Monday, April 30, 2007

Beltane/Bealtaine/Holiday/Holy Day

There's only so much research you can do into the origin of words before the stories start going in circles. That's when the thinness of knowledge mixes with the kind of understanding you can only call knowing. It is the best of times, the most frustrating of times.

In our culture of calendars and watches, appointment books and blackberrys, tomorrow will be May 1st; therefore tonight is the eve of May 1st: May Day, Beltaine. It is a time of thinness, just as there are geographical places of thinness.

In the Celtic tradition, but specifically the Gaelic, Bealtaine marks the cross-quarter mid-point between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice... significant sun days for the world that revolved around agriculture. The herds would be sent to their summer pastures, and blessings would be invoked for fruitfulness of the land. This holiday would not have always fallen so conveniently on this date... it may have been celebrated at the full moon falling closest to the sun's day.

The word Beltane may come from the Old Irish Beltene which means bright fire, or from bale fire which also means white or shining. In any event, fire and bonfires were/are a major part of the celebration. From that one fire other fires would be rekindled. The rituals for blessing and purification were done in threes, a sacred number in practically every religion. Why is that? What is it about the number three that holds so much power and significance? You can do your own research. There are plenty of theories. I gravitate to the belief that it's a combination of the number one and the number two... the mystery that embraces both unity and duality... a concept we've been struggling with since Eden.

But back to the bonfires. Think of our own Easter vigil ritual... the light of the world is rekindled and from it all the candles in the church are lit. What we call resurrection was evident in the pagan world in spring's miraculous rebirth from winter. Just as Jesus told his parables in words using the Earth's terminology, so we echo the intuitive understanding of our forebears.

Just because I can google the morning away discovering how all these things fit together, does not make me any the wiser. I have never jumped three times over the fire like my Irish ancestors. Maybe I should just drag out the hibachi and give it a go.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

My sheep hear my voice.

With three sisters out of town and one sick in bed, we were a very small group this morning. And we had a new celebrant to "break in", (not that our mass is different from other settings... that's one of the beauties of a standard prayer book.) Still, a new priest likes to walk through the service beforehand, to be made aware of small nuances, and every congregation has them.

She had done her homework. Her homily covered all three readings, the psalm, and the fact that if it were not Sunday, it would be the feast day of Catherine of Siena. As I've mentioned before, one of the benefits of community that I so appreciate, is hearing new voices proclaim the Gospel on Sunday morning. Sometimes I hang on every word; sometimes a hymn will reinforce what's just been said; sometimes a turn of phrase will interrupt time and my mind will wander.

In today's Gospel (John 10: 22-30) Jesus is asked (once again) to tell plainly if he is the Messiah. And once again, he says "I have told you and you do not believe." This time he goes on to say the reason you don't believe is because you aren't my sheep. "My sheep hear my voice."

Time stopped. My mind wandered... to an old Bonnie Rait song:
All at once I hear your voice, and time just slips away.
Nothing they can say can hold me here.
Take me where I only feel the wind across my face.
Let me know there's some place left for me.
Waiting there for me...

That chorus (taken out of its song context) speaks vividly of what it means to hear HIs voice. I used to get a catch in my throat every time I heard it... I would sing along with Bonnie, tears streaming down my face. I thought I was missing a human voice, maybe my dad or an old boyfriend, lover, husband... I could never quite put my finger on who it was. But the longing was real, the tears a tangible indication I was on to something bigger than I could imagine.

The other day a friend expressed his concern/opinion about my becoming a life-professed sister. He said something to the effect: "you could be doing so much more out in the world... the convent is too confining for someone with your creativity."

I was out in the world. I did plenty with my creativity. I still do, I think. The medium for creativity may take a different form now, but that form is as valid as the other forms were. It's part of the discernment process... to understand the differences and still find the unity within all the expressions. My decision will rest more with whether I hear the voice amidst all the other voices... the one that makes time just slip away.

Friday, April 27, 2007

uses and abuses

The class I attended was advertised as "Uses and Abuses of Sacred Scripture." It was a one-night stand, so to speak, an evening session that included a panel discussion between a Muslim (Arabic scholar) a Rabbi (Sanskrit expert) and a former Jesuit/now Episcopal priest.

I'm not sure what I expected, but at the time the discussion didn't seem to fulfill the theme. Apparently I wasn't the only attendee to feel disoriented; a comment from another classmate echoed the same thought. So what was I expecting? A handbook on how to abuse scripture? Or... a handbook on how to defend myself from individuals who use scripture to abuse me?

What we got was three variations on the theme: Sacred text, whether it be Torah, Gospel or Koran is the Living Word of God. I knew that. Didn't I? Maybe yes and maybe no.

Our Rabbi opened his remarks with the statement "The Bible says." and then went on to refute this all-too-common (I would say fundamentalist) attribution with: "The Bible doesn't say anything." He explained that what we understand the Bible to mean is a far cry from the Bible says. That rings true for me. I've been in too many dead-end arguments with "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it" poster children. There's no where to go in a discussion with people who quote the Bible as the last word. He also pointed out the Bible should be the first word, not the last. In other words, an invitation to dialog... yet we know some folks just can't go there.

Our priest expanded with examples of selective screening... how we pick and choose the words to follow that suit our needs or our fancy. He used the example of Jesus telling the young man to sell everything and give it to the poor (one we sidestep) as opposed to the passage where Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again. We latched onto that one like white on rice.

Our Muslim scholar gave us an example from Arabic, which apparently uses no punctuation: woman without her man is nothing He asked us to punctuate it. We came up with two versions: Woman, without her, man is nothing. and Woman, without her man, is nothing. For me, neither variation was satisfactory, since both were bashing one gender or the other. Where was the neutral ground? How could this quotation have meaning that doesn't polarize us?

Now... I'm thinking that was the whole point of the evening. Any interpretation of sacred scripture that polarizes is a misinterpretation. It must have meant something else, either in the context of the culture, in a faulty translation from one language to another, or in our limited human comprehension. The Word of God may very well be inerrant, but our grasp of God will never be complete, our understanding always limited to what we either already know or have been taught.

Good to keep in mind if the dialog is ever to continue...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Comfort levels

I recently attended a Solemn Evensong at one of the more Anglo-Catholic churches in New York City. Whenever I'm in a "high-church" setting, I'm always reminded of the half-year I spent at the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Roman Catholic parochial school in Portland, Maine. I was in the third grade.

My mother's reasons for sending me to that school had nothing to do with the religious education I inadvertently received... (I probably studied my catechism with much more zeal than was warranted, since I would never be receiving First Communion in a dainty white dress and veil like the other little girls in my class.) I was a protestant, an alien in a sea of Roman Catholics. Nobody seemed to mind, or if they did, they were not obnoxious about it. Perhaps it was felt there was still time to save my immortal soul, or perhaps the nuns simply followed Jesus' teaching to welcome the stranger.

As a class, we would attend the Stations of the Cross every Friday. I was transported to a foreign world. One whiff of the incense, the sight of all those flickering votive candles in their little red containers... the beautiful (somewhat gory) statues with their hearts exposed in their chests, tears like pearls glistening on their cheeks... something hushed and holy was present there in a way I'd never experienced in my Southern Baptist/Unitarian/Congregational checkered past.

But I was not thoroughly trained in those mysteries; I got just enough to be dangerous. I, too, learned the Act of Contrition and patiently waited to say my confession, only to be recognized and gently pulled out of line. "You aren't required to say confession, my dear."
"But I want to, I want to do a penance."
"Well then, why don't you sit over here and say the rosary. That is one of the penances."
But, even as a seven-year-old Catholic wannabe, I was a maverick, and a lazy one at that. I only said half of each Hail Mary, alternating between Hail Mary full of grace and Holy Mary mother of God, and finished in half the time. I lit ten votive candles and only added a nickel to the jar. I was definitely missing something key.

Only later would I rebel at the inconsistencies, the arbitrary rules, the church's massive wealth in the midst of poverty. I would eventually take the middle road to piety... a church with solid liturgy but not so many ways to be damned. I came to grips with what was important for me in all of the bowing and scraping before crosses and sacraments. I had to feel the reverence in my heart, or it meant nothing... to me, or to God.

Now, over-the-top pageantry will pull me out of reverence faster than a speeding bullet. And so it was the other evening... At the Eucharistic Exposition my mind wandered. I watched the solemnity with which the Holy Sacrament was transferred from the tabernacle to the monstrance, displayed in an arcing circle, then put back into its dark cabinet again. I stifled a giggle with great effort. All I could think of was
"You take the fish food out, you put the fish food in,
You parade it in a circle, then you put it back again.
You do the Hokey Pokey..."

I was a seven-year-old again, still definitely missing something key. I tried focusing on the Tantum ergo, the hymn sung during the censing... Therefore we before him bending, This great Sacrament revere; types and shadows have their ending, for the newer rite is here... I couldn't make the connection. What newer rite? This rite is about as old-fashioned as it gets... parading around a communion wafer for everybody to adore! It's embarrassing. I later mentioned my discomfort to one of my sisters and she said simply "It's just not your style." No kidding.

I've wrestled with my knee-jerk reaction to the Exposition ritual, and finally realized that (for me) the Blessed Sacrament is only blessed if you eat it. It may be the very presence of Christ, but not until it mingles with my presence and nourishes me in a tangible, sensory way. However, I also realized that Jesus was most likely not embarrassed. (by me or for me, maybe), but certainly not from the adoration of a full congregation of people, some who find great comfort in these old ways of worship... comfort they no longer feel in their own Roman Catholic parishes.

It comes down to this: worship must be comforting, even if it is not always comfortable. And... what brings comfort to one part of the Body may tickle (or irritate) another. (I'm thinking ticklish feet or armpits as opposed to kneecaps or shoulders.) As my sister said so succinctly, it's not my style.

But deeper than that... while I could not reverence the ritual itself, I can reverence the intention. I will try to keep that in mind the next time my seven-year old starts singing the Hokey Pokey.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Third Sunday in Eastertide

O God, whose blessed son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever,
—Collect for Easter III:

After reading the Gospel describing the disciples' beach breakfast with the risen Christ, our celebrant began his homily with: "All resurrection experiences are to those who need them. Be in touch with your need." He spoke quietly with some special authority. Perhaps it's an Anglican thing, (he was a guest in our house from the Church of England, and kindly agreed to fill in on a Sunday I hadn't been able to schedule a local priest.) He had me hooked.

I remembered the collect for today... how that turn of phrase connecting the sight of bread with the sight of Christ's redeeming work had poked my heart the way words sometimes do; I thought of all the people Jesus had not appeared to... Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas... how his appearances were always shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding until the eyes of faith were opened to the possibility that this stranger in their midst was indeed the risen Lord.

In today's Gospel, the disciples were all eating breakfast with Jesus, yet they were afraid to ask him who he was. Were they afraid he would somehow morph into somebody else if they dared to pose the question?

Holy encounters are sometimes best left unspoken, I think. For those of us enamored with words (as I am) it's difficult to shut up about mystical experiences. Yet the telling is never quite as wonderful as the event itself. Seeing Christ's redeeming work in the midst of holocaust, natural disaster or any tragedy is hard enough... trying to convey that vision to someone focused on the evil of it, is a fool's errand. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread... the opening lines of a Mercer song often quoted. Who really knows if angels fear anything? If perfect Love casts out fear, then where does that fear go when it is cast out? I have too many questions today and very few (if any) answers.

I believe we must be fools. That is some kind of an answer I guess. And I believe we can connect the bread, whether it be Communion bread or Wonder bread or low-fat, seven-grain bread... with the recognition of Christ in each face we encounter. Why else would Jesus keep telling Peter "feed my sheep"? Why else would he ask us to "Eat it in remembrance of me"?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

And the winners are:

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had been awarded one of those by bloggers/for bloggers awards: the Thinking Blogger Award, to be exact. You can stop laughing. ("I think, therefore I am") At the time, there was way too much other stuff going on for me to give my own bestowal of this award much critical thought... but I promised I would do a subsequent post.

I have thought about it. I read (and bookmark) lots of blogs and websites, but I've found that I only read one or two consistently every day. That has more to do with my available time than with any blog's merit. Most of the ones I read I play catch up with every few days. That seems to work. My five blogs of choice, to pay this homage forward, are listed below. I actually tried to list a few you may not be familiar with, rather than keep going round and round in a mutual admiration society. If you're not listed and you know I read your blog, don't think it's because I didn't deem you worthy. (I wouldn't be reading your stupid blog if I didn't deem you worthy!) However, If you are listed, you are eligible to do the following:

1. Write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.

3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't match your blog's color scheme.)

So here they are: my top five thinking blogs... or in some cases, websites, (not necessarily in any kind of order):

Wandering Wonderings
Currently on the offensive in her third (I think) battle with cancer, Pat Denino, woman of wonder, ponders a myriad of questions about life, love, creativity and whatever else strikes her fancy... Here's how she introduces her blog: There are a lot of questions floating around the universe, waiting for someone to ask them. One of those people would be me... Please join me in dancing the questions. Oh, she is definitely big on dancing... and I'll be one of her dance partners any day.

grace-full thoughts
Sr. Catherine Grace writes about the sacredness of creation, life in community, work on an organic farm, and how these all interrelate with her monastic vows. She's willing to tackle questions and issues with guts and gifted eloquence... and I'm not saying that just because she's my sister...

A Peculiar Prophet
Now who would have though a Methodist Bishop from Birmingham, Alabama would be on my list? Just goes to show you that people who make you think come in all sizes, shapes and disguises. And a Southern Baptist friend was the one who gave me the link.

This one is not exactly a blog per say. It's more of an art exhibit called Post Secret... but it has a blogspot address and certainly makes me think. Every Sunday a new batch of postcards are downloaded. These are anonymous, hand-made postcards, each describing a secret the sender needs to get off their chest. Amazing work.

• And last, but in a category all its own, Jesus and Mo is a cartoon strip that borders on the blasphemous, (those of you who are offended by religious slurs should probably not go there) yet in their own way these cartoons make me think outside the box and challenge my own narrow views about God and His/Her prophets. Here's a sample from a couple of days ago that seems a good way to end this post.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


One of the perks of living in community in New York City is the diverse group of celebrants who grace our altar. Unlike most parish situations, (where the congregation hears the same voice from the pulpit week in and week out) we get to hear a variety of voices, old and young, male and female. And they seem to take our small congregation so seriously: I've heard absolutely amazing sermons and homilies preached in our tiny chapel... thoughtful, inspiring, pointed and pertinent.

Today was no different. A million sermons will probably be preached today concerning St. Thomas and the differences between faith and doubt, seeing and not seeing, but our celebrant sidestepped all that rhetoric, and went straight to the core of the crucified Christ.

We humans have expectations when we shower love on one another... that the effort, the love, be recognized and appreciated. "Love deserves and requires a response," he said, describing a conversation he had had earlier in the week.

And yet... God did not say that and does not say that. It is certainly the enigma I find most distressing when I attempt to live my life in the way that Jesus lived, to follow his example. "No," our celebrant was reminded, "love is its own reward."

The cruelest part about loving another human being is the vulnerability it produces. Nobody I know likes that feeling... it's too raw, naked, too empty. So, to protect ourselves, we qualify our love. In the worst sense love becomes a legal transaction with clauses and penalties. Not much better is a polite tit for tat arrangement... I support you, you support me; I cut you slack, you do the same for me.

I was once given some wise words in a guided meditation: "Your vulnerability is the source of your strength." After all these years, I'm still discerning how deep those words penetrate the core of who I am. Pretty words. Pretty hard to swallow. Too raw, too naked, too empty.

Yet what Jesus did, in his total and complete act of self-giving, was empty himself. Nothing left. Not only did he take the form of a servant, not only did he relinquish his God-power, but he emptied himself of the God-spark that resides in every one of us.

No wonder he cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!" He gave it all away.

We follow him. Some of us even try to emulate him... this source of no power. I don't understand it, even as I'm both drawn to and repelled by it... this belief that love is its own reward.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


These days it seems I am rarely in touch with what's going on in the "outside world". Yet this morning I stumbled onto a web obituary and learned that Kurt Vonnegut has just died.

Next to J.D. Salinger, Vonnegut was most responsible for shaping my reading preferences when I was an impressionable college student. His work was often equated with science fiction, but it was more than that. He was vulgar in a hilarious way, and over the years I read everything I could get my hands on, (even all the works published under other names.) He was 84. Rest in peace, Kurt.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

It escapes me now

There's a lot to be said for knowing you're going to live awhile longer. (There's a lot to be said about the reverse, I suppose, but I've only ever been in the limbo place between not knowing and what if.) I don't think it's the same. However, I'm out of there as of today. I don't have cancer.

Huh? Okay, so I've kept the situation pretty much under wraps, because it's what I do. Other people's concern, as well-meaning as it may be, affects me adversely. It adds exponentially to my own combination of dread/denial and in a crisis, (real or imaginary), I can't cope with anyone's hysteria but my own.

So... now that this particular crisis is over, although I admit it's a bit anticlimactic, this is the deal: The March mammogram I spoke of here showed a "suspicious density" which required a trip to a different refrigerator door, which required a sonogram, which required today a core biopsy. Finally, some good drugs before an invasive procedure. (It's a mystery to me why the medics think smashing your flesh does not require anesthetic but puncturing does.) After the biopsy I still had to have six more films taken before they let me out, and I didn't feel a thing. I suggested to the technician that maybe lydocaine (or zylocaine) should be standard before every mammogram. She thought I was kidding.

Of course the anesthetic has worn off now, and I am left with an ow-eee that I'm tending with sleep, xtra-strength tylenol, and a chocolate bunny. (I think they call it self-medicating.) I'm very much like a cat in my need to sleep when I'm bruised, so I took the afternoon off and did exactly that.

I was going to post something profoundly spiritual about this experience, but whatever I was thinking escapes me now. Another time perhaps...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

He is risen...

Nobody knows exactly when Jesus rose from the dead... From the time of his entombment late Friday til close to dawn on Sunday morning, the stone covering the entrance to his grave concealed anything that might be happening within. We are told he went to hell first, but not how long he lingered.

All we know is that some time just before dawn, the women found the tomb empty. Mary was upset that the body was missing and asked the gardener if he knew anything... several varying accounts tell us of the discovery of his disappearance, but no human witnessed his actual rising.

In my own imagination, the Holy Spirit, responsible for his human conception would have been responsible for his resurrection as well... breathing the breath of new life into the collapsed lungs, obliterating all cuts and bruises, leaving only the marks of his final sacrifice: holes in his hands, feet and side. This image is called escape.

Blessings to all my family and soulmates this Eastertide.
Claire Joy

Saturday, April 07, 2007

not all prayer and sweet acts of charity

In any organization, there is a corporate culture that makes up the invisible nuts and bolts of how the entity runs. A monastic community is no different from a business when it comes to that. The difference is the culture itself. My own community tries to take into account the diverse viewpoints of each of its members, so issues you might never think about discussing (in your life) must be analyzed, measured, hashed over, hammered in, and agreed upon here. It makes for lengthy meetings and some tough decision making. All opinions are counted and weighed.

For example, I can't just decide to paint my room without checking it out with the house, can't make plans to go out to dinner with out-of-town friends without asking permission. Those requests are managed on a day-to-day basis, but larger issues must be handled in our monthly meetings.

The agendas for these meetings are diverse and reflect community-wide concerns: the liturgy, dress code, family dynamics, candidate formation, budget reports. Some of the topics never go away, but some are new. Last month's topic was new: blogging... and its impact on community. Because blogging is a relatively new activity for monastics (as is email and websites and the whole cyberspace experience) it only stands to reason that it would surface as a topic at some point. And, as I am a dedicated blogger, it certainly got my attention.

To say the discussion was difficult (for me) is an understatement. I dislike meetings in general, and any discussion that gets personal is hard to participate in, without going straight to emotional response. There were comments from sisters who have never read my blog, yet have clear opinions about it; there was concern that my content and my sometimes colorful language are inappropriate for a nun, hurt feelings from posts describing life and personalities I struggle with, that never surfaced until the meeting. There was an overall question: does blogging, in and of itself, remove a sister from her environment and allow her to live in a virtual fantasy world? Some of our sisters are already addicted to online solitaire and video games, might not blogging be another way to escape?

It was not all negative. But since I am human (as I keep reminding my readers) I focused on the negative. The upshot of the discussion was that nobody was shut down, but that all of us who blog (three in our community) will continue to be self-censoring, keeping in mind the concerns that surfaced. There were a few explicit guidelines covering language and content... so... no more *'s for me.

I was unable to write for several days. What was there to say? I didn't want to give it up, but if my blog was such a bone of contention, what was the point? Then St. Patrick's Day arrived and I finally posted again. It was a miracle. I was cured.

To say that blogging has become a spiritual exercise for me is an understatement. But it is also a creative endeavor, one that fills a void I never knew was there, until I started doing it. So it was with mild amusement that I learned I had been awarded the Thinking Blogger Award, not by one, but by two people who read my posts. Thanks guys. It makes being in the hot seat at that meeting worth it.

As a recipient of this award I get to choose five blogs that I read on a regular basis and give them the award. I will do that. (After Easter. Next week some time. In the near future.) Stay tuned. Oh, and by the way, my mother thanks you... my children thank you... my sisters may not thank you...

Holy Saturday

Saturday. The day after... the day that life goes on.

Those in shock from their awful grief closed the blinds and laid low, but the rest of the world was back to business, business as usual. The markets were open, a new curtain had been installed in the temple, and the total eclipse of the sun was yesterday's news. Some soldier had a new tunic; the rest a pile of cleaning rags for polishing their weapons.

Life goes on. Nobody is indispensable, and the death of one rabble rouser had changed nothing for Rome's mighty empire. So they believed.

Jesus said: I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce much wheat. If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life. — John 12:24-25

What beautiful words... words of encouragement and promise. Do they really stick? Do they sink into our consciousness and direct our choices and decisions? I don't think so. We point to Jesus and think: all very well and good for you, you rose from the dead. You were special. Yet none of your disciples rose from the dead when they were martyred for your sake. What about that?

What about that? Many Christians cling to Christ's resurrection as a hinge to hang their faith upon. Yes, Jesus died, but he rose from the dead! Yet the risen Jesus was not the same man who died. Nobody seemed to even recognize him until he spoke their name or did something familiar that jogged their memories. He had changed. He appeared and disappeared, walked through walls, and eventually he left them again. In a cloud of glory to be sure, but he was still gone.

So if we don't get to do all that too, then what do those words mean? In The Universe Story, the sacrificial nature of creation is heavily emphasized. Something or someone always dies so that something or someone else can live. The grass eats the sun, the cow eats the grass, I eat the cow... but it's much more complex than where we live on the food chain. Jesus spoke in riddles about holy mysteries too vast for us to understand. Perhaps his rising from the dead was simply another parable. Some believe it was his reward for being obedient, but it may have been just one more example of the mysterious grace of God.

Friday, April 06, 2007


My first born child, my eldest son, was born on April 6th. He wasn't born on Good Friday, he was born on a Saturday and no where near the Paschal holidays. Some years he does get to celebrate his birthday on Easter... a double helping of chocolate bunnies and jelly eggs. But Good Friday? It just seems wrong.

For one thing, I have to go deeper now into the mystery and the agony of this day. Saying "Happy Birthday" today seems out of place. Can you be happy when the Son of God is out in the scorching sun dying in pain?

In our community we often postpone a Saint's Day if it conflicts with a special Sunday or other holiday... we transfer the propers for that saint to the next available day. Maybe that's what I should do with my son's birthday. On the other hand, he is important to me. I love him to the sky (as his wife often says). Transferring the propers for a dead saint is not the same as ignoring the anniversary of your own living flesh and blood. He turns thirty-nine this year... last year before all the over-the-hill jokes set in. Next year he'll officially be old, although he's mentioned that with the medications he takes and the series of botched hernia surgeries, he already feels like he qualifies. (I certainly qualify.)

Jesus would have known what to do about this complication. He might have celebrated first, and then performed whatever rites were required for the observance of his religion's high holy day. His message always stressed relationship over rhetoric. So... taking the lead of the one I am privileged to follow... Happy Birthday dear David! I love you to the sky.

Good Friday

Loss... whether it's expected or sudden, it still upends me and leaves me reeling. Death, whether I knew it was coming or not, still overwhelms me and turns me inside out. I "function well under pressure" I've been told. What that means is I go on auto-pilot. I am an adequate doing machine, but I have submerged my being... to keep it safe.

I imagine Mary Magdalene as more authentic in her being than I. I imagine her keening at the tomb, helpless and lost. In this image I made for Holy Week she holds the crown of thorns on her knee. It is still flecked with Jesus' blood from where she had to pry it from his head. The thorns press through the material of her robe and her blood mingles with his, but she can't feel any of it. She clutches the cloth she used to wipe his face before she had to leave... leave him inside that dark place.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Maundy Thursday

When I was a kid, I thought they were saying Monday Thursday and I couldn't figure it out. Why would Thursday be on Monday? Later I thought maybe Maundy was like laundry... since it was foot-washing day. It wasn't until I took Latin in high school that I learned the term novum mandātum new mandate... the new commandment Jesus gave his disciples when he'd finished washing their feet. The Medieval English word for mandate is maunde, leading to our derivation: Maundy.

"Love one another, just as I have loved you." In other words, I've been acting as your servant, not your Lord. I've been treating you as my Lord. Get it? Of course they didn't get it. We don't either.

This afternoon we'll reenact the foot washing among ourselves. We have no Mother anymore to wash the feet of her sisters (I don't know that she ever did); now everyone chips in. The one who just got washed washes the next in line. It works pretty well and seems to be moving for both participants. It's an odd time, and peculiar to each sister. Some splash you a couple of times and are done, others scrub... or caress gently, some even wash between the toes. (It's hard not to giggle if you're feet are ticklish.)

Then the solemn Eucharist begins: The last supper of our Lord, where some believe the institution of Holy Communion was launched. I've never quite bought the fact that the words "This is my body, broken for you... whenever you eat it, do it in remembrance of me." was meant to be an institution. It sounds more like... whenever you eat bread (or anything for that matter,) remember me... and by the way, remember that new commandment I just gave you.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Wednesday in Holy Week

Not much time to post today.

Wednesday is always busy for me; I am supper cook and doorbell queen on Wednesday. Add to that, confession with my spiritual director, preparations for tonight's Tenebrae service, setting up the altar of repose (for tomorrow night's service,) some last minute printing jobs for Easter cards for my sisters, and a Lincoln Center program waiting in the wings... the evening has not even begun and already I am pooped.

As I peeled and sliced the onions for our soup tonight, I thought of the Marys shopping at the market for the Passover preparations. Were they also rushed to finish everything before tomorrow night's feast? Cleaning the room, decorating, cooking all the special foods in the proper way. I thought of my friend who used to make the best onion soup when we lived at Melrose, wondered how she's doing in her new community this year...

Choir practice is at 4:00, then Evening Prayer, supper and the mad scramble to get the chapel ready for Tenebrae. Most windows are covered in blackout curtains, those with heavy drapes are pinned together. Wax paper is laid on the altar (in case the tenebrae candles should drip) the candles are arranged. One sister is polishing the two candleabras now... I wish her luck. It took me two days to polish them the year I was stuck with that job.

The Tenebrae service is ancient. Candles are extinguished one by one until only one is left and then even it is carried away, out of the chapel. All wait in darkness (pitch black supposedly, which is why all the Exit signs are covered up, and the windows draped.) At some point there is a huge thud, and the one candle returns. Light to the world in its darkness. It is one lone flicker in the vast sea of darkness, but it has not been consumed or extinguished. Everyone leaves in silence to carefully find their way out.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tuesday in Holy Week

As an artist, I find I cannot always keep in sync with the seasons, especially the Christian liturgical seasons. I have to draw (or in my case, composite) what the spirit leads me to... often after the season has passed.

For several years I've thought about doing a series of abstracts for Lent on the stations of the cross. I've never quite been able to get my act together to complete the project... I have one image I really love (station eleven) and have used it a couple of times when only one was required. The rest have not come as easily as that one.

This Good Friday my friend will be preaching on the dialog between Jesus and the two bandits crucified with him... part of the "Seven Last Words" liturgy. We often have conversations about the topic he is to preach on; it's part of what we do as friends. It occurred to me that dialog is from station eleven. Small world.

Our celebrant last Sunday preached about the sometimes helpless fascination we have with grisly death, whether it's brought on by the force of nature or caused by humans... any catastrophe, and we'll continue to watch the reruns on TV, over and over again.

Holy Week is a kind of rerun. We are morbidly drawn to the story of the unraveling of Palm Sunday's great beginning... of how it all went downhill, ending in Jesus' grisly death on Good Friday. But today is only Tuesday. Perhaps tonight is Bethany night, a party in full swing, when Mary anoints Jesus with the expensive perfume and Judas adds one more item to his growing list of grievances. But we've seen the video clip already... we know what's coming, and the tension is building. It's harder to breathe than it was yesterday.

Station Eleven: Jesus is nailed to the Cross
When they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him; and with him they crucified two criminals, one on the right, the other on the left, and Jesus between them. And the scripture was fulfilled which says, “He was numbered with the transgressors.”

Monday, April 02, 2007

Desert Day

On the Monday in Holy Week we observe something called Desert Day.

Monday is normally a rest day for the community... a day off, to catch up, sleep late or visit friends outside the convent. There is no schedule on Monday and, for me, that is its greatest appeal. We are still expected to recite Morning and Evening Prayer on our own, but saying it at exactly six-thirty am is not required. Ah... heaven.

I'd never heard of desert days before coming to the convent. The term isn't in wikipedia, maybe we made it up. What it implies... is although today looks like a normal rest day on the surface, nothing is normal. The galaxy poises itself for the cosmic turn of events that will be remembered and acted out this week.

God will renounce his power to rule.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Time warp

Palm Sunday... the time warp begins.

I've heard this coming week called The Great Week, Holy Week, The Week From Hell. It has been many things for me, but it has never been "great". In the years that I took the week seriously, it was profound, distressing, comforting, agonizing. But there were those years I deliberately passed it by... went straight to the jelly beans and marshmallow peeps without a single thought of crucifixion or resurrection. So what's the difference?

The difference is always what we bring to it of ourselves, where we are at the particular moment in time. Some years I could bring nothing. That's just the way it was... and God did not stop the world to get my attention. My experience has been that God is much more patient and much more subtle than that.

I once railed against the God I perceived in the image of indifferent father, as his only son was slaughtered. That image changed last year when I finally was able to translate the scenario in a new way. (Here's the post)

Years ago... a Palm Sunday service did send me into some kind of time warp. I was in a dark place that held no physical form except the palpable sense of emotion... that emotion was grief, grief caused by a great loss. Someone I knew, someone I loved was being taken from me and I was helpless to do anything to prevent it.

Where in time was I? Was I at the crucifixion? Or was it somewhere else on that blending wave of chronology? In the Scottish Highlands at the time of the uprisings? I will probably never know, but I know that mark of recognition was burned into my soul that day. I wasn't too happy about it either. I think back on the subsequent Palm Sundays when I skipped church for fear of a repeat, or something deeper, something worse.

Fear, the most insidious and devastating of emotions... it either paralyzes us or calls us to violence. The Scripture says: perfect Love has no fear. The reverse is also profound: perfect fear has no Love. Jesus exemplified that perfection of Love, and we in our perfect fear had to kill him for it.