Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

Our celebrant this morning gave us a mini-sermon that struck home...

"Today is a time to reflect, he said, "on the blessings of this past year, but also on the challenges we have survived and endured." It's a good way to put it... describing a year that for so many has been fraught with illness, loss, unwanted change and heavy burdens. War continues to erupt in all the usual places, the economy is still tanked, and even with a hopeful inauguration ahead in January, there's a lot of hard work and sacrifice before us to turn any of it around.

In my own little corner of the globe we've had our share of trauma, and our extended families continue to need prayers for health issues, job security and a little extra courage to face the challenges of 2009.

Our celebrant on Christmas Eve elaborated on the angel's message to "fear not..." because, as he said, "fear gets us nowhere." So true. So on this New Year's Eve, the message is similar: Fear Not. Look at all we have survived, all we have endured. Look at all the blessings we have received in the wake of all the change. 

It's all a piece. And we are all in it together.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

stood up

When I was in college, occasionally instructors were late for class, and students were required to wait a certain length of time for them to show up, depending upon their status. If he (or she) were a professor, it was ten minutes. If a doctor, then twenty.

We waited fifteen this morning for our celebrant, who never did arrive. My guess is he forgot... there's a lot of that going around, especially here at our convent. But on Sunday, and on this, the first Sunday after Christmas, it was a bigger deal than usual. Our sister in charge of music had to forego all of the Christmas hymns she had planned, as we scrambled to make do with a modified "deacon's" mass. However, a couple of us had specifically requested a certain hymn, so after communion we all opened our books to 112... In the Bleak Midwinter... that haunting poem by Christina Rossetti. 

At breakfast I was saying that there are actually two versions, although only one appears in the hymnbook. Except I couldn't get the tune we'd just been singing out of my head. So I searched on YouTube. Most everyone sings the Hymnbook version, but I found a couple of the other one I remembered. Here you go...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

In about an hour our "Midnight Mass" will begin at 8:00 PM. It is a concession for the elders who can no longer stay up til the wee hours and still function the next day. Neither can I, actually, and I am grateful for this relaxed schedule (well, okay, not exactly relaxed) but much less pressure than in Christmases past. Soon the celebrant will bless the creche and lay the baby in the manger. Here's what our baby looks like...

Blessings to you all

Sunday, December 21, 2008


We're decorating early (for nuns) this year. Used to be Christmas Eve Day was the day for decorating the world.

But here today, we set up the creche in the morning, attached the wreaths to the cross and the front door and we'll start trimming the tree in another half an hour. All that to say that the last-minute flurry of things to be done will be a little less complicated for those of us actually doing the doing. Wahoo! 

"K.I.S.S... or Keep It Simple, Sister" is our motto this year. We'll see how that goes. Over the years traditions develop in any family or community, and somewhere along the way those little extra touches that one person added one year become cemented in the communal memory and then that extra little something becomes a MUST DO.

Not this year. The creche and the tree are the priorities for decorating. Cookies for the Wassail Party on Christmas Eve are already in the works,  we'll have a big dinner on Christmas Day, and that will be it. 

Meanwhile, there are groceries to buy, laundry to be folded, and menus to be planned. Life is good.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 14th

It's Advent III already. (The one with the pink candle)
How did the time fly by so fast?

It's creativity week starting today. (relaxed schedule, large blocks of time... 
time for cartoonz and art)

I'm the birthday girl today.
(Chinese take-out for supper... and wine!)

I think today must be a good day to be alive...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

cosmic laws

Some of the ironies of life on this planet are a joy to analyze but a pain to live through. They are what I call the ironic cosmic laws.

I was talking with someone earlier today and said, "There seems to be some law about taking time off... you have to work twice as hard both before you leave and after you come back to pay for it." That was always true (for me) in the corporate world, but it never seemed to be that way for my various bosses. They would schedule their vacations/out-of-town trips always when we were at our busiest, and I would work twice as many hours to make up for them being away.

Yet the law that says making up for lost time takes longer than if you'd been working steadily... what should that be called? It ought to have a name... like the law of thermodynamics or gravity or the Doppler effect... the law of inverse time-warp-expansion... something. Whatever we call it, it seems to be true. I took a week of retreat time last week and ended up working longer hours before and after, which leads to the next cosmic law of crash and burn.

I would not describe my retreat time at Holy Cross as a "mountain-top" experience. I've had very few of those in my life, and I definitely remember them. But the time there was certainly special, sacred, and obviously exactly what I needed. You'd think I'd come home rested and relaxed and blissed out to the extent that nothing much would bother me. WRONG.

Everything bothers me. Well most everything. I am irritable, easily annoyed and can't seem to find me feet now that I'm home. A week of silence with no major responsibilities has spoiled me... ruined me for a life of loving service. On top of that, the sisters who covered my back while I was away are tired. They want to slack a bit, get some relief. And I'm in no condition to jump in with a smile on my face or a song in my heart. What's that law called? It's not really crash and burn. Crash and burn is when you work so hard so long that you just wear out... emotionally and physically and spiritually. I've been in retreat for a week. Why should I feel like I'm in some post-traumatic-stress depressed state? But I do. Definitely.

Not much incentive for my sisters to send me off again any time soon...

Monday, December 08, 2008

How do you measure a year?

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear...
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure... measure a year?

Happy Anniversary to Me :)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

closet hermit?

For all the words that can be used to describe a retreat, for me (this time) the word has been seclusion. The desire, the palpable need for isolation has been creeping up on me slowly, probably without my even noticing... until this week... when my time could take almost any form I wished, (except talking of course) I found I had no wish to walk outdoors, to explore nature or even the bookshelves. I had no desire to eat my meals with other people, even when they were in silence. I ate alone and quickly, and came back each time with relief and gratitude to the two rooms and a bath which had graciously been provided for me to use.

Solitude in such a deep form is not necessarily available in community. We do things together... eat, pray, work, recreate. There is plenty of time alone, but it is broken up every day by times of togetherness. This is what I have not had this week: togetherness. Even in chapel there is an empty seat between me and the brothers. I am cut off, an observer. It should not have been a surprise that this would be exactly what I needed, but I wasn't prepared for how strongly I would guard and protect it for myself. At home I am much more available if someone needs me for something. Here I was a specter in the halls.

Tomorrow it ends. I'm not at all sure how that will be. Guess I'll find out tomorrow. :)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

fuzz around the edges

I'm always surprised when familiar things in unfamiliar places have more impact. Something about the slight jolt of not knowing exactly what will happen next keeps me a little more alert, a little more open to the present moment. After all that's where we supposedly meet God.

The story goes that God's name is "I Am." Not I was or I will be... So, we cannot meet in the past nor in the future. Only in the present moment. At times I think I have remembered God in the past... if time was linear before my birth. And I have had lucid dreams of seeing God in a time that is part of my linear future, but those probably don't count. 

The special impact has affected me in chapel here at Holy Cross. Of course I am familiar with the Eucharist and the Divine Office, with the flow of how they go—but all monastic orders take the skeletons of these and flesh them out as they see fit. The chanting is different, the pauses and times of silence vary, standing and sitting are not the same. And I am up in the choir with the monks, not exactly anonymous. I am probably a little more than alert.

Alert in chapel, yes, but the rest of my day has fuzz around the edges. I am blurred by the wealth of so much time with no special obligations. I am knitting a scarf, reading two books, playing with art on my laptop. I dress in habit for Morning Prayer, Eucharist and Evening Prayer, but the rest of the day I am in sweat pants and my snuggly bedroom slippers. I feel rested and energized, but not ready to get any shows on the road. Nope, this is just fine the way it is. Here's something I was working on today... it's called hands to receive and bless.

Monday, December 01, 2008

long retreat

[ri-treet]   noun or verb
evacuation, flight, withdrawal—an asylum, (as for the insane...) a period of retirement for religious exercises and meditation... or
to withdraw, retire, or draw back, esp. for shelter or seclusion.

All of those definitions apply. It's been a long and arduous year. Not a bad year, by any means, but definitely busy. I'm ready for this.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine was rededicated yesterday and most of us attended. The place with packed with clergy, religious, visiting dignitaries. Even our two elders were there, which required the aide, Access-A-Ride, walker and cane, as well as someone to keep an eye out for mishaps and misplaced belongings. 

We have had strong connections with the Cathedral from the very beginning of our order, even though it is not necessarily our parish church. The celebration was long and lovely, but attending the service meant I was very delayed in my departure to Holy Cross.

By subway, train and taxi... I finally arrived last night after dark, in the pouring rain. Talk about shelter. I was greeted with hugs and offers of food and a small glass of the last of their Thanksgiving wine... (they know the way to a girl's heart.)

I settled in to what seems like a palatial suite... a bedroom, bath and sitting room combined. There is a desk, wireless access, and a bookcase with some interesting titles, a little door out to a garden. I may just fast all week and never leave my suite. (Right.)

I slept late this morning and only woke up when I realized I was having anxiety dreams... dreaming about talking when I should have been silent, shopping when I should have been praying. The brain is a whacky instrument. My retreat plans are flexible but shopping at Woodbury Common never entered my mind. Yet in my dream, there I was, trying on some haute couture jacket that looked ridiculous on me. 

I have not mentioned Advent, although I've been looking forward to that as much as I have this retreat. This year one of my images can be seen on Episcopal Cafe's website for the week of Advent I. Take a peek.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The day after Thanksgiving

Yesterday at dinner we were explaining to a guest what we do here on the day after Thanksgiving.

We take the day as a silent retreat day. For some sisters that means catching up on sleep, for others reading or meditation, but for all of us it means no chatter in the elevator or in the hallways. Except for Morning and Evening Prayer, we spend the day in silence. One sister described it as a blessing and a privilege of the monastic life. She's right about that.

Unlike the frenetic shopping days of my past (especially when the kids were small), when hitting the K-Mart at 6:00 AM was the first order of the day, I have mostly puttered about in my office and cell. I am cleaning up, since I leave Sunday afternoon for my annual eight-day retreat at Holy Cross monastery. Packing, organizing and a last minute "to-do" list have taken up most of the morning, as I decide what books to read and creative projects to work on while I'm there. For me, retreat days always involve some sort of creative project, even if it's only knitting a few rows on a scarf or baby bootie. I will probably take some knitting with me to Holy Cross, along with my laptop and a slew of images I've collected for a Book of Hours project I want to work on.

But old habits die hard, and the day after Thanksgiving used to be the day I tackled my enormous Christmas card list, sometimes drawing and water coloring my own cards. My list now is less than a dozen, but I still think of today as the day to start. 

Thursday, November 27, 2008

To all my family, far and near,
blood of my blood, heart of my heart...
wishing you Blessings today and forever...

Monday, November 24, 2008

minor rant

When companies buy each other out, often the consumer is the one who loses. A few years ago, the great printer/copier mogul Xerox bought out another printer company Tektronics. I happen to be a huge fan of Tektronics printers. In the mid 90s I used a wonderful solid-wax printer at the ad agency where I worked, and when I began a free-lance business of my own, I bought the exact same model. That was January 1998. Each year I purchased the service agreement, because parts have a habit of wearing out and breaking down, and when I joined the convent I brought that printer with me. 

I was working on a project for one of the sisters when it had a major meltdown, and the technician, although he got it running again, advised me to buy the new and improved model. He explained that the model I used was not new when I bought it, had been discontinued. Parts were hard to come by, and eventually it would die. That was the summer of 2002. Since the technology had improved and prices had dropped, (don't you love when that happens?) and I still had money in the bank, I followed his advice and purchased the new printer. 

Then Xerox bought out Tektronics. Xerox has kept up the service agreement on this printer until this year. When the renewal didn't come in the mail I called them to ask why... and was informed they no longer offer a service agreement on my printer because it is obsolete. 

Just like that. The printer works fine. But six years is the limit. My apple computer (a Power Macintosh 800) from 1998 still runs like a champ. I don't use it now for anything except scanning cartoons, but when I crank it up, it works. That's ten years of faithful service by a product who's company is still apple. Not that they would fix it if it broke today... probably not.

So what's my point? I'm not sure exactly, except that we expect our products to break, to have a limited shelf life now. And I still have tools my grandmother gave me that still work after a hundred years of service.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christ the King

Our celebrant mentioned that she felt it was fitting that Christ the King Sunday come at this time of year, when the nights are long and the days cold. "We need some hope, some light in the darkness—to be reminded of who is actually in charge", she said.

This week is the end of the church year; next Sunday we'll start all over again with Advent, when we focus directly on the bleakness of our world and our hope for some heavenly intervention that will bring us comfort and joy.

Wars still rage in several parts of the globe, starvation and disease are commonplace, if not here in the United States, certainly in Africa and other third world countries. Our own economic recession-going-on-depression is reason enough to look for meaning that doesn't come from money or possessions. 

Today's Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46) speaks of a God who values acts of kindness and charity to the least likely suspects in which to see the face of Jesus. To serve those we don't even recognize as Christ... that is what God values. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

growing old is hell

My mother used to look me in the eye and say "Growing old is hell." She had been one of those heavy duty wonder-women in her youth, could lift heavy furniture with the best of them. Once a cousin marveled at how strong she was and called her "Tarzan" for the rest of his life.

Then she aged. Her health was poor, her strength was gone, her ambition went with it, and all the activities that had once been fun were gradually an ordeal. I would come over to her apartment to visit and end up washing the stack of dishes that were sitting in the sink. She had enough energy to cook, but not clean up afterwards. When she died, I found two dishpans full of dirty pots and pans under the bed in her guest room. She had not wanted me to know just how frail she was becoming.

I'm not there yet. I have a trick knee that gives me trouble from time to time, and a hip that rejects the cold damp weather, but mostly I'm healthy and still full of myself. I see small changes though. Irksome changes. Just recently I've noticed I've lost strength in my left hand. I can't open jars like I once could, not even with all the tricks I know. Damn.

As I've mentioned before, we have four elderly sisters living in the city, in varying stages of ability. One needs help just to walk around: to the bathroom, down the hall, to chapel. She uses a walker, but even with that she's wobbly and careens off the walls. So she is supposed to beep whoever is on duty, even in the middle of the night, to come and help her. She hates it. It upsets her to be a burden to her sisters... to have to wake them out of their rest to help her take seven steps to the toilet. So... she sometimes goes by herself and just doesn't tell anybody. We can tell in the morning if her walker is in a slightly different position, that she's been up in the night without help. Then the lectures begin. It's one of those lose-lose situations. Nobody's happy.

In December we will qualify for 24 hour care for her. It may help and it may not. Her sisters will sleep through the night, but she, who must rely on someone to watch over her, will still not regain her independence or sense of productivity. She will still think she is a burden.

I often get up in the night to use the bathroom... it's one of those growing old things. But I don't turn on a light. I'm barely awake, and have no trouble falling right back to sleep. How different that must be when it becomes a major production with a cast of characters. My mother had it right.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

the low-risk spiritual life

Today's Gospel reading (Matthew 25:14-30) is yet another of those parables I never liked. (You might wonder, if I hate so many of Jesus' parables, why I'm even a Christian...) Yeah, I know. Just consider it a Gospel mystery.

Our celebrant this morning gave one of the standard explanations for this parable. I've heard it before, but it's always good to be reminded of truth. I sometimes like to forget the truth, stretch the truth, bend it, make it suit my own desires. (What... nobody ever does that but me?)

"Why do you suppose," our celebrant asked, "Jesus was so rough on the one-talent-person?"
He went on to describe a typical one-talent-person... and came to the conclusion that most of us are exactly that. There are not so many gifted people in the world that are going to make the cover of Time, win a Pulitzer prize, or be remembered into the next century. Most of us are average. That's what average means. But the anonymity of being average can lead to the incorrect conclusion that whatever we have to offer is so small, it won't be missed.

I won't use my talent badly, but neither will I risk it. (After all I only have one.) So we play it safe, don't hurt anybody, keep a low profile, get by with minimum effort and minimum trust. He talked of the low-risk spiritual life: "where we neither sin nor love much, acting not with faith, but with prudence." These are the people Jesus is concerned with reaching in this story.

For myself, I always figured the poor guy got a bum rap. If telling your master you think he's "a hard man, reaping what you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter." isn't taking a risk, I don't know what is. "I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours." That sounds pretty gutsy to me. But after all, he's backed into a corner by the other two highly successful (and talented) servants, what does he have to lose now? 

I was afraid... That's the crux of the problem. We have too many tales of a wrathful and vengeful God that we forget the part about mercy. (Not that this story shows much mercy either.) But God is essentially saying that our faith in His mercy is what will produce it. That rings a bell, doesn't it? How many times does the word faith play a part in Jesus healings, stories, and rebukes? O you of little faith... if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you faith has made you well. Seems like he's trying to tell us that faith, in and of itself, is mighty important.

So the point of the parable, then, is to use what we have, whether we have a lot or a little. Hoarding won't work in the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, it will get you thrown out.

Friday, November 14, 2008

fifteen seconds of fame

Yes, I know I didn't tell a soul what we were doing. (It was a secret sort of) But yesterday we helped celebrate Whoopie Goldberg's birthday on the TV show The View.
You do remember the movie Sister Act?!?
They were nice enough to send us a picture. Here we are:

If you want to see the show here's the link. We're in segments 2 and 5.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Choose Today

Our celebrant on Sunday took his sermon from the Old Testament Lesson (Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25), rather than from the Gospel. I, for one, breathed a sigh of relief. I'm sick of that Gospel about the five wise virgins pitted against the five foolish virgins... I don't care how you spin it, there's just something wrong there. 

I'm currently reading The Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault. She mentions this Gospel and describes it as more of a koan than a parable, explaining that these teachings are not about the outer activities they describe, but are about inner transformation. Of course the wise virgins couldn't share their oil, she says, because the oil stands for some quality created inside us "by our own conscious striving." She also goes on to explain that we wouldn't get that connection unless we understood that Jesus is teaching from a specific Hebrew Wisdom Tradition.

Interesting. That falls right into place with another book I'm reading by John Shelby Spong: Jesus for the Non-Religious.

Both authors assert that Jesus cannot be fully understood until we place him in the Jewish context he was born into. Okay, I'm game for that. But... both books are also difficult reading for different reasons. Spong, already in the first chapter, has eliminated the wise men, the virgin Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem and all the singing angels. Just think of all the Christmas carols we'd have to scrap if we all agreed he's accurate in his assessment. Just think of all the amazing music and artwork over the centuries, not to mention my own lame attempts to portray these miracles. We'd probably have to eliminate Christmas too... and that's my favorite holiday. 

Not that I don't believe Spong will give adequate and excellent examples of why Jesus should still be revered as God's son; I have complete faith that he will. I'm just too blown away at the moment by losing all the lovely mythology around the birth of the Christ, (whether it's true or not.)

But back to Sunday's sermon. Joshua charges the people of Israel: "Choose for yourself whom you will serve." And he gives them a lot of choices. There were nearly three thousand minor deities available to them in that time, a time when they believed that the power struggles in the heavenly realms directly affected the outcomes on the earthly plane. The more worshipers a god could command, the more powerful he or she would be. As I was listening, I realized just how awful a choice Joshua was asking at that time. The God of Israel, by His own admission, was a jealous God. God was a green-eyed monster? You read some of the Old Testament accounts and that's not too far-fetched. Makes you want to think twice if this is the one you will serve. Yet they all agreed. The faithfulness of Israel, whatever their motivations, has given us the world we now inhabit. 

We too, have that choice. The words choose today ring the truest, though. It is a daily choice. Every day. Day-in and day-out. Saying yes once won't cut it. It has to be a vow renewed with every breath. Choose today whom you will serve.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

High Hopes

The words History in the Making have been true for much of my lifetime. Civil Rights, Viet Nam, a Man on the Moon... pocket calculators, the internet... and now another chance for a nation, our nation, once thought to be great and noble, to prove itself again to the world.

The country voted in droves. I even voted, and I have not felt the desire or need to vote in fifteen years. In my mind, Hope is what this election was and is about. We hope we can regain the dignity, the purpose, the ideals we say we uphold. 

Time will tell, of course. But without that hope there is only apathy. And we (I) have been apathetic far too long. Did I mention this is the first election in which the candidate I voted for has actually won? That makes a bit of a difference in my attitude towards voting.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

All Souls

We have a tradition in our community on All Souls Day, (which we are observing today instead of two days ago): we read the names of every sister who has died in community, beginning with our founder Mother Ruth. Next come the names of all our relatives and close friends who have died... for example, my mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, etc... and finally the names of all who have died in the past year for whom we have said or sung requiems. 

It's a long list.

Names that were high points of mourning several months ago suddenly bring tears again, even though they have not been specifically on my mind since we laid them to rest. Why go through all that? Why live in the past that cannot be changed, only remembered with pain or nostalgia?

Two reasons I can think of off the bat: one... these people were important to us. My litany of names may mean nothing to the sister standing next to me, but she holds me in prayer and comfort, just as I hold her when her names are read. It's something tangible we do for each other, we remember together, pay tribute together, pray for their souls together.

The second reason was mentioned in the sermon Saturday (the part I never got to in my post yesterday.) We ask the saints to pray for us, and we, in turn, pray for them. Is this foolishness or the mysterious reality of the timeless nature of creation? I cannot answer that for you, of course. (I can barely answer it for myself.) But I know that these people I have loved live on in me... some in my DNA, some in my memory, some in their teachings that moved me forward on my own path to God.

Remembering the dead is nice, but it is not enough. I thought of my grandmother today, who always worked the polls on election days. Both she and my grandfather were working class Democrats and took great delight in announcing at supper "I voted a straight Democratic ticket." If my aunt and uncle, the Republicans in the family were there, there would be heated discussion about choosing a candidate on his own merits rather than his party. I was a child, and listened to these discussions with little interest, yet they stayed with me... even as I voted today. 

When Kennedy won the presidency my grandparents were dead. They would have had to choose between voting for a Democrat or not voting for a Catholic, and I have no clue which allegiance or prejudice would have won out. Today the issue is partly religious, but much more about race. Those who struggled hard in the 50's and 60's to bring Civil Rights to all of America see this election as a culmination of their efforts. My vote will be one that supports those efforts as well. My dear friend Robert Dubie was a freedom rider in the 60's. His was one of my names read at mass this morning. They live on in us. Of that I have no doubt.

Monday, November 03, 2008

reinventing the wheel

I've heard a couple of good sermons over the past few days... 

We don't usually have mass on Saturday, but one of our Bishop Visitors was here last week and it was All Saints Day, a major feast day in the liturgical year. A sermon about saints and prayer and time travel... pretty interesting stuff. 

The lessons for yesterday, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, most people probably didn't get to hear, as our celebrant pointed out. Most people in church yesterday were hearing Saturday's lessons because most churches were celebrating All Saints Day. Yesterday was really All Souls Day, which some will celebrate today, but we (in my community) won't celebrate it until tomorrow, because we have today off. (How's that for time travel?)

The Gospel (Matthew 23:1-12) comes smack dab in the middle of all the "Woe to You" warnings... Jesus warning the Pharisees and scribes about how they will be judged in the Kingdom of God. But in this passage he stops and says essentially, Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because the Pharisees aren't practicing what they teach doesn't mean their teachings aren't valid.

It's a good point to remember any time. Not exactly the same as Don't shoot the messenger, but in that vein. The third cliché that comes to mind in all of this is reinventing the wheel.

Both celebrants talked about our church's preoccupation with the past. When we celebrate the saints of Christian history, we dwell in their faithfulness and glories. What does it have to do with us? Our past is pretty flawed, our saints were pretty flawed... why not just ditch it all and start over? 

Some are, in fact, doing this. Starting over. It's not surprising or fresh news that membership in churches and religious communities has dwindled over the past decade. Church attendance is down across the board. Monastic communities are dying out. Yet there are also movements to build new communities, based on new rules, new ideals. There is ample evidence that the hunger for spirituality is as strong as ever. But whatever is on the menu of the institutional church is simply not what people can swallow.

Everything has a life cycle. Joan Chittister wrote volumes about the life cycle of monastic communities. She had some excellent insights and warnings of her own when it comes to the need for transformation of stale and outdated practices and beliefs. 

As a community, we begin again to grapple with our corporate identity, as we also remain focused on individual ministries and obligations. It's a fine line. The company of saints provide not just a background, but a "cloud of witnesses" for our struggles today.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

quotes that cut the mustard

"And when we would make much of that which cannot matter much to thee, forgive us." ~John Elbridge Hines

I came across this quote in one of Bishop Spong's newsletters. Somehow I got on his mailing list even though I have yet to read any of his books. We just acquired Jesus for the Non-Religious for our library, but another sister has been hogging it is still reading it.

A conversation earlier this morning caused this quote to jump out at me. (Really jump out.) Judgment is probably my worst stumbling block in my personal search for compassion. I realize I'm not alone in this, that I was taught from childhood that judgment was a good thing: it was how I compared myself to those around me, to what was expected of me, to what I expected of others... a simple formula to see how we all were doing.

But as I deepen into this new life, I keep finding that judgment, in and of itself, is like quick sand: You step in it and it's not that easy to step out.

What really matters to God? Does God really care that the Epistle candle be lighted first and snuffed out last? I was taught that those little details were important when I was trained to be the sacristan. When I see someone doing it backwards, or snuffing the candles one-handed while they reach for the books on the altar with the other hand, my first response is irritation, not gratitude. I do not think, "Oh thank you for putting out the candles," I think, "You are doing it wrong."

I am working on this, but it can't be from the outside in. Nothing will change if I continue to judge myself as wrong for judging someone else as wrong. It doesn't work that way. Forgiveness is the key. And as I am finding out, again and again... it has always been the key, will always be the key. So, thanks, Bishop Hines. (If you've not heard of him, he was Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1965 to 1974, championing ecumenical and civil rights changes, and women's ordination, to name a few.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

profound platitudes...

"The hurrier I go, the behinder I get." Someone said that in conversation the other evening, and I had to smile. I don't remember the first time I heard the expression, but it stuck with me, the way an irritating jingle from some old commercial will pop into your mind... and stick there. forever.

It doesn't fit me exactly (at least not right at the moment.) I'm treading water pretty well. Every so often I gulp a mouthful, but for the most part I'm still breathing. Still there are lots of things I'd like to do that there's no time for, and lots of things I'd like to do that I'm carefully carving out time for. Balance never was my forté and probably never will be, but with the help of a daily "To Do" list and a schedule that allows for small blocks of time between prayers, cooking, doorbell, and my work outside, I'm managing. I'd like to write more often, but am finding I have less to say, or at least not enough time to say it properly.

I was at a friend's profession Friday night. She and I actually joined this community as postulants together and we were comrades/combatants our first year. We were clothed in the same ceremony and then split up for three months when I went off to Wyoming on a special project. When I returned, we had a few more months together, but then she left us and went to another order. This happens a lot in the religious life. People move around. A Vocation is not just a call to serve God, it is a call to a specific community, and that's not as easy to discern as the God-wants-you part.

My friend and I have kept in touch sporadically, which isn't always easy either. She has her life and I have mine, but for the big celebrations it's always important to be there, for each other, as a witness to friendship, to commitment, to celebrate the joy of new directions and new growth.

The best laid plans of mice and men... another expression that sticks, and in the case of her Profession ceremony, was definitely on target. A traffic accident in the city caused two (of an expected three) associates-to-be to be stranded somewhere on the highway, so they missed their reception ceremony. The one who showed up was received. The next plan-gone-awry occurred when the preacher was likewise lost in transit, and the Gospelor was asked to preach an impromptu homily. He did an admirable job, reminding us that God is spontaneous, and probably not nearly as serious as we package Him... that we should be more playful when we approach our lives of service, because a sense of humor will get us through a lot. The evening's lesson from Ezekiel concerning the water flowing from the temple was a case in point: he explained that in the desert, water is power. But if we think of water instead as blessing, a blessing for all, not just those in control of the resource, we will approach our ministries in a whole new way. He spoke of my friend as a wonderful reminder to him that God is playful, and urged her to continue to remind us of that truth.

The service moved along and we were just starting communion, when the preacher arrived. My friend stepped out in front of the altar and said, "Wouldn't it be playful... if we heard two sermons tonight?" Everyone laughed. And so we did. Finally at the end, one of the other associates-to-be had also arrived, so we went through the reception ceremony again at the end of the service.

Spontaneity. They lived it Friday night and it was a blessing and a reminder to me. So much so, that when another friend, who lives with my sisters up in Brewster, asked me to ride back to their convent instead of staying overnight, I said yes... and surprised them with an impromptu visit.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hard lessons

Last Sunday I attended mass at my old church in Jacksonville, Florida. The new rector, who I'd just met two days before at the rehearsal dinner, sidled up to me and said "I don't really like today's lessons. Why don't you preach the sermon?" I laughed. I actually hadn't read Sunday's lessons yet, so I was curious to hear them, and then to see how he preached them. 

Ah yes ... the vineyard owner, both versions: the original from Isaiah, and the one Jesus told as a parable. It's always good to hear his source material in context with the Gospel reading. I often forget Jesus drew from Torah for many of his stories. He didn't operate in a holy vacuum, making up everything he said from scratch.

The preacher began by talking about prescription drugs and their possible side effects... how Madison Avenue has made a killing with advertising for prescription medications of all kinds, (not just the ones to enhance your physical abilities in bed.) The theory is you'll go to your doctor and ask for the drug. If the doctor prescribes it, then you'll also get a large piece of paper with all the possible side effects: nausea, headache, diarrhea (he didn't use that word) and muscle pain. It comes down to the fact that you're betting that the meds will do their job without you having to deal with the side effects. His analogy was that everything in the lessons for Sunday dealt with choice and the side effects of those choices.

In the Isaiah vineyard story God built, planted and took great care to tend His vineyard. But instead of getting a nice crop of grapes, he got sour ones. In that version it's clear that Israel, the people, are the grapes. They've entered into a relationship with God based on a covenant, where both parties have made promises, have responsibilities. God keeps His side of the covenant and expects His people to keep theirs. But they don't. Instead they are wild grapes, a people who rebel and don't honor the relationship.

While the imagery is the same for the Gospel, it's now a case of vineyard owner versus tenants. Still, there's the underlying idea of covenant: it's his vineyard after all, and the owner expects to collect his share of the harvest. But... when he sends his servants to collect, the tenants beat them up, and some servants are actually killed. After all this, the owner says to himself, "I'll send my son. Surely they will respect him." But they don't.

Let me stop right here and spin off on a tangent. Am I the only person who's ever thought the owner is naive? These tenants have just killed his servants. He did nothing. They think the place is theirs. Why would they even hesitate to kill the son? I must be missing something historical, contextual, huge... because I don't get it. 

Except of course, I do. 

The analogy that God is patient and forgiving and loving and full of mercy, giving us the benefit of the doubt time after time is clear. But both these lessons have a warning. In both these stories, there's an end to the mercy. In the first, the vineyard is trashed and allowed to be overrun with weeds. In the second, it will be given to new tenants. In the early Christian movement, they probably thought they were the new tenants. A lot of us probably still think that's the case. But the truth remains that Christians behave with the same rebelliousness, greed and self-absorption as Israel did in Isaiah's time.

Our priest said, "These are hard lessons." 

Why? Well, first of all nobody likes to admit guilt. "Not my responsibility" or "I didn't know." are two of the standard excuses when a catastrophe occurs. Take your pick... the latest debacle on Wall Street will do. "I'm not greedy like those guys. I'm just trying to get along in this dog-eat-dog world, make a decent living, give my kids a better life." 

Except... we've all bought into some pretty lame substitutes for a better life. Our kids sit in front of TVs that tell them they'll be prettier, more popular more in... with anything and everything from designer jeans to the latest Barbie, and adults will be happier, more attractive, more successful... with a bigger house, a cushier car and prescription drugs to enhance our physical abilities in bed. We didn't have to buy that story. But we all did (and do) to some degree. So here come the side effects.

"The Kingdom of God will be taken away and given to others." In our day and age, how does that work? On Sunday, the priest had his own idea about how it happens. He thinks it won't be a drastic thing... more like erosion. Certain things lapse and ethics become lax. He wondered aloud how many people ask themselves "What does God want from me?" rather than "What do I want?" Not so many. I know that even in the convent it's an issue. We, who have given our lives to God are still plagued with the "I wants" instead of the "God wants" or even worse, we pretend that God wants what we want. 

And yet, in times of disaster, it seems to me easier to hear the hard lessons, to swallow the medicine that will make us well again. We are a greedy people. Yet when that greed is paying off, who wants to hear it's wrong? Only when the house of cards begins to tumble do we buck up and get clear about our priorities. Maybe now is the best time to hear these lessons.

Monday, October 06, 2008

coming home

They say you can never come home. Depends on how you define "home". I've had many homes in my lifetime and some were harder to come back to than others. 

My home now is the convent. But that's not exactly accurate... my home now is a group of women who have chosen a life that's off the beaten path... a much simpler way of living than what I've found on this vacation. 

Specifically I'm referring to the act of living and moving and being in a complicated world. My world now is way less complicated than it was before, not just in not having to decide what to wear in the morning, but in the intangible emotional choices. 

I find I can no longer hold together the various strands of subtle innuendos and personality quirks, hostile grudges from past wounds, constant struggles to carry (and manage) the baggage of childhood. I say the wrong things in the wrong places. (Well, actually that's not new for me.) But it's different now, because for the most part, it's unwillingly and unwittingly done. 

The women I live with have quirks in their personalities, of course. But we are more transparent. In the convent there's no need to posture or impress, no need for lots of words to describe the indescribable... and as a result, there's no need to posture or impress the outside world either.

So, for the most part, I have little or nothing to say. Except when I open my mouth to make an observation... and experience the backlash that it was the wrong thing at the wrong place and the wrong time. Then I'm awash in guilt for not knowing better, not remembering some topic was taboo ground, not discerning that one person needs assurance, while another needs to hear a truth nobody else will tell them. It's a complicated world and I no longer live in it.

So... I'm at the airport, waiting for my flight to my less complicated world. They have free wireless in this airport, and I'm taking advantage of the novelty of being plugged into my email (and the internet) in a public place. I've just experienced a hectic week of wedding preparations... parties and receptions and rehearsal dinners, the wedding itself, and the reception and another party yesterday. Each individual event was carefully planned and lovingly executed, the bride and groom are delightful people with a wonderful array of friends and family. But when you put all those events and people together, it was exhausting. 

This coming week I'll be doing some of it all over again as my sisters and I prepare for another Life Profession next Saturday. Not so many parties, but certainly the excitement of the preparations will be the same. They've just announced my flight has been delayed another hour. More time to enjoy the novelty of free internet and airport cuisine.

Monday, September 29, 2008

on your mark... get set...

When I was little I remember using a variety of procrastinating mantras... all were supposed to be preparing me for whatever I was about to do next. "On your mark, get set, go!" was from track (I think) and of course I never ran a single loop of track in my life. It's probably not even called a loop.

Another was: One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and four - to - go! I liked that, you could drag out the inevitable for a long time with that.
The operative word, of course,  was... go

I'm getting ready to go. I leave for the airport tomorrow at oh-dark-thirty, and I'm going through all the preparatory motions of a lifetime of admonitions... don't leave home without clean underwear, don't take a long trip without cleaning your baseboards, never leave dirty dishes in the sink... 

In mid-life I turned those rulings into an art form. I would wash and iron everything I owned and hang it all neatly in the closet. It took days and often a very long night before I could finally pack what I was actually taking with me and leave home. I'm not as compulsive now, but I still have the last load of clothes in the dryer as I write this. Of course I don't have so many clothes now.

My dear friend's daughter is getting married in Florida. My younger son and his family lives in the same city. My times there are always too short, but this time, especially, it will be hard. I'll be gone less than a week this time, and the "wedding of the century" (as it's been dubbed by friends) will take up a lot of that time. I've not seen my grandchildren in almost a year... but I will see them soon.

I have recently acquired eleven boxes of odds and ends, mostly books, from my life before the convent. All the kitchen things have been integrated into our convent or taken to the church pantry where I work. The books are a work in progress... our librarian is sorting through them to select what she wants for the library, the arts and craft books will go to the art room. But some are design and symbol resources, collected over a lifetime, and they are still in my office on a shelf near the computer. Mine!!!! I have to laugh at this reaction, because it's certainly not new. Even though I lived without these resources for six years, I find I still want them for myself. This too shall pass. My suitcase is full, not with my clothes, but with presents for family and friends... from this new hoard of goodies I'd forgotten I even had. It's so much easier to let go of those things. Just not the art resources.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

set up

(Matthew 20:1-16) Our celebrant reminded us this morning, that any time we hear Jesus saying "The kingdom of heaven is like..." (fill in the blank), he really means: this is what the world would be like, our world, if we acted according to God's purpose and not our own. And Jesus' mission, he said, was to bring God's kingdom to earth.

I always feel a little differently about that. Whenever I hear Jesus say "The kingdom of heaven is like..." I know to look out, because he's going to say something that makes no sense, does not seem fair, and will take me a whole lot of contemplation to finally get it. If I ever do finally get it.

Today's Gospel is a prime example. The vineyard manager goes out early in the morning to hire day laborers. After a bit, he sees he needs more help so he goes looking, and hires a few more. And again, and again throughout the day, right up until an hour before quitting time, he hires the last ones he can find. So far so good.

Then he sets them up. Really. He deliberately sets them up, calling them in reverse order to be paid. No sealed envelopes in this company, everybody gets to see what everybody else gets paid. Well look at that! Those guys who only worked one hour just got an entire day's wages. Wahoo! Whoopie! We're gonna get a bonus, nyah nyah nyah..

Only that doesn't happen. The final payout for everybody is one day's pay. Grumble, grumble, grumble. So what's with this? You give those slackers the same as us? And the vineyard owner says, "What? I can't do what I like with what belongs to me? You feel cheated? We contracted for a day's wage for a day's work. That's what you got. Take your money and scram."

Then he proceeds to rub salt on the wound by saying "Maybe you're just jealous because I'm generous." Okay. Intellectually I get it. His money, he can do what he wants. And if I had been one of the five o'clock workers I'd be ecstatic. Maybe feel a little guilty about the other guys with the sunburns, but nevertheless ecstatic.

But what about the dawn workers? I think they have a legitimate gripe. If they had been paid first and sent home none the wiser, wouldn't that have been easier to swallow? Of course word would have spread, but it's going to spread now anyway. 

With my protestant-work-ethic-mentality, all I can think is if I can sleep til noon and I'll still be paid for the whole day, why should I kill myself to get there on time?

Our celebrant told a story from his own experience that helped with an answer. When he first came to New York, he had seen men early in the morning, waiting... They were mostly immigrants, day laborers, waiting for construction foremen to come by in their trucks. A truck would pull up and the driver would roll down his window and hold up two or three fingers, to indicate how many workers he needed. The men would start running. The first ones to the truck were the ones who got the jobs. Jobs were scarce. These men had families to feed. They could not afford to be picky, or late, or slow to move. 

That's a good point. If the whole story is a metaphor for God's abundant grace... and the emphasis is on grace, then none of us can afford to be picky. Or late. Or slow to move. Our souls are on the line. 

If the emphasis is on abundance, though, then gratitude is the only appropriate response. I may have been up since dawn today, but there were times when I grossly overslept. I cannot begrudge another that same grace.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

curve balls

I remember as my mother got older, she would need more time to get herself ready in the morning, more notice when something out of her normal routine would occur. I used to think it was funny. At the time, I could still be ready for work in twenty minutes, and would change plans at the drop of a hat, especially a beach hat.

But now that I live with so many older sisters, I see what a curve ball does to their psyches... it just upends them when something unexpected interrupts their schedule. One of our priests will be moving to Canada soon. One of our older sisters is from Canada, and this morning when he announced at mass that it might be his last time with us, he asked to see her before he left. (She often sleeps late and was not in chapel at the time.)

Simple request, especially since she actually was up when I went to check. But she was not dressed, and could not even contemplate getting dressed at that moment. She didn't want him to see her in a bathrobe, so... the answer was no. 

He understood, because he has his own family Alzheimer situation, but I realized how careful we must all be now... not to promise anything that may seem reasonable to us, but will not be possible for the elders to accommodate.

On the other hand, the two of us who are the "responsible ones" this week, are experiencing our own curve balls. First it was the phone system... down. DSL... down. That's finally been fixed. Our Home Health Aid, who helps with both of the two eldest, will be taking one to the doctor, so we'll have to be more vigilant about the other who will be left unattended. I'm on beeper this week, which means I'm not supposed to leave the house,  but I also must pick up milk and eggs from the Farmer's Market and our CSA share. Sister has three directees and I have one, a new one... and I'm supper cook.  We will be running on empty by nightfall.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

How many times?

(Matthew 18:21-35) This is the parable about forgiveness. Peter asks Jesus how many times must we forgive someone who hurts us? Seven? And... (depending on which translation you read,) the answer is either seventy-seven or seventy times seven,  which would be four hundred and ninety. Either way, the answer certainly implies a bunch of times. That goes against the grain in our society. Someone who keeps forgiving and forgiving and forgiving is usually seen as a pushover. There's an expression: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me. That puts the burden on the victim to make sure the consequences fit the offense... an eye for an eye and all that.

But today's Gospel has left a bitter taste in my mouth for other reasons. Ever since I participated in a Bible study class in my early years as a novice, I've had doubts that Jesus actually said this.( Not the part about seven times seventy, but the part about the king going back on his word and tossing the "wicked slave" into the torture chamber.

Here's why: One of our group posed the question: If the human king in this parable is the stand-in for God, and God can just take back his forgiveness in anger... where does that leave us? I'd never thought of it that way. I'd always thought it was just a story, an object lesson, like my Nana would say the boogyman would get me if I didn't behave. You don't forgive your neighbor and God will get you.

But her question brought up a lot of discussion at the time. In this particular story, the king has already forgiven the first slave his debt. Period. It's only when the other slaves turn him in for not forgiving his own debtor that the king goes berserk and has a hissy-fit... puts all the debt back and sends him to be tortured until he can pay it. This is nonsensical. If the man is in the torture chamber, he's not going to be working off his debt. It's vindictive. Is our God vindictive?

Our celebrant this morning took a different tack. He opened with the acknowledgement that some things are easy to forgive and other things really test us. As he spoke, I thought of all the people who lost friends or family members on 9/11/2001. How each anniversary brings it up all over again... the pain, the loss. Some have been able to forgive, some may never be able to.

He spoke of "the grim burden of not being able to forgive" and I thought of the expression "carry a grudge" in light of his words grim burden. Of course. We carry it. The torture chamber is one of our own making, even though in the parable the king imposes it as a penalty. Perhaps the penalty has always been in place as part of the human condition, and until we can learn the simple but maddeningly difficult lesson, we will continue to blame and accuse and expect payback. And, when it is not forthcoming we will live tortured lives. And even if there is payback... the death penalty for murder, for example... it will never be enough. An eye for an eye never replaces the first eye.

But he went on... "We should always be forgiving," he said, "because we are always in need of forgiveness." Now that's different. Way different. It's different  because it comes from the heart of who we are, no matter how wonderful we'd like to be. And it's is not a threat from a vengeful God, it's a statement of compassion and hope, instructions from a God who wants to help.

Forgive, not because we have been forgiven, but because we'll need to be forgiven. And soon. He asked just how high each of us rated forgiveness. As compared with justice in a world full with violence and evil. That's a sticky one. Both are two sides of the same coin if we are to improve the human condition globally. But our celebrant believes that forgiveness is central to all of it. I agree. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Memorial

I have a friend who's writing a book about 9/11. Well, I'm not exactly sure it's about 9/11, but it's about depression in the aftermath of great disasters, and she saw a lot of depressed people in the aftermath of that one. She was my spiritual director at the time, and we met every month. 

It's been seven years today. I can still remember where I was and what I was doing when I was rocked by the news. I say rocked in retrospect. At the time I was calm. I am usually calm in crisis situations and only fall apart later. 

The problem with my reaction to 9/11 was I could never fall apart... not in the weeks or months that followed, not when I was finally forced to go down there and look at the big hole in the ground, still smoking. I felt something... horror, I think, when I saw scraps of paper still clinging to fire escapes east of Ground Zero, months after the attack. Last year I actually contributed to another friend's art project with that image... the view of a fire escape from below, with a scrap of debris, the actual debris, hanging from one of the rungs.

Seven years and I am finally beginning to feel something. 

I'm almost finished with the book Three Cups of Tea. If you haven't read it yet, (It's been on the Best Seller List, for goodness sake!) It's about one man's passion to bring education to the poorest and most remote villages of Pakistan. Greg Mortenson was in Pakistan when the towers fell. He'd been traveling to and from there for years, building schools one village at a time. He had first hand knowledge that it was not Muslims, nor the people of those countries who were the extremists who had done this.

I was sickened by a lot of what happened after 9/11... fundamentalists crying Armageddon, politicians swooping down on New York City, suddenly their city, to wave the flag, promise retaliation and justice for this heinous crime against our people. I couldn't help thinking: what about our own crimes against the marginalized people of the planet? Wasn't this act of deliberate destruction a symbol that we were not especially innocent? That somebody felt they needed to get our attention regarding our increasing wealth and comfort at everybody else's expense? But that was certainly not a popular opinion then, and is still not. This is America: Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

Except it's the white race that's been free and the other races expected to be brave. For the first time in history a black man has the opportunity to become president. If some crackpot doesn't try to kill him. Crackpots abound. They do not all wear turbans.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

not now and not me

...Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"
and then again: "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" (from Exodus 3:1-15)

Our celebrant reminded us this morning that the whole idea of meeting God face-to-face is not necessarily the pleasant and profoundly uplifting exchange we (naively) think it will be. No, she said, encounters with God happen in unexpected places, at unusual times and in odd ways. The story of Moses and the burning bush can be a paradigm for us: God's will for Moses was not an easy job. And Moses' conversation with God was mostly argument. I think of the line in the Lord's Prayer Thy will be done and my own subsequent response, just not right now, and just not by me

In the Gospel reading (Matthew 12:26) Jesus tells his disciples the hard truth about discipleship: What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? In most of the versions the word soul is used; in some it's substituted by life, meaning the true life. In the Contemporary English Version it says: What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? 

Your soul, your life, your self... these are called forth in encounters with God. Difficult. Uncomfortable. Because God recognizes qualities in us that we cannot recognize. Don't especially want to recognize. Whoever thinks that believing in God is the easy way out of this life is mistaken. But definitely worth the effort.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Book Review

I'm reading a book called 36-Hour Day. Called "the definitive guide to Alzheimer's", it should probably be required reading for all baby-boomers, and their children who will end up watching them deteriorate. It's actually fascinating reading... not only because it helps me understand the odd behaviors of my aging sisters, but also because I recognize myself in the early stages of this process, even though I still function on a reasonably high level. I forget things now. I have to use spellcheck more often. It takes me longer to learn a new task, and I do things on my computer the way I've always done them, not because I can't learn new key commands, but because there's a certain satisfaction in going up to the menu and clicking "save".

I still say Alzheimer's, even though the official designation is Alzheimer Disease (without the 's). I learned Alzheimer's. It would take a lot of energy to learn it without the 's.

There's a cultural more in religious communities that explains why we do certain things the way we do: Because we've always done it that way. It confounds new sisters testing their vocations. They think it's a joke. But it is and it isn't. They cannot understand the stubbornness with which the community expects certain duties and tasks to be performed, certain rituals to be observed.

When this culture clash occurs (and it always does in some form or another) the new recruit will respond in a number of different ways: She gets angry. She argues that there is a better way. She argues that it doesn't matter. She tries to change the community's perception of how it should be done. She does it her own way in spite of the conflict. She does it the community's way but resents the hell out of it. She learns the value of doing it the way we've always done it.

Getting to that final stage... acceptance is one of the necessary steps in a sister's vocational test. Her ego must surrender to the community's established way of life. Many cannot make the leap. It's just too counter-intuitive for a normal 21st-century-conditioned woman.

With our elders, we see them less distracted and upset when they can continue to do things the way they've always done them. There's a certain security in recognizing a cup on the bathroom shelf where it's always been placed. Routine and ritual take on new meaning. The book explains all that. I recommend it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

toot toot

It's been so long since my last cartoon post (way back in January I think) so I feel the need to let those readers who used to visit that site, know that the boys are back.

If you liked the first two series, you might like the third. (Nothing like tooting my own horn.)

Monday, September 01, 2008

what goes around...

My best friend is leaving town in less than a month. She's moving across country to San Francisco, a place I once thought I would be moving to... I was going there to live with a boyfriend. (Who actually turned out to be married.) I didn't move there after all. 

I've visited, though. It's beautiful. Just like my friend. As much as I will miss her, I am so happy for her. She's going to a new job, where it looks like they might actually appreciate her, unlike the sorry excuse for a boss she has now. She has slaved for this guy for years... saved his carcass on many occasions, made him look good to the board of directors, to his constituents and colleagues, to the public and has he ever shown her one tenth of the respect or acclaim she deserves? Of course not. 

She is too capable and even-tempered to be a prima donna, too much of a self-starter and a problem-solver to be a squeaky wheel, has too much dignity to play into his stupid political power ploys. And... in our society it's easy to take advantage of honest, hard-working loyal employees. He did.

But that scenario is about to change. What goes around comes around.

So... Best wishes, bon voyage, good luck and happy trails... I hope I can come visit you in your new digs by the Bay... 

Monday, August 25, 2008


We celebrated our community's "Foundation Day" yesterday. It was my first as a life-professed sister of the community; why that made a difference, I'm not sure exactly. I've been treated like a member since my acceptance as a postulant. But it was different. I told one sister, I used to look at the bricks, now I am one.

Emotionally, it was huge. (I cried.) The four sisters who live at Melrose, the convent in Brewster, came down mid morning for the day. Those four extra voices at mass made such a difference. One of them, a gifted musician, made our little organ do cartwheels. The service was lovely, the preaching was excellent, we were all together. Emotionally huge.

But... maybe it was huge because I was absolutely wiped out from being up in the night. One of our beloved elders has just come home from the hospital. Her surgery was Thursday and the insurance companies won't allow long hospital stays anymore. She can't get up by herself yet, she's too wobbly, and I just happened to be on beeper duty this week. The beep beep beep went off at 12:30 and again at 5:00. Uh oh... Diarrhea. I was (am) a mom. I've had my share of cleaning up poopy pants, it's not a big deal. Still, it took a while... changing sheets, cleaning up, finding new night clothes. She was a doll through the entire process, cheerful and helpful, apologetic and embarrassed, yet she let me help her do what needed to be done. I didn't think much about it at the time.

In her sermon, our celebrant spoke about the concepts of holy time, holy tools, holy place. When King David decides he's going to build God a Temple, God says "Did I ever say I wanted a house?" It was not God's need, it was ours. We have a distinct history of making altars, tabernacles, places of special sanctification. From early standing stones to mighty cathedrals, we have needed to differentiate between the ordinary and the sacred. Also with our tools... the special vessels for mass, special vestments. And with our time. Here we recite a fourfold Divine Office: Lauds, Noonday, Vespers and Compline. We set these times for prayer aside from the rest of the day, and when the warning bell rings, we stop whatever we're doing and gather in the chapel. It would seem that the larger truth: that
all time is holy, all ground is holy is being ignored. She said no... we understand that on an intellectual level, but we cannot comprehend it, not really. So the defining, the comparisons, the degrees of sacredness we assign... all give us a framework for awareness. Layers of mystical awareness.

Jacob, on awakening from his dream of angels says: Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. We may assign certain times and places as sacred, but God is everywhere and shows up unexpectedly and we know it not. Until later. An afterthought. Oh... that was holy ground. That was holy time.

And so it was for me as she spoke. I thought about the early morning hours, literally up to my elbows in excrement.
That was holy time. And I knew it not.

As she continued her thread of the mystical layers of awareness, she said that once in the center, with God, that's not the end. We must keep moving, and come back out to the outer realms. These holy times are always temporary... temporary resting places so we can renew, replenish, but keep on keeping on. And, she said
we can be temporary resting places for others.

I thought about
that, tried it on to see if it fit. Had I been a temporary resting place for my sister in distress? Maybe. But the larger truth was that she was the holy ground and my time with her, cleaning her bottom was the holy time. Paradox... don't you just love when that happens?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


While I was in Newport, I went to Sunday services with my friend. A beautiful little church (little only by St. Bart's standards) was in the midst of summer chaos: a priest in charge, a retiring organist, lots of parishioners on vacation... yet the Spirit still moved through the aisles, in the Nave, and spilled out into the coffee hour afterwards. Spirit always seems to move in chaos. I forget that when I'm stuck in the eye of the storm.

The preacher/priest-in-charge did not forget, though. Her job is to hold the boat together and to help her parish navigate through difficult waters ahead. Her texts were pertinent to that: The angel of the Lord speaking to Elijah, who had run away to the cave in the mountain, "What are you doing here?" And Elijah giving his blow-by-blow response, "I've done my best. Nobody listens. They broke all your furniture. All the other prophets are dead, and now they're trying to kill me."

She outlined the usual things such a prophet might feel: the sense of despair at being all alone in the work for God, discouragement, fearfulness, dog-tiredness... standing at the edge of the abyss. Two choices then: hide in the cave or step out into the chaos.

She spoke of the concept of chaos, from very real physical tumult to the simple busyness of each day's activities; how easy it is to get caught up in our obligations and cares, to feel physically battered like tropical storms batter the coastline. She returned to the reading from 1st Kings. God was not in the wind, or the earthquake or the fire. God was in the still. small. voice. "What are you doing here Elijah?"

So... we are called back out. Into the chaos. She noted that in the hymn: Jesus calls us o're the tumult, it never said Jesus calls us out of the tumult. Life, she said, is not a fairy tale, and (contrary to what some believe) the Gospel does not call us to live happily ever after.

Yet the tumult wearies us. When I am weary, I am more easily prone to fear. 

Fear... we each respond to fear in different ways. Some snap at everyone around them, some are paralyzed and cannot function. Others become obsessed with controlling what can be controlled. None of it is pretty. Yet necessary. To find the stillpoint which is God, is to know after all, that God is with us. The cave may seem like safety, but that is also illusion. Risk is the key.

I thought about their little church, struggling to make it through another storm. But the words were meant for me as well. Some of you know I draw cartoons. I do it for the fun of it, but I also do it for deeper, less understood reasons. I've been in the safety-cave around this activity since the last series. (Mainly because the next step gets a whole lot stickier, and I am afraid of being glued to some place I don't want to be.) Yet, like Elijah, I keep hearing the question "What are you doing here?" Stalling, God. That's what I'm doing here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Who is Jesus?

I was sitting on a park bench, minding my own business, when a young woman approached me. "May I ask you a question?" she asked. I steeled myself for what would be the usual continuation... not really a question, but a sad story and then: the plea for money. 

But instead she said, "Who is Jesus to you?" I looked at her. She was carrying a handful of orange pamphlets. Are Jehova's Witnesses canvassing the parks? I wondered. I was wearing our community's summer-simple habit, a dark blue Lands End dress, with no veil, just the cross and girdle cord, also dark against the blue. If you didn't look closely, you might not even notice it was a habit.

"The Son of God?" I said, with that annoying lift at the end that I associate with Valley Girls and most of the young people I overhear in the subway... those who use the word like in the middle of every phrase... like, you know, when they're like talking to each other?

"Oh, so you believe in Jesus?" she asked. 
"I do," I said with probably way too much emphasis on the do, (overcompensating for my annoying first response.) 
"Do you go to church?"
"Every day." She looked shocked (impressed) at that.
"I'm a nun," I explained, "I have to go to chapel every day, four times a day, actually." She didn't quite understand the term nun

She handed me one of her pamphlets: Moses in Manhattan, a cute little cartoon about an imaginary Moses wandering through potholes in Queens, braving rush hour in the Bronx and getting side-tracked in Brooklyn, all in search of the promised land.  It was a tract published by Jews for Jesus. She pointed out the address and email on the back and told me if I had any questions I should call or write. Then she was off... in search of more promising converts.

I sat there awhile and studied her pamphlet. At the bottom in small letters it said, Please do not litter!  I laughed. Practical instructions in the promised land.