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:


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

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


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.


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.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Reason #1

Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us.
—from the mass, Rite II C, Book of Common Prayer

You know the saying: Be careful what you ask for... This sentence from the concluding prayer before communion struck me this morning. In so many ways the request has been granted, time and time again, but the knowledge, the eyes-wide-openness of my understanding has felt very uncomfortable. I've kept it under wraps much of the time.

People look at you funny if you talk about seeing angels in the subway... real angels, not just the metaphorical nice people doing nice deeds. Yet I have seen them. Some roll their eyes if you comment that there are no accidents, or look back on a string of unconnected, supposedly random events and see a divine pattern.

This is one of several reasons I stumbled onto (and into) the convent. I can make outlandish statements about God's will or universal truths and some will actually nod in agreement. Sisters who see it differently do not argue, because one thing we agree upon is that each sister's path to God is her own. Nobody else can decide (or judge) if it's naive, immature, deep or shallow. I do not have to justify to anyone here that I believe in God, that I believe in divine intervention, or that I believe my purpose has been destined from before birth.

I have friends who think my wanting to be a nun is madness, or a lark, or an easy way to get out of the worry of retirement income. Some have witnessed the succession of career shifts, geographical relocations, or my constant search for the perfect life partner. That I can see a holy pattern in all of that is beside the point to them.

No... it is the point.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Making it Legal

So... none of the dream scenarios played out the way I dreamed them. That was nice.

In a multiple dimensional Universe, however, it's possible those dreams were as valid as what I experienced yesterday in the meeting. No matter how many theories and dimensions scientists postulate and science-fiction authors describe, we are trapped on this Earth (and in this time) in dense material.

Yesterday's meeting (THE meeting) was something I dreaded because there was no planning for it. I kept coming back to the scripture that says: Don't worry about what you'll say when that time comes; the Holy Spirit will give you the words you are to speak. Trusting in that was all I could do, but it didn't mean I felt no stress.

My sisters began with gracious comments. They went around the circle and many said nice things about me. (One or two compliments I can handle. A room-full is hard to digest.) The inevitable "yeah, but if you really knew me you'd say something else" flitted across my mind. But I've lived with these women for four years, They do know me. They know where all my warts are, how my temper flares when I'm under stress, how my timing is less than perfect, how bossy I can be.

The most precious comments came from the oldest sisters... women who in some ways are now losing their grip on day-to-day reality. One said, "I sit next to her in chapel, and you can tell if someone is really praying or if they are just there. I can tell you this woman really prays." The other said, "I'm just so happy she's around. I'm glad she wants to stay."

In our community we play down the whole "married to Christ" philosophy, although references to this spiritual union abound in the liturgy and in the rule. Personally, the idea strikes me as kinky, and therefore borderline blasphemy. The church as the bride of Christ doesn't do much for me either.

I can visualize the church as the body of Christ quite easily though. Picturing whether I am a fingernail vs a hangnail gives me great delight. Most days I am probably both.

The inquisition is over and I am not banished to the netherworld (yet). All agreed to wholeheartedly support my next step in the process... making it legal. Wahoo!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Be content with what you have...

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Today's Gospel is the one where Jesus has the (dubious) honor of being invited to a fancy dinner party. He knows he's being watched and judged... someone wants to trip him up, pull him down a notch or two. This is one of the things I love about Jesus: he's not afraid to step in it. And he's not afraid to sling it if the going gets tough.

He tells a parable and gives some advice: Sit at the lowest place. That way you don't run the risk of humiliation if someone with more prestige arrives (fashionably late) and you have to give up the choice seat,.. and end up by the bathroom or the kitchen.

I'm not sure how that works today. Sometimes there are place cards, but I've seen people swap them so they didn't get stuck sitting beside the boring aunt. If there are designated tables, the first to arrive take the chairs facing the stage. Nobody tells them to give way to the latecomers. There is no "Friend, come up higher." in our first-come-first-serve culture.

That doesn't mean the spirit of the lesson needs to be lost. Our celebrant distilled the reading into one simple thought: be content with what you have. He equated accepting life as it's given us, not as we wish it to be, as obedience. That's a new twist on the word for me. In some ways I'm pretty good at taking life as it comes... making lemonade out of lemons is an art form I've perfected. But there's more to accepting the hand we're dealt than making lemonade.

Taking the lowest place out of a misguided belief that, as a result, a greater honor will be conferred doesn't really capture the spirit of being in the lowest place. If you know that by doing it you'll gain glory and honor in heaven, then it's simply deferred gratification. Deferred glorification.

I think the pain of being lowly is part of the mystery. That's where God is in the created order. If we really want to meet God face to face, then we have to face our own imperfections and flawed motivations... life as it is, not as we wish it to be.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Let down

The down side to three days of frenzied productivity, is of course, the sense of blah when it's back to business as usual. There's a subtle resentment that creeps in... instead of being grateful for the three days to do whatever my heart and hands desired, I'm grumpy that it didn't last longer, irritated that the normal routine has taken away my large chunks of uninterrupted time. This too shall pass.

I have a lot to show for my time: projects completed that have been sitting around for ages, new ideas fleshed out in surprising ways... and a good bit of new stuff that's almost, but not quite, finished.

September always feels more productive to me anyway. Years of back-to-school anticipation left an indelible mark on my psyche. I always looked forward to going back to school. Summer was a time of boredom then. But even though I'm no longer bored in the summer, I still look forward to fall. I'm so old fashioned. I think school should start after labor Day and women should put away their white shoes.