Thursday, January 31, 2008

gloriously more than enough

My bloggy friend pat is an artist, a poet and a dancer. She has many descriptions for who she is and what she does. One of her recent poems is my new favorite:

in the vastness of the ocean
does each wave have a name?
maybe not

it is enough to know I am part of the ocean
in fact, it is gloriously more than enough
in fact, it is outrageously grand
and I feel it in my bones
on my skin
flowing through my blood
whispering in my heart
silently dancing with my soul
I am part of the ocean
rising, falling, crashing,
breaking up continents
floating seeds
dancing and whirling
singing, shouting…

oh. hi. I didn't know you were here…

Wanna dance?

I loved her poem and sent an email with a (somewhat) smart-assed credenza. She loved my credenza and posted it to her blog. We "danced". What a lovely thing. In my heart I think this is what God had in mind for his/her creation... that we dance and sing and share our ideas/experiences/viewpoints without judgment or critique. We are all facets of the same diamond, all fragments of the same hologram. we are one.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

gag... tagged

Oh what the heck. I made no New Years resolutions about memes this year (although I may give them up for Lent). So my daughter-in-law tagged me to list either: seven famous or infamous people I have met, or seven weird things about myself. Now I have seen some famous people (from a distance) but I am too polite to harass/meet them, and the infamous ones are best left to worry whether I'll actually tell the tale on my blog using their real names.

So that sticks me with the weird things... now weird, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So I'm going to classify unusual as weird... surely I can come up with seven. It's a very holy number, after all. How's this?

Seven Weird Jobs I Have Had:
  1. Beginning at the beginning: my first job at age 15 was elf. That's correct. I worked in Santa's toyshop (store that sold toys) as an elf at Santa's Village in Jefferson, NH. I wore red tights, a little green dress with a mini-skirt and a huge pointy collar and pointy-toed bootlets that we ordered special from the shoe store. I worked there five summers before moving on to my next weird job.

  2. I am a Vietnam vet. I was a U. S. Navy photographer. I lived in fear of ever having to go out and actually shoot anything important. (Not shoot as with a gun... shoot as photograph.) I used a speed graphic (heavy as hell) with real flash bulbs. Most of my Navy career was spent in the color lab at NAS Jax processing slides and print film... anyone ever heard of E3? My last experience with slide processing was E6. For all I know they are up to E12 by now.

  3. I worked as a sandwich maker for one day in the Navy Exchange. You had to lay the bread slices out ten across and five deep. They stacked up like this: one slice, tuna, two slices, tuna, one slice. They were cut on the diagonal and boxed so you didn't actually get the whole sandwich; you got two halves of two different sandwiches. I was too slow and got fired the same day.

  4. I worked for an audio visual production company producing multi-image slide presentations. (Twenty-one projectors was my personal best.) Long hours. Lots of all-nighters. Low pay. Fun road trips.

  5. I was a nationally certified motorcycle instructor. I taught young punks how to avoid killing themselves on their motorcycles. I was very good at that job.

  6. I danced in a go-go bar (once). I was not employed there, I was with a date. The pole dancer beckoned me to join her onstage and I was drunk enough to do it. I earned a dollar. (Decided to keep my day job.)

  7. I'm a nun. Not sure I can call this a job since I don't earn an income. But I definitely work.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

now there's a mystery

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.


And God said, "Let there be light."
—Genesis 1:3

Monday, January 28, 2008


I read the book Atonement last year. It was marvelous (if incredibly sad and depressing) so when the movie came out I didn't really want to see it. I'd just been disappointed by The Kite Runner, another incredible book that didn't quite translate to the screen. Kite Runner was excellently handled, don't get me wrong, but there was just too much in the book to cover adequately in a film... they had to leave out a lot that (I thought) mattered to the story line. I was also put off by the opening credits which reminded me of the opening credits of a Harry Potter movie... lots of superfluous animation to announce who was who.

Atonement had some of that. The typewriter effects were an underlying thread of consistency (both sight and sound) but not so overplayed I wanted to gag. I loved it. The plotline was faithful, the actors credible and the cinematography lush. The use of lighting for dramatic emphasis reminded me of Spielberg's genius. But most of all I felt the same awful sense of depression that the book evoked. All those lives ruined by one child's mistake. I hope it wins an oscar. If they have the oscars.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

geek alert

Confession: I have a geeky side.

It's not developed enough to boast about, but every once in a while some geeky piece of information will cross my path and I will be enthralled and run with it for days. I would suggest that my older son inherited my lone geek gene, but he has left me behind in his dust. He is also brilliant, which I am not. I have my moments (like with my geekiness) but they are erratic and therefore undependable.

But back to this recent geek discovery... from a post by Wil Wheaton (you do remember Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation?!?) He is definitely a genuine geek, not to mention a pretty talented writer, who quoted a post by Eric on the the subject of retconning. It's long, but fascinating.

Just what is retconning (besides being a cool word)? Short answer: You take an existing story, flash back in time to rewrite the story so that all the subsequent events have changed. Time travel for writers... and the universes they alter are the established stories we have come to know and love. Now specifically Eric uses this term in regards to comic books (a major geek marker, if you're trying to decide whether you qualify). But I (of course) jumped into the theological bru-ha-ha and thought about it in terms of Scripture. When has it been done? Who did it? How many fans were upset? And of course... most dangerous of all, How can I do it too? Then I realized maybe I already have... with my creation cartoonz. Imagine that.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

what use is it?

I've been reading a lot of prophetic rants regarding the church lately. Lots of predictions, talk and discussion over the need to change, to approach church from a customer service point of view, to give people what they need. I don't argue with any of that. Institutions by their very nature become institutionalized. The physical plant, the everyday expenses, the salaries to pay the full-time professionals who man the place... all serve to shore up the walls rather than the spirit of why the institution was created to begin with. It's true of schools, hospitals and the church... just to name the worst culprits.

But as individuals we have to be accountable as well. When Christ ever comes and the light shines in every corner of every heart, not just every building or organization, just how devastating will that be? Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience."

One of the reasons John the Baptist (and I suspect many of the hellfire and brimstone preachers of our day) was so popular, was because he put the fear of God in everyone who heard him. "Repent! You brood of vipers! The kingdom of God is coming!" Why would that be so appealing?

One reason, I think, is because we do have consciences. We know when we pass a homeless beggar on the street, and look straight ahead so as not to make eye contact... we know there's something wrong with that picture. "They'll just use the money to buy crack." we tell ourselves, transferring our personal stinginess into altruistic generosity... "Why, I've just saved that person from drug use." We expect the outreach program at church to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless. Then we complain because the preacher makes yet another pitch for increased pledges. The truth doesn't always make us free, just guilty.

If the message of God doesn't inspire us to be better human beings to our fellow humans, then what use is it? God's tangible creation needs our compassion and concern more than some abstract concept of God needs our rituals and worship.

Friday, January 25, 2008

maybe not today

Is my evangelism a failure if the one to whom I speak does not, in the end, embrace my beliefs? Not at all. Evangelism isn't really about you; it's about the one you encounter. Just as a day of fishing is a glorious day regardless of the catch — outdoors, on the water, seeing animals and plants and feeling your human closeness to all of them — so a moment of showing Christ to another is good of itself. Christ brings us into community, and does so no matter what words (if any) are used to describe his work in the world. —Barbara Crafton

Oh how I need to hear this. On a regular basis. Every day. More than once every day. There's too much pressure with the term evangelism... there's the pressure from scripture that says "get out there and convert the world!" There's the pressure from peers in other denominations for which evangelism has been elevated to an art form. There is the internal pressure from my own heart to share what for me, is, in fact, good news.

I think the last one is all that matters. I don't really care what the Bible says about converting the world. I'm not sure I believe there is only one way, or one truth, although the example of Jesus is the way and the truth for me. If I feel more at peace, more able to contend with the evil I encounter, more willing to suck it up in situations where my anger would only make matters worse... because of my belief in and understanding of Jesus, why wouldn't I want to share that with others? Here's why:

Sharing and telemarketing are not the same thing. Offering insight and cramming advice down someone's throat are not the same thing. Giving freely because giving is the point and giving to earn brownie points with God are not the same thing. It's not a competition. Evangelical efforts must spring from joy, not duty, or some sense of a battle that must be won. Competing only shifts the emphasis back to ourselves. Did I make a difference today? Maybe not today. Maybe today was someone else's day. Get over it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

heads and tails

Human beings have purchased our ability to imagine the future with our peace of mind. To grow spiritually, we have to learn all over again what the animals already know, what we knew when we were little children: how to live in each moment as if it were our first and our last.
—Barbara Crafton

I was thinking about this quote a lot today. I agree. I can vividly recall too many times when I was in the midst of an enjoyable activity (or relationship) and totally spoiled it by imagining when it would be gone. I had no peace of mind then, found no pleasure in the present. Yet... It is only the "heads" side of the coin.

The "tails" side focuses not so much on the price we pay for being able to imagine our futures, but on the price we pay when we cannot.

To live in the moment with pain, fear, despair, can be next to impossible when there is no hope of a different or better future. I saw a movie once where it was said that a captured Maasai warrior would die in captivity because he could not envision a future time when he might be free. I have no idea if that was (or is) true, but the thought took hold of me then and I'm reminded of it now.

Hope involves imagination I think. It gives us the required motivation to envision a better world.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The three most difficult things?

Anthony de Mello has said, The three most difficult things for a human being are:
1. returning love for hate
2. including the excluded
3. admitting you are wrong

I can definitely get on board with the first one. Retaliation is my immediate desired response when I feel someone's hatred toward me. And of course hatred is a strong word. Watered down it can become dislike, disapproval, dismissal... all those "D" words that make us feel small and worthless, unloved and misunderstood. Returning neutrality for hate is the most I've ever been able to muster so far... I'm working on it.

Including the excluded is a bit easier, especially if you have a soft spot for the underdog, which I seem to have. Maybe it helps to have been the underdog enough times that to return the favor of inclusiveness is only fair. So the degree of difficulty on this one doesn't compute for me. I can see the truth of the statement in our society, though. "In" clubs, gated communities, private blogs... they all work in one way or another to shut out whoever we wish to exclude.

So what about the third one? I think most people like to be right. But liking to be right is like liking to sing on pitch... it doesn't always happen. I'm wrong a lot. so? It would be stupid for me to try to cover up those instances. I may be embarrassed. But embarrassment is highly overrated as a motivating factor. It only lasts as long as we want it to. Sure, you can nurse an embarrassing moment, brood over it... whip yourself into a humiliation frenzy if you want, but what's the point? Nobody cares but you. Nobody probably even remembers it but you.

What do you think? Did he leave something out?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

a clone from a clone

Another blogger (I wasn't familiar with) recently commented on one of my posts. I followed the link to her blog and liked what I read there, so added her to my list of "To Read"s. This woman is Jewish and brings a unique perspective to her writing using the Hebrew language: words and translations. She does something a bit like my Sunday sermons, but with inspiration from her rabbi. Cool. That's how it works in the bloggy world... word of mouth through cyberspace. It's one of the things about our generation (and yes, I'm including myself here) that gives me hope.

My sisters and I watched a DVD this afternoon featuring several scholars who are offering a program on religion and violence at Trinity Institute. Three of our sisters are actually attending that conference. One of the interviews was with James Carroll, who wrote the bestseller: Constantine's Sword. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list. One of the things he mentioned was "boundary setting" by the monotheistic religions... using the analogy that original sin is our tendency to differentiate ourselves at the expense of someone else. I am good/you are bad. I will go to heaven/you will be damned. He believes that these are boundaries which are finally (if slowly) breaking down. I hope he's right.

He talked about the language of our sacred texts... not that we need to change it, but that we need to read it in the light of historical context, not only the writer's context, but the context of subsequent generations of readers who shaped and reshaped the meanings that influence us today. Our challenge is to stay open to interpretations that will be relevant now.

I think a lot about the whole "God made humankind in his image" concept. In what way? Physicality? Intellect? Soul?

What we have done, is make God in our image instead... and there's been a horrendous degradation as a result... sort of like cloning from a clone. With each step from the original, you lose important pieces of the DNA. Because of our technology, we have learned how to successfully clone some things, and more are coming. It seems we ought to be able to reinterpret the language of our scripture in light of that new understanding. Most of the time we just use the old understanding to condemn the new technology.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Happy Birthday!

It's my daughter-in-law's thirty-seventh birthday... (the reason her blog 365 profile had her at already thirty-seven from the get go of January has to do with their calendar tracking software... by the month, which only requires a database of twelve instead of three hundred and sixty-six for every blogger that signs in with their date of birth.) Actually I just made that up. It sounds so logical and definitive, though, dontcha think? Maybe I should have been a political candidate instead of a nun.

But enough about me. My daughter-in-law is a unique blend of sarcastic/compassionate, cutting-edge/old-fashioned. Although she's much more computer literate than I, she still writes thank you notes in longhand on pretty note paper. Maybe she just does that for me, because she knows I appreciate it. And if she does, that's even more telling of her thoughtfulness.

She sent me a number of thoughtful gifts for Christmas... a book called Bad Habits, with pictures of nuns with hilarious captions. Oh, and a nun bowling game... the fireball from hell knocks over the ten little praying nuns. How many nuns you knock down indicates how awful your sins were. Of course I got a strike my first time, while all of the older sisters got gutterballs. It was supposed to be a game, not a fortune-teller. Oh... that's why I can't be a political candidate: my past would come back to haunt me. But enough about me.

My daughter-in-law didn't used to like me. Or at least I don't think she did. Maybe it had something to do with the letter I wrote her when she and my son broke up after several years together, and right before their intended wedding. I told her she was probably better off without him, that she should forget him and get on with her life.

Not that I don't totally love my son, I do. But at her age, I doubt I'd have had the hutzpah to take on a man with a genius brain and little common sense, a penchant for spending more than he could afford, who had a medical condition that required zombie-inducing drug therapy, and who could no longer have, nor did he want, more children.

Lucky for him (and me) she did not take my advice. Instead she hung in there. They got back together and eventually got married. She really loves my son. Which is not the only reason I love her, but it's a good one. Happy Birthday dear one, and many many more!!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I myself did not know him

John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel." —John 1:29-31

There was a good bit more to today's Gospel lesson than that; but there's such a lot in those few words, I'm stopping there. This morning our celebrant pretty much placed his focus there too.

I myself did not know him. I used to think this was a really stupid thing for John to say... Jesus was his cousin; of course he knew him. They'd no doubt spent a zillion afternoons together during their growing up years, especially if the holy family made the trek to Jerusalem on an annual basis. I thought maybe he said it to squash any rumors that they (as cousins) might be in cahoots over the whole Messiah thing, but it was stupid nonetheless. Family ties are too easily traced.

Okay, I get it now. I was getting there, but this morning's sermon clinched it. Sure, he knew Jesus, but not until John saw the spirit descend and stay put did he know that Jesus was the one. In the movie The Matrix, everyone is all a dither over whether Neo is the "one". Morpheus is sure, the Oracle says no, and Neo, meanwhile, is trying to work it all out for himself.

I see a parallel (duh) with John and Morpheus, Jesus and Neo. John witnessed the sign... which our celebrant described: a "deep peace" that settled on Jesus after his baptism. The Gospel calls it "something like a dove" and he reminded us that the dove is, in fact, symbolic of peace. John is convinced. It will take Jesus a while longer... an agonizing soul-searching time in the desert, before he arrives at a similar conclusion.

Our celebrant took the concept of knowing even further. exploring the difference between knowing about and knowing... How well do we know Jesus? Who do we see when we picture him? How does he rank in our priorities? John said, "...he ranks ahead of me..."

Is that true for any of us?
We were asked to look deeply... to pay attention, to see past just-one-more-face-in-the-crowd. Until then, we all can truthfully say "I myself did not know him."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Starbucks and a haircut

I've been growing my hair for three and a half years. I haven't had hair this long since I was in my thirties. In fact it was never this long even then. But the organization that takes donated hair to make wigs for children with cancer, requires twelve inches. Two other sisters in my community have donated braids in the past... it seemed like a great idea.

Mine is going to an organization called Wigs for Kids out of Ohio. They are not the only non-profit that accepts donated hair, but they do accept gray hair... which mine obviously is. Locks of Love is another one, but they've received a lot of bad press over the fact that they actually sell much of the hair they receive, supposedly to cover "overhead" costs. Well overhead costs abound in any non-profit organization, and the actual making of a wig requires a lot more hair than you'd think. Wigs for Kids suggests about twenty to thirty ponytails go into each wig and the production cost is about $1,500.

My braid comes to thirteen inches, and I believe it's part of the reason I've had so many headaches lately... all that weight pulling on my head. I remember getting hair cuts in the past that relieved my headache problems then, so why not now?

This morning I woke up with another splitting killer and could not drag my sorry butt out of the bed in time for Morning Prayer. When I finally stumbled into the shower at 9:00 I was still feeling the effects. I hoped all that steam would help. It didn't. Caffeine didn't either. At ten o'clock I called the hairdresser. I walked in at 10:45 and out again at 11:20, shorn like the proverbial sheep. Yes!! Next stop: Starbucks, for a real dose of caffeine. I feel lightheaded and wired... a good combination. Yep, I feel better already :)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Which Spice Are You?

This test compliments of Tandania's blog:

Your Score: Poppy Seeds

You scored 75% intoxication, 50% hotness, 50% complexity, and 75% craziness!

You are Poppy Seeds!
You seem innocent enough, but you're dangerous. You sneak up on people with your seductive ways, hiding in plain sight. When you grow to your full potential, those who really get to know you just can't leave you alone - they're hooked for life.

Link: The Which Spice Are You Test written by jodiesattva

I scored as poppy seeds when I took this test. I went back later and took it again, with exactly the same answers to exactly the same questions... and I scored as cardamom. Hmmm. Not that I don't like cardomom. But what's that about? Now my faith in online quizzes is totally shattered. Lucky for me my faith in other things is a bit more relevant to the life I lead.

A priest friend of mine delivered a hilarious homily at my life profession service last month. He compared me to Cyrano de Bergerac. He went on to assure everyone that it wasn't so much my nose as my panache that he was comparing.

Panache... wikipedia says that Panache is a French word for which there is no English equivalent, but carries the connotation of a flamboyant manner and reckless courage. Most of my friends agree that the term fits. I swallow uncomfortably at that, at least at the flamboyant part. The public persona never quite matches the personal interior self image. I was not a pretty or popular child. I look back on old elementary school photos and want to gag. Ordinary, dowdy, ugly duckling, tentative, easily inhibited... those were words I'd have used to describe my public face. Somewhere along the line I grew up... if not into a swan, at least into some bright parakeet. Who knew?

The reckless courage came much later too. Years of emotional abuse fueled by self doubt left me not knowing who I was or what I believed. I had an opportunity to start over pretty much from scratch, and while it was an arduous trek, it was worth the effort. Lots of bumps and bruises along the way... partly because I'm naturally clumsy, partly because I courted the dangerous. So here I am... a nun.

In his homily, he asked "why... this... now?"
Oh hell, why not?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

where are you staying?

When Jesus turned and saw John's disciples following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. (John 1.38-39)

This passage from John always makes me wonder... was that really what was said in that interchange? Was it translated badly?

If someone asks me what I'm looking for I might say "I'm not sure" but I doubt I'd say "Where are you staying?" What does that mean? And what does it have to do with anything? Are you staying at the Plaza or the homeless shelter or a friend's apartment? Why did they care where he was staying? Would it make a difference?

Of course I have no answers, only the recorded dialog. Jesus seemed to understand the question because he told them to come see for themselves, which apparently they did. And, apparently wherever it was suited them because they hung around all day. Another Gospel mystery to put on my list of things to ask about when I die.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

what day is it anyway?

Like most people, we sisters can get a bit mixed up. Not just the aging ones either, although their sense of time is way off the scale. "What day is it anyway? is always a good conversation starter... again and again throughout the same day. Yesterday's timing was funny... though quite logical in its outcome.

We were scheduled to celebrate a memorial at mass to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. February 15th was his birthday. The sister at Morning Prayer misread the ordo and read his collect instead of the correct one for Epiphany. However, the sister who sets up the priest's books for mass had marked the collect for Martin Luther (aka Father of the Protestant Reformation) instead of Martin Luther King. Okay, we got to hear the right prayer, just not at the right time.

Next, the priest appeared in the crimson vestments of the martyred saints. Well... that makes sense in a way. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated; he just hasn't been declared a saint. The correct color would have been white if we'd been celebrating a feast day (which we weren't) or green for a regular mass.

This kind of attention to detail could be considered one of those hills of beans we protect and defend so violently. Does God care what color the priest wears to celebrate the mass or does God want us to love each other and cut each other some slack? Yet for some sisters there is a right way to do things... by the book, and the book says...

It won't help that next Monday will be the national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (which, by the way, will be the 13th anniversary of my move to New York City.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


... Jesus went largely unnoticed during his lifetime. His closest friends were perplexed by him. John the Baptist was raising questions many months after baptizing Jesus. His impact hadn't been a blinding revelation, but a gradual, grudging discovery of fragments.

I believe that the more typical pathway to faith and new life is a journey of many steps, many false starts, many small victories over self, and a gradual embracing of God as God is. —Tom Erich

That certainly makes sense to me. Especially the gradual, grudging part. Especially the false starts and small victories part. Much as it might be cool to have a "Road to Damascus" revelation, it ain't going to happen for most of us. Experiencing God in the little ordinary moments is when I usually find strength to go on.

Last night I had supper in a little Indian restaurant a few blocks from our convent. It was Monday and a quiet night. Five-thirty is early for New York diners; nobody was in there but me. Yet the food was spectacular, the best sag I've eaten in a long time, maybe ever. I sat all by myself by the window, enthralled by the twinkling little white lights, the cut-out doilies on the tables, and the excellent food. Why was I the only one there? Shouldn't someone tell the world what a good place to eat this was?

Soft Indian music played in the background and I savored the quiet as well as the food. No more questions, no more worries... just the fragments... reminders that I don't have to fix the world. I don't even have to fix myself. Just take the precious moments when they come.

Oh, if you're ever on Broadway on the upper west side, Calcutta Cafe is at 105th. The best sag ever. (And they deliver.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

hills of beans is old things we love to do. We love our habits: making the tea always in the same way, setting the table always in the same order, walking to the train station always by the same route. We rely on our homely traditions to calm ourselves, as if they had power against whatever damage we imagine the winds of change might do us. We become adamant about them, militant about preserving things that don't amount to a hill of beans... —Barbara Crafton

I had a friend, (now deceased) who used to be like that. He got up at the same time every morning, drove to work by the same route, always made a tuna sandwich for lunch; he liked his habits. He could also be very rigid in his thinking, taking in new information at a snail's pace (if at all). I used to tease him, smugly imagining myself superior in some way. At the time I believed myself open to change, new things.

I'm thinking a little deeper about Barbara's words now. The truth is: it's okay to try new things as long as it's me doing whatever's new. If someone else does a new thing, it's suspect; if I do it, it's innovation. How lopsided is that? So... time to rethink my responses to other people's new ideas. How irritating.

And when God does a new thing... you'd better take cover because it will hit the fan! In the two thousand years since Jesus actually dwelt among us, we've enshrined his legend and our stories about him... to the point he'd probably not recognize himself. We forget he was the revolutionary and his radical ideas were never embraced.

Tradition (for its own sake) abounds in the church at large, but it's even more evident in the monastic life. Each new person coming in has to walk the tightrope, finding that precarious balance between the way we've always done it and the way that makes more sense. In our convent, how we do things is sometimes dictated by the failing capabilities of our elderly sisters. Relaxing the arduous schedule to match their energy levels has been a plus for all of us. We get an extra half hour of sleep in the morning and if we want it, an extra two hours at night. Sisters used to be dead on their feet and still expected to show up for every single Daily Office. It was called asceticism... and highly prized.

Personally, my ability to be generous and forgiving is directly proportional to the amount of rest I've had. Too little rest means too little forgiveness. Not exactly what I imagine Jesus had in mind for those who would be his followers.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Baptism of Jesus

This year's reading about Jesus' baptism comes from Matthew. Of the three Gospels, it is my least favorite... for a number of reasons. On the other hand, it's the one we all remember because of the dialog.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." —Matthew 3: 13-17

As Tom Erich said in a recent meditation: "...this isn't Jesus speaking, this is the author. Language like this isn't the language of an unlettered Jewish carpenter. Read the plain talk of the Beatitudes if you want to hear what Jesus actually sounded like. This is Matthew trying to put John the Baptist in an inferior place."

I actually posted a year ago with a new piece of artwork. Of course the point for me was partly the artwork. I'd worked hard on that particular piece... using a variety of images of the actual Jordan river to create my background. But today, our celebrant read the Gospel slowly, with a certain inflection that supported his sermon about decisions.

All discourse over whether John said this or Jesus said that was omitted. The focus was on the decision. Jesus decided to make the trip all the way from Galilee to the Jordan. No short distance in that time. He decided to be baptized by John. His cousin, and at that point, the leading contender for the heavyweight title "Messiah."

Jesus had an experience during that baptism that changed his direction. Whether the baptism itself was a symbol that he was already making this change, or whether he actually got the message then and there is not clear. But as John preached repentance, repent he did. He turned right around and went his own way. He would not be John's disciple after all. He would be his own man. God's own man.

Our celebrant asked us to think back on the decision-making moments in our own lives. He asked us to remember that those moments, no matter how magnificent at the time, are not enough; that we (like Jesus) must keep finding a way to say "yes" again and again.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Okay, so today I finally read the fine print in the club rules and regulations for Blog 365. Whew. A reprieve. As long as I post to any one of my three blogs, it counts. Yes, I actually have three: this one for writing, Convicted for serious artwork, and If God Has a Funnybone for my cartoons.

I was beginning to worry about those cartoons anyway. I hadn't drawn a single one since before Christmas. Not that I don't have lots of ideas... ideas are not the problem. I have a little notebook with thoughts and snippets of conversation jotted down... somewhere. But cartooning, in and of itself, doesn't come natural to me. I can't just draw what I see in my head. I have to google lots of pictures of little kids doing various activities, and then trace the body shapes. I have a standard "look" for the face that I sort of made up, but that's the only thing I seem to be able to sketch by hand. In fact, it sometimes works backwards: I find an image I'd like to trace, and then I decide what the dialog will be.

Establishing the theme is key. Sometimes I get going on what I think the theme will be, and the cartoons grab me and march off in a totally new direction. That's exciting, but it may mean I've traced a whole lot of shapes for nothing. My first series: In the Beginning went off in a direction I never expected: it (sort of) started with the big bang. I was going to draw a whole lot of stuff relating to particle physics and the early formation of elements... right, that's real amusing. Instead, the Trinity emerged as three little boys and they took me on an extraordinary ride.

Their presence continued in the second series Creation which turned out not to be about creation at all... more about three little siblings establishing their own pecking order in the family dynamics. How would I know about sibling dynamics? I was an only child. Still, the little boys (one who insists on emphasizing a feminine aspect) helped me get their point across. What's next? I wonder. I have only one new theme in mind: an opening story about God and Lucifer. If that doesn't get me into hot water, nothing will.

Sometimes I draw nuns. I draw myself a lot, because I have a hard time with a lot of the Psalms we recite. (And we do recite them all... even the ugly ones... specifically the one about the joy of dashing babies' heads against rocks disgusts me, but I digress. ) Here's a sample:

Friday, January 11, 2008

oxymoron: spiritual direction?

One of our ministries at the convent is spiritual direction. I was first introduced to the term years ago at a Cursillo weekend. I'd never heard of such a thing. Art direction, career counseling, therapy... those were familiar concepts. But spiritual direction? Shouldn't God be doing that? Well, duh, yes... but do we ever listen?

So it took listening to a human who was listening to me over several years worth of sessions to learn how important (and helpful) the process can be. In our community we actually require each sister to see a spiritual director and it may not be another sister. Space to vent, to speak your dreams, to confess to doubts, fears... with an objective listener, that's the key.

Nobody is totally objective, of course. And some directees are easier to listen to than others. That's the good news and the bad news. Good... because the director also grows as she learns patience and neutrality, bad... because learning those is a whole lot of work. Frustrating, exhausting. Not to mention humbling.

I met with a new directee this morning. What a joy. No growing edges on my patience there. Instead... growing in gratitude, hope, and confidence in God's way of working in the world. Not a bad return on my investment, as the stock traders would say...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

10 down... 355 to go

This whole Blog 365 thing... what was I thinking?

• Discipline. Like pledging to go to the gym three times a week... which I would never do. Like at sixty-two I need to worry about discipline.

• Practice. Not the same as discipline. Doing something over and over supposedly makes you better at it (whatever it is). Ergo: I'll end up a better writer. Or maybe I'll just end up a better blogger, which is definitely not the same thing.

• The whole she dared me thing. When will this stop!? (when I'm dead?) A dare is like bait. If you're a fish, you can't help yourself. You bite. I bit. I bite?

• More readers? Nah. Maybe. Yes, there's something weirdly satisfying about watching the site meter graph grow. Maybe I should have just deleted the site meter. Vanity is not an appropriate attribute for a nun.

• You fill in the blank. I'm blank.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hillary rebounds, overcomes Obama in NH

I grew up in New Hampshire. I remember those election years when candidates swarmed the state. I wasn't old enough to vote then, but our current events teacher made sure we followed the results.

I actually registered to vote this year. (Save me the indignant: What! you weren't already registered!?! comments.) No I wasn't. I haven't been since 1995. So many elections, so little time. Did I care? Obviously not enough to register.

Some will say that makes me a bad American. Sometimes I suspect those words belong together anyway. And yes, I understand that my voting right is precious, that women suffered long and hard to get me that right, that it's my duty to exercise it.

Well, actually no. I don't believe it's my duty to exercise it. It's my right to not exercise it. So I haven't. This year I will.

I'm not much interested in politics. I tried to listen to a candidate debate in Ohio. A friend had posted a link for it and I respect her, so I tried to listen. It was long. I lasted less than an hour. Was fed up. Rhetoric. Boring. "And may I remind my distinguished colleagues that I was the only one who opposed that bill back in 1997..." droning on and on.

It's interesting to me that Hillary has been dumped on in the past for having no feelings. Last week she finally showed some, and she got dumped on for that.

It may have been academy award-winning acting, but it sure came off as authentic to me. Made me look at her again. Must have made those New Hampshire voters look at her again too. Of course that's what her detractors will say: that it was a ploy to get votes. Who knows? There's plenty of time til November.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Happy Birthday Drew

Every year I resolve to remember the important birthdays. (And every year I forget somebody.) I even have the dates written down somewhere in a little book, but then I forget to look at the book. Maybe I should resolve to look at the book.

Anyway, today is the first one in the new year... my oldest grandson turns 15 today.

When I spoke with him over the holidays I asked if that meant he'd be getting his learner's permit to drive? he said no, his mom wouldn't allow it. Bummer.

I imagine there are plenty of good reasons for her decision... skyrocketing insurance rates, icy roads in Colorado, medications he takes, a better understanding of his abilities than a grandmother who only sees him every few years. Still... a learner's permit is a rite of passage, a ticket to the next step in freedom. It's a way to learn responsibility up close and personal. A wrong decision can be huge when you are behind the wheel of a car.

I remember when I first learned to drive. I took drivers' ed in high school, but the real lessons came later... on a snowy hill with black ice underneath, in a parking lot, where my lack of depth perception caused me to scrape another car's door panel, on a highway when I was sailing along above the speed limit, and actually passed a state trooper.

Life requires learning. Mistakes. Restitution. He can wait for the driving lessons I guess. I hear he has a girlfriend. That ought to give him enough to work on for a year. Happy Birthday dear one!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Rest day and other (probably) unrelated trivia

Rest Day... ahhhh.

During the holidays, and especially this year, with Christmas and New Year's falling on Tuesday, our normal Monday rest day got discombobulated. We had a partial rest day on New Year's Eve, but another sister and I had volunteered to create the party hors d'oeuvres, so we were busy most of the day. And... as much as I appreciate a half-day's rest any time I can get it, it's just not the same thing.

I awoke at 5:30, (my normal time for rising) looked at the clock, smiled and rolled over back to sleep. I had silly dreams... I dreamed a man I know wanted to marry me. It really didn't matter that he's married, I'm a nun, and he's years younger than I. Some of those issues arose in the dream. Then I dreamed that I was supposed to go to sewing school as part of this new marriage endeavor. I had my choice of wedding dress design, upholstery, or something else. In my waking world I hate, hate, hate to sew! I'm no good at it, have no patience for it, and would do any number of crummy jobs before I would ever stoop to sewing for a living. Somehow that, too, came through in the dream, and I woke up.

On my day off I like to sleep a little later than usual, but not so late that I've wasted too much of a day to do exactly what I want. So I'm up. When I went to the kitchen for coffee, I had a craving for grilled pimento cheese sandwiches. It's been years since I've had one. My second husband and I had them a lot when we were first married. Today is actually the anniversary of my first marriage. Who knows how all that stuff manifests in the psyche to create a dream? It's a fascinating mystery. My daughter-in-law wrote me yesterday that she had jokingly added Jesus Christ as my spouse in her electronic address book. I shot back a pretty crass note, especially for a nun. When I related the story to my sisters last evening, there was dead silence in the room. Uh oh. Sometimes I feel like I'll never live up to this new calling. Sometimes I feel like I've been living it forever. The split personalities just don't match. Welcome to my world.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Feast of the Epiphany

e·piph·a·ny –noun [(i-pif-uh-nee)]

1. A Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.

2. An appearance or manifestation, esp. of a deity.

3. A sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

Oddly enough has no entries for the word epiphany. The dictionary has six, all about the same as what's written above.

Today is the feast day of "when the wise men showed up" as one of my kids used to say. Yes they did. Or no, they didn't, depending on how literally you take the Bible.

It really doesn't matter to me whether they did or didn't, whether they got there the day/night Jesus was born or after he'd been around for a while. It's a parable... a story that speaks to something else.

Our celebrant this morning spoke to the third definition (in light of the first) for her sermon theme. She gave examples from poetry and literature to develop the idea of what you do once you've had an epiphany... how you live from then on. She asked: How do you reorient your life around the new reality the light reveals? Excellent question. And, she believed, it accounts for some of the let-down people experience after the holidays. Because if we follow the new insight, it will mean extra work for sure, and possibly extra danger. The wise men discerned the danger and fled, never to be heard from again. Their decision left a larger wake of violence, for Herod, already losing his marbles, responded by slaughtering the innocent.

Years ago I was involved in some personal growth seminars. There were several epiphanies for me as a result of those trainings. I remember being told: Once you begin on the path of awareness, there is no turning back. "Catchy phrase" I thought at the time. Yet I found out it was absolutely true. You can live in denial, you can backslide, you can curse the day you ever encountered the light, but there's no turning back.

In Auden's poem the wise men say, "O here and now our endless journey stops." The shepherds say, "O here and now our endless journey starts."
May we be like those shepherds.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

On a Journey

Church leaders need to ask: do they see constituents as foot-soldiers in a cause that somehow will benefit the church, or are they leading their members into a transformation that might well spin out of the institution's control? —Tom Ehrich

I mentioned a year or so ago, that my deacon friend had given me a subscription to a year of meditations (On a Journey) by Tom Ehrich. At the time, Tom lived in North Carolina. I liked what he had to say about the mission of the church. He was one of those very direct in-your-face kind of writers, not afraid to call a wort a wort, and much of what he said I could relate to on a personal level.

Fast forward. Tom moved to New York. He got a job at the church where I once worshiped and now volunteer. My subscription expired. The church's staff gets a free subscription, so I asked that mine be extended. They did, but sent them to my church email address. What a pain. I only go there once a week, and I really like to start my day with somebody else's words... and piggy-back my focus from there. I whined in an email. They changed the address.

Okay, so this is one tiny piece of evidence that the man is not just words. I met him once but I don't actually know him. He didn't have to change the address; the freebie is for staff and I only loosely qualify. Yet he did it.

His meditation today speaks to transformation... the third person of the trinity of "membership development" for churches. It seems to me, the first two: recruitment and retention are where most churches (and businesses) stop. Like the Holy Spirit I thought... transformation is a loose canon, too dangerous. Look what happened to me! A nun, for God's sake.

Here's the soft-sell commercial message: Check out his website and subscribe. Just because I have no money doesn't mean you don't.

Friday, January 04, 2008

two kinds

I used to love to group things (and people) into two categories. It didn't matter which two; they were always changing. The point was two. For example, a favorite: There are two kinds of people... observant and oblivious. (I liked the alliteration on that one.)

As I grew a little wiser, I decided everything and everyone is really some place on a continuum, and that can be a slippery place, given upbringing, conditioning, DNA and environmental factors. I also came to understand that the two kinds definition was usually meant to put somebody down (and usually not me) so while I might still think they were funny, these classifications were not especially helpful in my late-blooming desire to be less judgmental.

Earlier today I was making a to-do list and I automatically thought: there are two kinds of people... those who make lists and those who hate people who make lists. I laughed. Where did that come from? Who knows? Old habits die hard. But as I examined it I realized it's often true. Hate may be too strong a word, but in the childish sense (I hate her!) it is true we just can't relate to others who do things differently. Much as we advocate diversity, encourage it and celebrate it, when it comes down to it, we want like-minded people to be our friends. They "understand" us, which means there's no need to justify our way of thinking or doing because they already agree.

Justification, approval, validation, acknowledgement... we long for these things... sometimes a lot. If it's in our DNA it would appear that it all goes back to that rude awakening in the garden: suddenly knowing we're naked. I wonder what would have have happened if Adam had said, "Oh my God, we're naked!" And Eve had responded, "Yes we are. It's pretty cool, isn't it? Let's go show God!"

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Gifts... Some... are symbolic in themselves, some reflect the recipient's need, some the giver's. Some are last-minute efforts with no meaning, and some take on meaning only when you see the giver's smile or tears. —Tom Erich

In his daily meditation, Tom Erich was exploring his understanding of gifts, in the context of the story of the gifts brought by the wise men. His comments hit me especially hard, because I have a box under my bed still to be mailed to family. It is unfinished... lacking either one (or three) more items, depending on whether I decide to send just to the grandchildren or to include their parents. The one present lacking is something for the smallest child... a toy? a book? a soft cuddly something? Nothing I've seen in the Christmas array has shouted out to me "I'm the one!" and so the other bundles sit forlorn waiting inspiration from God. What's that about?

Well, for one, it's about fairness, and not showing partiality. Everyone must get something, even if it's a last-minute effort with no meaning. Except my heart just balks at that, which is why the box sits unfinished.

I already messed up the box for the other side of the family. I sent to my other son and daughter-in-law, and did not include a gift for their son, who would be visiting for the holidays. I didn't forget him; I just forgot he'd be there. Damn.

So I sit and ponder this whole gift situation... asking what's the point of a gift in the first place? The best I can come up with is to surprise (or delight) the recipient. That's always been easier with friends than family. When I was in high school, and made my very first Christmas purchases, I spent most of my money on one person and had to borrow against my allowance to make up the difference. Over the years that evened out a little, but I still ended up with lots of stuff for one, and nothing for another. The last minute scramble to find something bland or safe was a matter of necessity then. It isn't now. Or at least it doesn't have to be. That's what I'm thinking. Rationalization? Maybe. I'll ponder awhile longer.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

I made a few resolutions this year... except I didn't write them down. At my age, that could be good news or bad... if I don't write them down then I might forget them; then I might not keep them. But if I forget them, then I won't feel guilty about not keeping them.

They aren't regular resolutions anyway, so maybe it doesn't matter. As far as I can remember all my past resolutions had "to DO" somewhere in the implication: to do more exercise, to drink more water, to get to work on time... to write more letters.

I already do enough now; I even have more time to do it. What I want in the new year is a change of heart, compassion, peace of mind, mindfulness in general. I can't have those by doing.

I've never been much good at just being. For years my worth was measured by my productivity, and I got good marks most of the time. There was a certain satisfaction in getting a job done well and on time. Of course it was important not to question whether the job itself was even worth the effort. A lot of times it wasn't, but I got paid for the effort, so no complaints.

Now I don't get paid for anything and most of what I do does feel worth it. There's no more angst over wasting my talent or my time or my money. I don't have any money. In a way, life got a whole lot simpler when I took life vows.

Except most of us have experienced the annoying truth that: things that are simple are not necessarily easy. Complexity gives any measurement a sliding scale... it's easier to fudge the results or blame unforeseen parameters when results don't occur as predicted. So for me, just being could be a major flop. No time like the present to find out.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Feast of the Holy Name

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. —Luke 2:21

For secular revelers, January 1st is a day to sleep in, to write out New Year's resolutions, to reflect on 2007 and dream in 2008.

For those of us who observe today as the Feast of the Holy Name (of Jesus), our celebrant had his usual fascinating array of historical facts as well as his dry, well-placed humor. Until 1979, when our church officially changed the title of the feast day, today was called the Feast of the Circumcision. Eight days after Christmas, as was the Jewish law, Jesus was circumcised and named, the same name that the angel spoke before his conception.

Circumcision and naming were part and parcel of each other... as Paul says in his letter to the Galatians: "God sent his son... born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children." In other words, the child of Bethlehem, a Jew, was subject to the same unusual covenant with God as all the other Jewish male children. It wasn't just the custom, or a matter of cleanliness; circumcision was an outward and physical sign that the Law had been observed for another generation. For some this day is marked as the day of the first blood spilt by Jesus, to be echoed thirty-three years later on the cross. First blood spilt in observance of the law, and future blood spilt to redeem us from the law.

As he preached, our celebrant tied the importance of both observances together. Names, he reminded us, can tell us what someone does or who someone is. In Jesus' case the name does both. Jesus... Greek translation of Joshua (or Yeshua) a combination of two nouns in Hebrew: God and Salvation. Not only does "Jesus Save" (which some of us are forever exclaiming) but more importantly "The Lord IS Salvation." It is his very nature. The mystery here, of course, is why?