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: 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
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


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


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. . 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


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.