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


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