Probably not. My older son was the one who taught me about fresh, homemade pesto. I didn't even know what fresh basil was back then. Both boys can cook, but the older one actually enjoys it. Maybe he'll be a chef someday.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nun's Night Out (Restaurant Review [rant])

In keeping with my "day off" mentality yesterday, I decided to go out for supper, all by myself. I passed up the usual suspects in favor of a restaurant with a tablecloth, a wine list, and privacy. I ordered two appetizers instead of an entree; both were adequate, but nothing to write home about. I was anticipating the dessert menu.

Seems to me if you name a dessert after your restaurant it ought to be spectacular. I ordered the 107 Tulipe, a concoction of vanilla bean ice cream with raspberry sauce and whipped cream served in a "delicate almond tulip shell." Now it's pretty difficult to ruin vanilla bean ice cream, and to be fair, the raspberry sauce was appropriately tart and raspberry flavored, but the "delicate shell" was hard as a rock and had not the slightest bit of almond flavor. It tasted like they had deep fried it so many times (in anticipation of someone ordering it) that the fry oil had obliterated any trace of almond or delicateness. Maybe I was supposed to look at it instead of trying to eat it, but if you advertise edible, it ought to be edible.

I had also ordered a cup of coffee. Do they not teach in cooking school that once a pot sits longer than an hour on the burner the chemical composition changes? Caffeine flavored sludge would be a more accurate menu description. My waiter was pleasant but not especially attentive. Someone else asked if I needed anything, gave me bread and refilled my water. He did show up with the check, and I had an unexpected surprise... a 20% discount for being an "early bird". Okay, so that almost covered the tulipe shell. I forked over my 20% as his tip. As mediocre as the food or service may be, I know how little these guys are paid. (I did my fair share of waitressing in my younger years.) But next time I'm going back to Subway.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

perspective

I'm thinking this morning about luxuries... (and I'd better think fast because the morning's almost over.)

My mentor called me last night and said "If you want to take a rest day tomorrow, do it. I'll take your doorbell in the afternoon and our admin assistant can do it in the morning." "What about the grocery shopping?" I asked. "I'll pick up the groceries while I'm out in the morning." "You sure?" "Yes, take the day off."

Luxury. For the tired, sleeping in is an appreciated luxury. I heard the doorbell at 6:45 and rolled over. I had dreams; most have slipped my mind by now, but I dreamed a lot. They say the sleep-deprived can last three times longer than the dream-deprived before they start to get psychotic. I believe it. I slept until 10:30... unheard of in my usual desire to make the "day off" count. Now I'm sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee, another luxury. With flavored creamer... another luxury left behind as a surprise before that sister went off for her long retreat.

The thing about luxuries is they can't be constant, or they aren't luxuries anymore. We start to expect them, begin to think we need them, when in fact, we don't need half the stuff we think we do.

Years ago I knew a man who used to say "It only costs a little more to fly first class." It was his motto for the troop of insurance salesmen, a motivational tool to get them out on the streets to sell more policies. The truth now, of course, is it costs a whole lot more to fly first class, as Travelocity and Orbitz and all the other web services can prove.

I imagine if you've always flown first class, it's annoying to fly coach, but if you've always flown coach, it's a luxury to fly first class. Before the convent (BC) I had flown first class a few times, and was enthralled with each little detail that made the difference in how passengers were treated. The mixed nuts (Not just peanuts) were warm, and served in a porcelain dish. The alcohol was free, the silverware was metal, not plastic, and you had a choice of entree. They gave you hot facecloths to wash up at the end of the trip. I was delighted with each new offering, and took full advantage of every one, from the Mimosa to the ice cream sundae. Nowadays we know we're lucky to get a bag of pretzels... Travel amenities have changed. We find the old luxuries were not necessities after all. It was all perspective.

Perspective has to do with our mindset, our mood at the time, our prejudices and our opinions. It can be subjective and biased or it can be a deep perception of things in their actual interrelations and importance. Jesus' perspective changed the hearts of the people he encountered. They either followed him or wanted to kill him.

Monday, October 08, 2007

so much to say...

so much to do, so little time to do it...

Our life here in community continues to be crazed for the moment. I was away for the last four days on a Cursillo weekend and returned last night. The sister who had been covering all the bases left for her long retreat yesterday at noon, and some of our loyal Associates covered the hours in between. They ordered in Chinese food; everyone had been fed, pilled, and were in good spirits when I entered the room at about 7:30.

I thought I was dead on my feet at the time, but a little leftover rice and Szechuan chicken revived me. By the time I had locked up the house, fed the cat, scooped the poop, tidied up the kitchen, and checked my dozens of emails and phone messages, I was wide awake.

Even the candidates are slightly sleep-deprived on a Cursillo weekend, but for team members it's ridiculous. Two to three hours each night is about the average... our day begins early and ends long after the candidates are in their beds. So... you'd think I would have been ready for some sleep last night. Nope. Memories of various encounters kept flooding my thoughts. (Serving as a spiritual advisor could get addictive.) While I was able to meet with people only briefly, those moments were powerful. The highlight of my weekend was serving on the prayer team at the healing Eucharist.

One of my favorite expressions is: "I'll try anything once." But usually that's only if I'm asked, goaded, or coerced into trying something I never really thought about, nor actually wanted to do. There are plenty of things I've not tried, and laying hands on people and directly praying for them is one. Good thing I had no time to think about it beforehand. It was sort of just sprung on me as we were heading into chapel... oh, by the way, sister... we want you to take one of the prayer stations when the healing part begins.

One of my talks this past weekend was on faith. Time to take my own advice and just do it. My constant prayer throughout was Lord, get me out of your way!!

We talk a lot about being vessels or conduits or channels for the Holy Spirit, but nobody ever mentioned (to me) that the tube actually feels the rush as it flows through. Maybe it was beginner's luck. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels


"He hath given his angels charge over thee."
... In this, therefore, brethren, let us affectionately love His angels as one day our future coheirs; meanwhile, however, as counselors and defenders appointed by the Father and placed over us. Why should we fear under such guardians? Those who keep us in all our ways can neither be overcome nor be deceived, much less deceive. They are faithful; they are prudent; they are powerful; why do we tremble? Let us only follow them, let us remain close to them, and in the protection of the God of heaven let us abide. As often, therefore, as a most serious temptation is perceived to weigh upon you and an excessive trial is threatening, call to your guard, your leader, your helper in your needs, in your tribulation; cry to him and say: "Lord, save us; we perish!"
— from a sermon on The Holy Guardian Angels
by St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Sunday, September 30, 2007

comings and goings

This coming Thursday I'm off for a Cursillo weekend. I've worked on several teams over the years, but this will be my first time to actually serve in the capacity of spiritual advisor... a task reserved for priests, deacons and members of religious orders. I must write and deliver two talks: one on faith, the other on obstacles to grace. The latter is a no-brainer; I've probably encountered every single obstacle the dark force can throw... naming obstacles is easy.

Faith is trickier. I'm working on that in my mind right now. However, I just can't concentrate. I'm still pondering St. Michael and all Angels. (That would be all the good angels) We observed his (their) feast day yesterday. I should be done with Michael, but maybe he deserves more than one day. We're talking one important player here.

Here's what the book of Daniel has to say: At that time Michael, the great prince who protects the people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

On special feast days we use antiphons that refer to the particular feast. Two of the ones we used yesterday were especially cryptic. This one prefaced The Benedictus: There was silence in heaven while the dragon waged war: and Michael fought and gained the victory. Alleluia. Another said: The accuser of the people is cast down and has been overthrown; therefore rejoice O heavens and all that dwells in them.

The accuser of the people, (not the tempter, not the defiler) of course describes Satan. Michael is cast as our protector. Makes me wonder why the principalities would even care enough to fight over us, and what stake Michael has in protecting the human element?

There was silence in heaven: as though the entire cosmic creation were holding its collective breath for the outcome. We hear these stories in the past tense... as if the events were ancient history. But, most of these writings refer to the end times, and we're still waiting for time (as we know it) to end. If this has already happened, well and good. But if it is an event still to come... why would heaven be silent? Warfare is a noisy business, whether it's swords clashing or ballistic missiles rocketing through space. Yet somewhere in the ancient monastic writings, someone described this battle as silent. Gives me the shivers.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

It's been a little crazy around here

As a result I've not had a lot of time to post. Sometimes it's better to just think than to talk... that way you don't get so much water in your mouth when you're treading for your life. Be back soon. I hope.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

important difference

We can process a lot of information quickly, but it takes longer to discern meaning. It takes an open mind to know anything deeply. Whenever we reach a conclusion, we need to keep checking it out. Wisdom isn't conferred by firm and fixed opinions, but by listening and learning. — Tom Ehrich

Boy, ain't that the truth?

I can remember so many times in my life that I have jumped to conclusions which were later proved wrong. You'd think that after the first few times I'd have learned not to do that. Nope. The only thing I can say for myself as I still continue to do it, is wait... before spouting my observations, my conclusions to the world. Otherwise I eat crow... again and again. Crow tastes awful.

We do process information quickly. But we get that information more quickly than any civilization before us. Unfortunately, a lot of it is incorrect or incomplete. I used to swear by Wikipedia until I found a whole lot of errors in their information. Sinformation is what it is... because not everybody takes the time to cross-reference their research. We grab a sound byte here and a headline there and form an opinion based on the thinnest of conjecture.

I think it's one of the important differences here in the convent. The process they've set up requires me to keep discerning, long after I think I know what I want, know what God wants, know what my sisters want.

Friday, September 21, 2007

time out for a commercial message

I've had a request from the company that makes the calendars with pictures of nuns in habit... you probably know the one. If you're a nun yourself, you may have received one (or several) as gifts.

Apparently they are running out of stock photography... no wonder; many orders (mine included) either don't wear habits at all, or only use them for special (formal) occasions. Nuns having fun in regular street clothes sort of defeats the purpose.

I agreed to use their advertisement blurb on my blog, so here it is:

CALLING ALL SISTERS!!!

We need your help to put together our 2009 "Nuns Having Fun" calendar. We are looking for images of you and your sister friends enjoying your extracurricular time. In past calendars, we have included images of nuns playing sports, dancing, eating ice cream, playing games, etc. The only requirement is that you're all having a good time. We are a nationally recognized publishing company who will, of course, compensate you for any images used. If you'd like to see examples of past calendars, please check out our website: here
All quiries and submissions should be sent to Sofia@workman.com.

And yes, I'm doing this as a favor; they aren't paying me. But apparently they will pay you if your pictures are used in their product... go get dressed and keep you cameras ready!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

angels on the subway

Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return. For so thou didst ordain when thou createdst me, saying, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
— from the Burial service, Book of Common Prayer


Those words from the burial service catch in my throat when I say them. I love them, yet they wrench my heart. They speak of another universal mystery I cannot explain in words, but understand with every fiber of my being. I am of the Earth, much as I sometimes like to think otherwise.

I attended a funeral at my old church yesterday... Mundell, a friend from our neighborhood group had died.

It was at that same neighborhood group's monthly dinner (now over four years ago) that I learned I had been accepted as a postulant to this community. I had asked to access my email on my hostess's son's computer... and there it was: the acceptance letter from the novice guardian. I shrieked, and everyone crowded around to view the results.

So this funeral... that gathered most of the people from that other evening's celebration, was a reunion for me. One of the last guys in our group (the other two mainstays have also died) had helped move all my belongings to various locations all over town. He was at the funeral, full of mischief, and intent on getting me sloshed... not especially difficult since I don't drink much these days. Another friend confided that the caterer's tab was $66 per head, and the minimum was 40, so I should eat a few more jumbo shrimp as I chugged my third glass of wine. Yikes. $66 per head?

I sat on the steps with our neighborhood group convener, an idiotic word for a woman who has been the glue that binds this loosely knit assortment of people into a cohesive force of nature. She insisted that I ride the subway home with Jenny. Jenny was the hospice aide who was with Mundell in her last days on earth.

We rode the roundabout route downtown, crosstown, then uptown, and she spoke of her work with such affection and sincerity, I knew I was in the presence of one of those earth-angels... a person sent by God to be in the right place at the right time. That she was a blessing to Mundell I have no doubt, because she was definitely a blessing to me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

unrest

I think there was a time ... when the followers of Jesus were a tight fellowship of men and women who knew that standing with Messiah was dangerous. They knew that going out to serve would mean entering the flame of evil and getting disoriented in the smoky darkness.

They clung to each other ... in the knowledge that God had given them to each other and to a dangerous world, and that they could only serve effectively if they became one and, in becoming one, found an almost-completeness that wouldn't rest until every lost sheep, every weary comrade had come home to God's safety. —Tom Ehrich


Those are eloquent words that ring true in my heart. He doesn't say those early Christians wouldn't rest until every lost sheep toed the line. That every weary comrade would be hunted down and exterminated because his blood was not pure or his morals did not conform to the some current established order. Yet that is exactly what religion has done in the name its various gods and Gods since the beginning of our recorded time.

Perhaps this is one of those ironic, yet universal truths of creation: that when we are in power we cannot be in compassion. To begin to understand God is to begin to understand that the all-powerful God did not get his way with orders for obedience, rules and regulations, exclusive inheritance for the righteous. The Torah alone is testament to the times He tried all that and for one inexplicable reason or another... it didn't work.

The Christian message is too hard to swallow, even for most Christians: that God would renounce all that power, enter frail human form and allow his own creation to kill him with a slow and agonizing death. Instead, we skew the emphasis toward the resurrection... our spin is that death conquered death. Christ has atoned for our sinful nature, and we get to inherit universal life. Hallelujah.

What if we've mixed that message up?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

wiped out

I lay in bed yesterday morning feeling totally wiped out. Groggy, half-asleep, but with something in the back of my mind I wanted to post about my vacation. I dozed off and dreamed that I had posted whatever it was I was thinking about. Of course I couldn't remember what it was.

My mattress at home is not as soft as the one at my friend's house. My toilet paper is not as soft either. I pondered those two pieces of information instead of getting up. I was lucky. Yesterday (Monday) was our normal rest day. These days I need a rest day to get over my rest time. When I was younger I would take a red-eye home from vacation and go straight to work from the airport. Those days are long gone.

It's good to be home. I missed my sisters.
Oh yeah... I only gained two pounds. Wahoo!

Friday, September 14, 2007

vacation update

After a gray Monday and a depressingly rainy Tuesday, the weather cleared and it's been gorgeous here in Newport. We've been to the beach twice and I've eaten my obligatory plate of fried clams. Last night we strolled around town for several hours doing a "gallery walk" visiting many of the nicer places to purchase art. The best food (and wine) was at the Newport Art Museum... everywhere else a disappointment. But on the way home we stopped at the Thai restaurant (we've eaten there before) and I was thrilled to find their chicken coconut soup as delicious as the first time.

I've cooked supper once and made scones this morning, but my friend is on weight-watchers, so maybe I won't gain as much weight as I usually do on vacation. (That would be a good thing.) It took three months to lose the eleven pounds I had gained in two weeks the last time.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Gone fishin'

In about ten minutes I'm out of here. (Not forever... it's my last week of rest time.)

I'm taking a three+ hour train ride to Newport, RI, home of my past, and present home of a dear friend who lets me come and stay with her every year. In my mind I can already smell the salt air, taste the fried clams... I have a new book (a gift from one of my sisters who has a knack for picking excellent reading material for me) and my bathing suit, although it looks pretty overcast outside my window right now.

I'm taking the laptop, ostensibly to work on cartoons for a calendar we might do as a Christmas gift for our associates... hopefully this year, but if not, maybe next. If I have internet access I may post. Otherwise, see you in a week.

love...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

New addiction

My younger son gave me one of those portable DVD players for Christmas last year. (It came with a special DVD he had made with photos from the baptism of the newest grandchild.) For several months all I used it for was to watch that one DVD, but then I learned that the library loans out not just books, but DVDs. I broke down and applied for a library card, an item I've not had since junior high school.

My first forray into the stacks brought some old movies I had been meaning to see, but never had. Next, a few romantic comedies, a couple of classics I'd seen before but not in a long time, until I'd exhausted the supply of anything I felt was worth watching.

Then, I turned to foreign films with English subtitles. These have never really appealed to me although I've seen a few that have been terrific. I prefer to watch the action, not the dialog. However, lately when we watch movies together as a family, the deaf among us (quite a few) need subtitles even when the actors are speaking English, and I've learned to watch both without much distraction.

I found the Asian films the most beautiful, subtle, with simple, but profound plot lines. Last week I picked up what I thought was a Korean film and checked it out. When the time came to watch it I noticed the label said 900 minutes... Woah, that's a long movie! I opened the case and found three DVDs, each with three episodes of what I could only suppose was a Korean soap opera. I had every intention of returning it to the library unwatched, but one night I couldn't sleep. How long could one episode be?

Titled "Stained Glass" it's a story of three childhood friends (two boys and a girl) who make a pact to be the "Three Muskateers" and the two boys vow to always protect the little girl... as long as they live. One boy is swept away by the river's strong current when he's trying to retrieve the girl's lost ocarina, and his body is never found. He's presumed dead.

This was the background teaser in the opening episode, with just enough hints that when the story resumed (twelve years later) the three would somehow meet again. I was hooked.

The only soap opera I ever watched regularly was Dark Shadows. Once I was home sick in bed and watched an episode of General Hospital. Six months later I happened to see it again, and hardly anything had happened in between. Soap operas move too slowly for me to stay involved; I have no patience.

However, there's something surreal and compelling about watching a story set within a culture so alien to me. The social rules, the idioms that don't quite translate, the beauty of the actors... all work together to create an environment I don't understand, but am still fascinated by. I watched all nine in the series but the story didn't end. I was bereft.

Whatever was going to happen to gorgeous Han Dong Joo and lovely Shin Ji Soo, so clearly in love with each other... but also compassionate friends to the troubled (but also sexy) Park Gi Tai, who also loves Shin Ji Soo? I may never know. The library thinks it may have another nine episodes somewhere, but it's checked out right now. Someone else is watching the incredibly beautiful soulfull eyes of the actors as they sigh and look up to heaven and talk to themselves (but never each other) about their deepest dreams and longings. I am so definitely hooked.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Madeleine L’Engle, way more than a children’s writer, has died

Madeleine L’Engle, born November 29th, 1918, has died at the age of 88.

"Children's Writer Is Dead" said the New York Times, and yes, she wrote books that children loved. But... when my oldest son received the trilogy beginning with a Wrinkle In Time, he read the first book and immediately handed it over to me. "Read this" he said. "You'll love it!" I read it and then bugged him to death to hurry up and finish the next one so I could have it.

Even more than a wonderful story teller, she was a marvelous teacher. She gave writing workshops around the country for many years. I met her through a friend at church, after I'd been living in New York for a few years. My friend had been taking her annual workshop at the Community of the Holy Spirit (does anyone else see a divine pattern in this fact?) for a couple of years herself, and she helped me apply for the six-week course.

Madeleine was an Associate of the community. She donated the organ that sits in our chapel, and she gave the proceeds from the workshops as a donation to the sisters' work and ministry. The evenings began with vespers in the chapel, followed by dinner (with the sisters) in the refectory, and then the class met in the conference room on the second floor. I attended those workshops for three years in a row, until hip (or knee) surgery interrupted her last class. She never taught at the convent again.

She gave us imaginative assignments, practical advice, and gracious constructive critiques. We had most of the week to think about the topic... not write a word. Once we'd thought it through (several times) we were to sit down and write... nonstop for half an hour. Nonstop was the key to no more thinking. Amazingly most of my stories actually had a beginning, a middle and an end, although I wasn't always sure where or what the ending would be. Often the story wrote itself. All I did was hold the pen and keep shifting the pages.

I cherish the memories of those sessions more than any learning experience I've had. I've taken other writing classes which were okay... hers were full of her heart, her wit, her funny stories, and her excellent advice. What a blessing she was in her time on this Earth.