Thursday, February 28, 2008

a night to remember

My best friend took me to a concert tonight.

You aren't going to believe it... I sat in the 7th row in the Allen Room at the (relatively) new Jazz at Lincoln Center facility... soaking up the sounds of k.d. lang. It was the final night of her Lincoln Center debut as she promotes her new album Watershed. She sang every one of my favorites... Helpless by Neil Young, Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, and (what else?) her best seller from the 90's Constant Craving.

She of course premiered songs from the new album and in general brought down the house. You can read about it here. I could say eat your heart out, but that would be rude. I cannot tell you how nice it is to have friends in high places. I am a very blessed girl.

Here's a You Tube sample of the amazing lady (again)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

what honor?

I have a new hobby. Well, it's not exactly new, I've just taken it to a new level. Movie watching. Specifically all the movies I've wanted to see over the years, (many Academy Award nominees) but for one reason or another... just never saw. My son gave me one of those cute little portable DVD players a couple of Christmases ago and it's been one of my favorite toys.

It began with all the DVDs we actually have on the shelf here in the convent, which isn't many. Then I had a gift certificate to Blockbuster which was good for a few more, then I discovered paydirt... the library. Yes, I actually even borrow books from the library, but truth be told, I'm mostly after the DVDs. I started with whatever happened to be on the shelf that looked remotely interesting. In the past year I have seen more foreign films with subtitles than I ever saw in the year I actually took a class in foreign films. My favorite was an Indian film The Namesake, produced and directed by Mira Nair.

But when I found out recently that the library has an online search engine and you can type in things like Heath Ledger... a whole new level of opportunity opened up to me. I watched the entire series of ROAR, and have a few more of his movies on hold for when they become available.

I finally got to see Prizzi's Honor. I can't tell you how many people have told me what a great flick that was. Okay. I don't get it. It was billed as a comedy, yet it wasn't especially funny. And what honor is there in two people supposedly crazy about each other who don't mind killing each other? Maybe you had to be there.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I picked up my new glasses today. They will definitely take some getting used to...

The last pair I purchased had all the bells and whistles. (I think I was trying to use up my flex benefits at the end of that particular year.) I had trifocals, featherweights, and progressive lenses, plus the anti-scratch coating, the UV filter, and magnetic snap-on sunglasses. Those glasses were prime real-estate and I loved them. But they were six years old.

My ophthalmologist wanted to try a new prescription before launching me into cataract surgery. He thinks we can postpone it for a year. (Personally, I'd just as soon have had it now while I'm healthy, especially since there was the possibility I would actually not need glasses for distance once new lenses were implanted.) But I trust him, so I went for the new prescription.

These new glasses are not bad looking for a cheap frame, but the bifocal part is totally weird. The line between close -up and far-away is smack dab in the middle of my line of sight. As I was being fitted, the optician bent the lenses down a bit, and finally set the glasses slightly down on my nose. (They would have ended up there eventually as the temples loosened, but it didn't seem like a good sign that we were starting out from that position.)

I've had bifocals with the line in the past. In fact, my first pair were bifocals when I was seven years old. They called me "four-eyes". Bifocals with a line are no big deal, just not as attractive as invisible progressives. I don't need to be attractive, but I do need to see without tripping all over myself. I have a nasty suspicion these were made incorrectly... that the very generous discount offered to our community by this particular optical shop may not be worth it if I can't see with the glasses they provide. It's a quandry. I don't want to seem ungrateful or inordinately picky, but if I fall down the stairs I'm not going to be a happy camper.

Monday, February 25, 2008

in the nick of time

As I mentioned yesterday, the sermon touched on the theme that change for the sake of change is not necessarily such a grand idea. It was explored in the larger context of the difference between change from and change for. As our preacher was speaking, I made one of my tangential parallels between that and another concept: Be careful what you ask for, little girl.

You might think these have little in common. However, the first lesson (Exodus 17: 1-7) about the Hebrews serving God as the oppressed in Egypt versus serving God as free men in the barren wasteland, was not lost on me. In Egypt, Pharaoh was the oppressor and God the savior. In the desert, they forgot. (How convenient.) Just as I forgot that I knelt before God a couple of months ago and said "use me." (Be careful what you ask for, little girl.)

Because of course what I meant was use me, but don't let me feel used. Put me to service but I'll pick and choose the ones I serve.

The collect for the third week in Lent begins: Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves; keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul... That pretty much covers last week.

Adversities happen. Evil thoughts assault and hurt the soul. And yet again, I am brought up short by the understanding that I have no power in myself to help myself.

The assaults in my case were the judgmental thoughts, comparisons in my heart about what was fair and unfair, about who was really sick and who was maybe taking advantage. For me it's always intertwined, this connection between body and mind... when my body suffers and has little strength, then my capacity for charity is wiped out as well. That prayer didn't come any too soon... just in the nick of time, in fact.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

if not perfect, at least better

Today's readings from Exodus (17:1-7) and John (4:5-42) were both stories about water. Our celebrant delivered another one of his densely packed and relevant zingers as he launched into the uncanny comparison between the political process in our country and the story of Moses.

He expanded: "The need for change" has been heavy in the rhetoric of all the politicians this year. The people have conveyed that message to their candidates, and although there has been debate on what change and why, and how much and what form it will take, no candidate has been stupid enough to say. "Things are just fine the way they are." Each contender wants to be seen as the agent of change, and therefore... get elected.

Moses was the agent of change for the people living in oppression in Egypt. He led them out and through the Reed Sea* and the jubilant song of praise on the banks could be likened to any celebration at party headquarters when the poll results are in.

Fast forward a few months and the people were dying of thirst. They were murmuring against their agent because the requested change didn't exactly meet their expectations. "Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die here?" Death is death. Better to have died with a full stomach than a parched throat.

For the Hebrew people, their new found freedom didn't look so good once they were dying of thirst. They had cried to God for deliverance from the oppressor Pharaoh, but on the edge of the barren wilderness they had to look for a new oppressor. Moses got the vote. Why was that? Was the price too high in the way of creature comforts? Too high in the sense of lost security? They had not had much in the way of comfort in Egypt, nor had there been security. What then, had they expected from change? Easy answer: that their lives be... if not perfect, at least better.

But in order for that to happen the whole concept of change for change's sake needs to be revised.
  1. Change needs a goal beyond itself; change should be a means not an end.
  2. We must carefully examine the difference between change from and change to.
It comes down to the whole belief (that I as a monastic struggle with on a daily basis): Life lived in the service of God belongs to God, not me. For God's chosen people, it was a concept they would forget and remember, forget and remember throughout their long and colorful history. They continue that work today. Me too. If I can't be perfect at it, maybe I can at least be better.

The question our celebrant raised (and one we should be looking to answer after November 11th) is this: What are we willing to trade for our freedom?

*Yes, it really was the Reed Sea... some translator got it wrong... a long time ago.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

It works for me...

Every year when I have my annual physical my doctor asks, "Do you want a flu shot?" And every year I say "Absolutely not." She then gives me the at-risk spiel and I again tell her that I'd rather take my chances than get the shot and immediately get the flu. She doesn't believe me.

That's what has happened every time I've had a flu shot: I've come down with the flu. Within 48 hours. When you're in the military you don't have a choice. They line you up and crack! crack! crack! the staple gun-needle-shooter guys move down the line infecting everyone with the (supposedly) dead virus. Dead or alive, it doesn't matter; I get the flu.

Yesterday someone mentioned that this bug currently infecting Manhattan is a brand new strain, so the flu shots that people received were worthless. I laughed.

Last night the topic of antibiotics came up. Some sisters have been given them and some (who sound just as bad) have not. What's with that? One of our friends is a chemist. She explained that they are much more careful now about dispensing antibiotics because people develop immunities and then the antibiotic won't work when you really need it. We talked about the issue of completing the dose, something I'm notorious for not doing. Once I feel better, I hoard the rest of the pills against a future need. Uh oh. Busted. I was severely scolded and warned of the imminent dangers in doing what I do... she sounded like my doctor.

What can I say? One day butter is good for you, the next day it isn't. The rules are always changing in the medical field, as new technology uncovers a new twist or relationship not previously understood. It works for me doesn't seem to be a good enough answer when I'm confronted with experts that know the current rules but don't necessarily know my body.

I used to develop asthmatic bronchitis every time I had hay fever or caught a cold. Now I don't. Who is to say that my self under-dosing of antibiotics didn't cause this shift? It works for me.

Friday, February 22, 2008

last (wo)men standing

It's snowing here... has been since early this morning. It's not blizzard weather, but it is a steady soft downpour that's building up drifts. It doesn't look like our street has been plowed yet, which makes for a slippery downhill slide. Our "snow sister" is in her element. She starts praying for snow in August, and refuses to stop until the rest of us are so sick of winter we threaten her life.

Another priest was (yet again) relieved when I called last night to say we'd like to give her the day off. She was tending a sick child and thought maybe she was coming down with it too.

Well we are all now "down with it". One is totally horizontal and has been all week. The rest are in varying stages of intermittently vertical, and only two of us are even remotely "still standing". She and I are taking turns with the cooking, clean-up, doorbell and phone messages. She is making a doctor appointment for one elderly die-hard who still thinks this is just a "bad cold." We are muddling through.

Two sisters who are away traveling, are due to return Sunday night. They will be exhausted from their travels though, so not much help there. Oddly enough, the atmosphere is one of sweet congeniality and good will. I was pretty grumpy when I awoke, but have rallied over coffee, and am only occasionally racked with a coughing fit.

Sister is making soup again for lunch and I decided to try my hand at homemade pimento cheese. I found a recipe, all the ingredients and whipped up a batch. Grilled pimento cheese sandwiches with our soup... sounds like heaven to me.

Here's the recipe:
3 cups shredded cheddar (the orange kind looks more festive)
1 6 oz jar pimentos, diced, include the juice
1/2 small onion finely minced
1 cup mayonnaise
1 8 oz pkg cream cheese
1-2 TBLSPs Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp paprika

Thursday, February 21, 2008

community of faith

As I've mentioned before, our little community is now down to one sister who doesn't (yet) have the bug. Most of us are coughing, sneezing, sniffling or some combination thereof... One has bronchitis and another goes for a chest x-ray today. (She may have pneumonia.)

Yesterday sister made us soup: a hearty barley for lunch, and chicken vegetable for supper. We've suspended all corporate worship for a couple of days and are only gathering (if at all) to eat. Some are having their meals taken to them on trays. Last night it came out, that while there was great relief that we had declared this bare-bones schedule, there was also a good deal of guilt and fear around the decision.

"In the old days..." this would not have been possible. The reverend mother/founder of our order was apparently a real stickler for performance at any cost. One sister related her story that once she had an ear infection and was in great pain. Another sister had suggested she find a substitute for her teaching duties and the reverend mother had said "NO! She will teach her classes today!" So she did.

The good old days were not always especially good. Our approach now leans in the direction of compassion over performance. Of course there will always be those who will take advantage of this approach, no doubt about it. But an overall suspicion that everyone will take advantage is just plain paranoid. We did not take on a life of service in order to shirk our responsibilities. And we did not all get sick at the same time on purpose. Our cook's grandmother did not die on purpose either, leaving us without a cook for the rest of the week. Stuff happens. We had two choices: scale back, or try to kill ourselves maintaining the fourfold Daily Office, guest ministry, and business as usual.

I answered the door yesterday to two guests who were checking in. They were not happy when I explained that the evening meal had been suspended. They had invited a friend to come for dinner to "chat with the sisters." I explained that during Lent we don't chat on Wednesday evenings anyway, except for Sunday, all are silent meals. They were unhappy about that.

This is one of the reasons we're scaling back our guest ministry. We don't exactly run a hotel, but people expect hotel amenities. And there are not enough of us (even when we're well) to give them that service. We are a community of faith. We can provide a clean bed and room, bathrooms and showers, and sometimes meals. It's a crapshoot.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Dark Night of the Soul

Okay, I know this is a major cop out as blogging goes... but we are still all sickly here. We have an array of symptoms that range from the common cold to the flu to bronchitis. (Not a pretty sight.)

The other day I posted a song by Loreena McKennitt from her album Book of Secrets, and I also found this one from the writings of John of the Cross, called Dark Night of the Soul, from her album Mask and Mirror:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Practically everyone here in the convent is sick. I was one of the last hold-outs to catch this uncommon cold thing that all of Manhattan has. But last night I felt that scratchy itchy sneezy coughing nose-running symptom and today it is full blown. Nyquil and I are going to bed. We all had an early supper, Vespers on our own, and each sister is suffering in silence in her own room.

This is my post. Take it or leave it...
I have no energy for profundity or platitude.
Night night.

Monday, February 18, 2008

selective memory

I think unless you have a photographic memory or enhanced auditory memory (where you can repeat entire conversations verbatim) that your memory would have to be selective. I have no clue how much RAM my brain contains, but the older I get the more data I lose. Now, only when something triggers an old memory can I call it up.

This happened just recently. Out of the blue I received an email from someone I knew a long time ago. I hadn't exactly forgotten him, but I certainly don't dwell on his memory every day. Woosh! Suddenly I remembered all kinds of things... how well he played guitar, how he sounded a lot like Neil Young when he sang, how he carefully wrote out the lyrics for me to a song I'd never heard before. I remember his little sports car that needed to be hard-wired to get it started, the long letters he wrote me, the return address on those letters, and a dozen more personal, intimate things about him I don't need to go into. (Sorry... some things are just none of your business.)

The point is this. I had not thought about him in ages. Now I can't stop. In addition to all the little specific details... I wonder what happened to him over all these lost years, and I guess I wonder why I wonder. He and I were a flash in the pan as relationships go... we weren't in love, but we were close as empty-hearted people sometimes find each other and become close. For a brief period in time we connected and buoyed each other up. It didn't work out and we both moved on.

So why does my heart ache now?

Here's something I found (I guess you have figured out that You Tube is my new favorite online toy) to enhance all those misty watercolor memories:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

after dark

Our celebrant this morning is a friend/associate from England. She is always a little nervous about celebrating here because our liturgy is put together differently than the one she uses at home. All the components are there, but not quite in the same order. Her preaching, however, was magnificent, as she brought the two stories (from today's Old Testament and Gospel) together, and asked some probing questions. The heart of her point was this: Are we more like Abram or Nicodemus?

God spoke and Abram obeyed. And what God said was not especially plausible: "Pack up, travel far and I'll make you the father of a multitude of descendants." Yeah, right. Abram was doing well right where he was, he was in his seventies or thereabouts, his wife was barren (possibly post-menopausal). Yet he packed up and traveled. No questions.

Nicodemus, on the other hand, a prominent intelligent leader of his people, recognized that Jesus had something. Not wishing to sully his reputation by being seen with Jesus out in the open, he visits after dark and proceeds to question and argue. Which one are we like?

Don't know about you, but I am constantly questioning and arguing, only occasionally obeying. Oops.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Dante's Prayer

I posted a few days ago about my trip to Ireland in 1998. A friend asked to see the composites I had made in the depths of my despair... over a multitude of things... living here and not there, suffering the inattentions of a boyfriend with no clue, unemployment with no job looming on the horizon, and in general, the post-mountain-top-experience blahs.

I played Loreena McKennitt's Book of Secrets over and over (continuous loop) until I knew every word of every song on that album... but whenever Dante's Prayer would cycle through, I'd stop whatever I was doing on the computer and sing along:

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me...

So... for what it's worth, here are five of the original six composites (one got lost a few years ago)

I also found a You Tube video of the song if you're interested. What this song has to do with Legolas Greenleaf or Orlando Bloom is beyond me, but it was the only decent one I could find:

Friday, February 15, 2008

same stuff/different day

This posting every day thing is finally getting to me. By now everyone must know I am an INFP on the Myers-Briggs. I've never heard it called "Dreamer/Visionary" before... certainly nicer than "Almost Perfect: NOT!"

Click to view my Personality Profile page

take your own test here

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Once upon a time Valentine's Day was absolutely the most important day of the year for me. More important than my birthday, even... because people generally feel compelled to remember you on your birthday.

For me, a Valentine was an expression of my worth... as a woman, or a potential partner, or as a person attractive or sweet enough to love. I put so much stock in this particular day I would be totally bummed out on years when I had no boyfriend.

On years when I had a boyfriend, I would put enormous pressure (on both of us) to make the day memorable. I wanted flowers, candy, a date, an expensive dinner... you name it, I wanted it. In my own defense, I was more than willing to give as good as I got, but that only made matters worse. I was so overwhelming in my effusive shower of gifts and affection, I scared them off.

What was with that? Insecurity... unreasonable expectations, pressure. What a waste.

Now I am a nun. (And it's Lent... no chocolate allowed) Wahoo! Having no expectations has got to be the most emancipating feeling on earth. I feel so sorry for all the guys I pressured or embarrassed or coerced on this day.

A toast to you, guys! You did your best (under ridiculous circumstances) and I have to tell you (and I'm sorry it's in retrospect) but I appreciate every single token of love you managed to express.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

reality sucks/life blows

No it's not a rant... it doesn't mean what you think.

Reality... the reality of God, sucks the breath out of you. Sucks the life from you... the dense life of flesh and blood and guts and grime.

The whole theme of transcendence has been swirling about me for days. Transcendence/thinness/ the veil between the physical and the spirit... it's an interesting (and arresting) subject. That it would suddenly pop up in so many of my readings lately may have to do with the lectionary, but I doubt it. Even my so-called pagan friends are exploring the topic. "If you hear it twice, pay attention!" is an old expression. Okay God, I'm paying attention.

I have experienced thin places in the world. In Ireland, specifically. On the Aran Island of Inis Mor I walked a labyrinth, and that experience turned my world upside down. Talk about thin. In the short week I spent there I developed psychic power, connected with an old soul I knew but had never met before, came back to the states a broken, yet transformed woman. It was the beginning, or one of them, anyway. I was depressed for months and turned to my art for solace. Images from Ireland, photographs I had taken there, transformed themselves on my computer into multi-layered composites... glimpses of the thinness I had felt and seen.

As I've mentioned before, certain music thins the veil for me. There are many paths to the truth.

Here's some of what I've been reading:

... Spirit. It wasn't a strange place, but an additional dimension of the actual. (Jesus) saw it, and others could see it, too. It wasn't a cocoon uniquely reserved for him or a prize that only the named elect could attain. It was simply the more that always exists but isn't always experienced. —Tom Ehrich

...And so we go back and forth, catching tiny glimpses of heaven here and there amid the great swaths of life's daily-ness. For the most part, we're not built to behold heaven; we can't look God in the face for very long.
— Barbara Crafton

sometimes life blows…
and sometimes life blows me away

at the same time
—Pat Denino

Humankind cannot bear very much reality... — T.S. Elliot.

No one has seen God it says in the Bible, yet Moses supposedly saw God and it burned a glory into his face so bright and hideous he had to wear a veil. Bright and hideous? Oxymoron? Perhaps. Yet...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

joke's on me

Yesterday (Monday) was my day off. Since we adjust our habits so much in Lent (no TV, no movies, for me, no video games, etc.) I had to look around for something to do to goof off. I am reading James Carroll's Constantine's Sword, which is way too dense and compelling to call goofing off. So I surfed the web and found this funny test based on the Myers-Briggs personality analysis. I'm always up for a laugh.

Almost Perfect- INFP
13% Extraversion, 53% Intuition, 13% Thinking, 46% Judging

So, you want to make the world a better place? Too bad it's never gonna happen. Of all the types, you have to be one of the hardest to find fault in. You have a selfless and caring nature. You're a good listener and someone who wants to avoid conflict. You genuinely desire to do good.

Of course, these all add up to an incredibly overpowered conscience which makes you feel guilty and responsible when anything goes wrong. Of course, it MUST be your fault EVERY TIME.

Though you're constantly on a mission to find the truth, you have no use for hard facts and logic, which is a source of great confusion for those of us with brains. Despite this, in a losing argument, you're not above spouting off inaccurate fact after fact in an effort to protect your precious values.

You're most probably a perfectionist, which in this case, is a bad thing. Any group work is destined to fail because of your incredibly high standards.

Disregard what I said before. You're just as easy to find fault in as everyone else!

Luckily, you're generally very hard on yourself, meaning I don't need to waste my precious time insulting you. Instead, just find all your own faults and insult yourself.

The other personality types are as follows...

Loner - Introverted Sensing Feeling Perceiving
Pushover - Introverted Sensing Feeling Judging
Criminal - Introverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving
Borefest - Introverted Sensing Thinking Judging
Freak - Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging
Loser - Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving
Crackpot - Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging
Clown - Extraverted Sensing Feeling Perceiving
Sap - Extraverted Sensing Feeling Judging
Commander - Extraverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving
Do Gooder - Extraverted Sensing Thinking Judging
Scumbag - Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving
Busybody - Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging
Prick - Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving
Dictator - Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging

take the test

The moral of the story is that we can always find a gem of truth in the rubble of any endeavor. This statement, for instance: You're most probably a perfectionist, which in this case, is a bad thing. Any group work is destined to fail because of your incredibly high standards. Alas, how true. I hear it from every angle. But what I hear is that my high standards are skewed toward performance rather than compassion, and that's the area of my focus for Lent. And all I wanted to do was goof off. (Very funny, God. Ha ha ha not.)

Monday, February 11, 2008


Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?"
The woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'"

Who told her that she couldn't even touch it or she would die? Not God. (At least no where in any of the accounts I've read.) God actually gave the command to Adam. Maybe Adam embellished it when he conveyed the message, adding his own spin. Or Eve did. Another thing... just being recently made, how did they know about death anyway?

The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.

Okay... here's the question: It clearly states that Eve ate first. Then she gave the fruit to Adam. Theoretically her eyes would have been opened first and she would have known about good and evil before he did. Yet she gave him the fruit anyway. Why? Does misery just love company? Or did he actually say " Hey! No way I'm going to sit by and let you be smarter than me. Hand it over!"

Sunday, February 10, 2008

First Sunday in Lent

Most excellent sermon this morning! Sometimes everything fits together... old knowledge, new information, additional questions, sudden insights. When that happens I get a chill.

Our celebrant this morning compared the stories from the Old Testament (Genesis 2: 5-17, 3: 1-7) and the Gospel (Matthew 4: 1-11)

Adam and Eve, sucked in by the serpent's promise that they could "be like God." And Jesus' encounter in the desert... where the three temptations were really the same thing. Turn these stones into bread... (transmute elements) Jump from the pinnacle... (defy the law of gravity) and become the ruler of the world (take God's throne.) It was this conscious (and different) response on Jesus' part that set him on his path to a different kind of ministry: that he accepted his human limitations, and agreed to cooperate with the Father.

She suggested that the desire to be like God is at the crux of most, if not all, of our problems as human beings. As her spiritual director advised her to remember: "God is God and I am not." Meditating on that, rather than focusing on what you can give up for Lent, unless that giving up points you to that understanding, is at the heart of the Lenten message. Especially this first Sunday in Lent.

Learning to cooperate with God, rather than escaping or thinking we can overrule Him is the unexpected, counter-intuitive way into freedom. She urged us to "put ourselves at God's disposal". Interesting choice of words... disposal.

Of course she was talking about the power to use something or someone, rather than a kitchen appliance for eliminating garbage, but so much of our language can be metaphoric. How many times do we "bewail our manifold sins" and as a result consign ourselves to the garbage heap? It would seem that too much emphasis on sin only creates more sin. Everything in moderation is my motto for Lent. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Transcendence, Darkness, Self-Indulgence

I visit a number of blogs on a regular (if not daily) basis, and came across a post by Melissa with a You Tube video of Jeff Buckley singing "Hallelujah." As a result, I researched the song; original words by Leonard Cohen (changed slightly by everyone else who's ever recorded it).

I listened to it about a million times... all the variations I could find on You Tube. The most haunting was a version by K. D. Lang. Jeff Buckley got my vote as the closest runner-up for most moving rendition.

Music can (and will) open me to the transcendent. I'd forgotten that somehow in the busy-ness of being quiet.

We keep a good deal of silence in our house most of the time anyway, but during Lent it intensifies. This silence is something I had to learn to love, but now take for granted. I put away the few CDs I brought to the community; they became distracting. But having wallowed in this particular song yesterday, I realize how much I've missed by eliminating this particular path to transcendence.

The other interesting piece of all this is we give up Alleluias for Lent. It's a liturgical practice of the church, not just our community. During Lent, the words of the mass: "Alleluia, Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us..." begin simply with "Christ our passover..." It gives a starkness and clarity to the worship. It also requires us to actually pay attention to what we're saying. (So easy to go on autopilot when the words are familiar.) So... having given up Alleluias, why was I so compelled to immerse myself in a song that has thirty-four Hallelujahs?

One easy answer: This song speaks to the brokenness of all our attempts to relate to God.

Lent, even though we're essentially still in the first few days, is a time for examining darkness from all the angles. It's so seductive to believe that we have it made simply because we understand God through the lens of Jesus Christ. No more need to ask questions, to grapple with injustice, to come to terms with what we've done (and keep doing) to His creation.

In my Lenten Meditation book there's a Lenten Action suggestion for each day. Yesterday's said to give up "just one self-indulgence for the day". Not such a bad idea, to ease into it. (You have to start somewhere.) But self-indulgence comes in many shapes and sizes. What if believing we're one of the 99 good sheep is a self-indulgence? What if... the cold and broken hallelujahs are actually the only ones that matter to God?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Frozen Grand Central

Only in New York


I'm in a Lenten book club/meditation/blog group. It's one of my "add-ons" for Lent. (You know: add-ons versus give-ups.) It's a discipline, like Blog 365... a commitment to blog every day about the meditation we read in the book: Lent And Easter Wisdom: Daily Scripture And Prayers Together With Nouwen's Own Words. Today's meditation actually had to do with discipline, which for me can be a dirty word. That strikes me as funny, since I've got quite a few little disciplines going these days, yet I hate the whole concept. Go figure.

Four women with diverse Christian orientations met online a few years ago and formed a book club to read Ken Gire's Moments With the Savior. What a trip!

Back then I was new to the religious life (I'm still new by many standards) new to blogging, new to book clubs. The group moderator was a little hesitant about including a nun... the stereotypical pious wet blanket sort of thing. That didn't last. We found we were the liberals in the group, and I was about the farthest left you could get and still be called Christian. In fact some of our commenters strongly suggested that I was not only not Christian, but Satan incarnate. Okay, nobody actually said that, but there were times when the conversations definitely headed in that direction.

This time our blog is closed. Only we can read what we say and only we can comment. It should prove to be an enlightening (hopefully bonding) experience. Just us grappling with, and sharing our relationships with God. No cheerleaders or detractors to get us sidetracked. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

not by bread alone

I've been reading up on the Stations of the Cross. It's one of the optional observances our community utilizes during Lent. There are lots of versions of this form of meditation; we use the standard Anglican form.

I have also been wanting to create my own set of abstract images for each of the fourteen stations for some time... (years actually) It's a project I've worked on, but never finished. While I've done a few, coming up with 14 has not been easy.

I was first introduced to the Way of the Cross way back in third grade, when I attended a parochial school for half a year. In addition to our daily memorization of the catechism, we trooped across the street to church once a week to walk the stations. Each was a large bas-relief niche set up high into the wall, and I was both fascinated and grossed out by the graphic rendering of Christ's passion. I remember the sister lifting us up to touch the crown of thorns on Jesus' head. The stone had been sharpened to such tiny points we could prick our fingers. It left an impression, even on those of us who didn't push hard enough to bleed. I also distinctly remember the smell of incense, and will associate that smell with Catholic churches for the rest of my life.

In the little book I'm currently reading, it states that the "Way of the Cross is a form of meditation which has been sanctified by the devotion of centuries." Now that's a scary thought. Something is sanctified by usage? Or by devotion? I don't think so. The Nazis were devoted to killing Jews... there was no sanctification there. We have been reciting the blood and guts war psalms for centuries too. War has never been sanctified.

I'm not even sure that this meditation will lead me (as the booklet suggests) "into a deeper union with Christ in his suffering". It might, but my suspicion is that only suffering does that. I think it is Christ's suffering that we should be looking to relieve, not redeem. And, since we live two thousand years too late to relieve his, we can only relieve it by relieving the suffering of each other.

Jesus said to Peter, "If you love me... Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs. Feed my sheep." Relief of hunger, one of the basic instincts of all life. That's what my deacon friend does at St. Bart's every day... he "just feeds people."

But hunger can be more than physical. It can be mental and/or spiritual. I remember when my kids were little and I stayed home every day, I definitely hungered for adult conversation. That was mental hunger.

Jesus spoke about being fed... not by bread alone... but by the food that would fill the spiritual emptiness. Lent seems to be a journey to find that kind of food.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

...this day isn't about ashes on foreheads, but personal stands against evil and a brave determination to live differently. —Tom Ehrich

Most of us know that on some level... that it isn't about the outward symbol we walk around town with today. When I was growing up, the only people who had smudges on their foreheads were my Catholic neighbors. (We must not have had any Episcopal neighbors.) And yes, I thought they were showing off.

This morning our celebrant had some excellent words about what Ash Wednesday is about: First of all, she said, it's about our mortality. We will die. Secondly, it's about sin. It's the day to get honest with ourselves about our motives, our secret agendas, our own very real hypocrisy in the face of what we profess to believe. But more important it's about our dependence on God... on this God whose breath created us, and whose heart allows us to turn back, to repent and start over.

So... today we confess not just our sins, but our dependence on God. We are dust. Yet God hates nothing that has been created... not even the dust.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Shrove Tuesday

Perhaps it is the pre-Lent funk... I hope it is the pre-Lent funk.

I am irritable. Some sisters are overworked, and as a result, their responsibilities have fallen through the cracks. I am supposed to be compassionate about that. I'm not especially. I am back to making my own to-do lists... as if it will compensate for my lack of compassion. (If I can't be compassionate, I can at least be responsible... what a Pharisee I am.)

I am also sick of picking up the slack. So this morning when the doorbell rang, I ignored it. (Let someone else get it, damn it...) This will just not do. I've been thinking a lot about what Lent will look like for me this year.

I had it in my mind at one point to give asceticism a healthy try. Don't knock it if you haven't tried it sort of thing. I considered giving up not only the required chocolate and ice cream our community's culture imposes, but also alcohol, non-dairy flavored creamer, butter, soft drinks and anything sweet or of the fast food variety... potato chips, pop corn, Taco Bell. I have no doubt that underlying this holy discipline lie some pretty unholy motivations: losing weight, for one.

Giving up sweets motivated by the desire to lose weight doesn't count. I'm not overweight. I'm just not slim anymore. I want to look better, not treat my body as a temple of God. My guess is that nobody's intensions are totally pure. Knowing that mine aren't is a bitch.

So... I've been rethinking the whole Lenten journey. (I was already rethinking it before today, but Shrove Tuesday especially requires a decision.) Tomorrow it starts. I need a plan. More importantly, I need a change of attitude. It's the area of relationships that I need to work on, not denying myself a bunch of foods that aren't especially good for me anyway. To work hard at seeing the face of Christ in every person that ticks me off... now that would be a worthwhile endeavor. The nice thing about living in community, is that my sisters will support me through the process... I won't be doing it alone.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Happy Birthday: Hortense Caswell Hall R.I.P.

My aunt was about three years older than my mother, who was twenty-eight years older than me, so if she were still alive, she'd have celebrated her ninety-third birthday today. She died several years before my mother, of complications brought on by her generation's penchant for heavy smoking and even heavier drinking. [She liked her Manhattans, and although she gave up smoking, (unlike my mother) she still suffered from the effects.]

I idolized my aunt when I was a teenager. She was everything my mother wasn't... wealthy, sophisticated, interested in art and antiques. She gave lavish parties, had her friends over to play bridge. She had been a nurse, and still filled in occasionally at her local hospital. She had the whole outfit: white dress, white hose and shoes, starched cap with black band. Nurses don't dress that way anymore, just as most nuns don't dress in habits. We sometimes bemoan the passing of the "uniform"... the clothes that confer a recognized status, a familiar and comforting illusion.

As a child I vowed (again and again) I would not grow up to become my mother, but I did. While I am uncomfortable with the term flamboyant to describe myself, it's definitely a term I'd use to describe my mom. She liked loud colors and bright prints, She bleached her hair platinum blonde and laughed a lot. While my aunt played bridge, my mother went bowling.

My mother and aunt were rivals, but they were also close friends. When blood needed to be thicker it was... my aunt (and her wealth) rescued us when my dad deserted us, her bankroll funded my mother's purchase of a beauty shop in the boondocks of New Hampshire, and her sense of family brought us to her house every Thanksgiving and Christmas to celebrate together. She was the Episcopalian. That and a love of tissue paper with sparkles are the tangible things I have to show for her considerable influence.

I am (occasionally) wiser now than I was at fourteen, when my love affair with my aunt's view of the world was so at odds with my relationship with my mom. Much of my aunt's sophistication was pretense... an effort to seem to be more than she was... My mother was exactly who she was... if you didn't like it, well "tough titty" to use her expression... one my aunt would have deplored.

I owe my life to both influences. They are inextricably mingled... one in my DNA, the other in my environmental conditioning. I think of them both in heaven... chatting over their afternoon drinks. My aunt raises her Manhattan: "Well at least she's an Episcopalian, Helen. You owe me that." My mother smiles as she sips her Whiskey Sour. "Yes, but she hates bridge and likes to bowl."

Sunday, February 03, 2008

the moment passes

The feast of the Transfiguration is actually celebrated in August, yet we always hear the story again the last Sunday before Lent:

Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." —Matthew 17:4

As many times as we Christians read this story, do we ever stop making an idol of familiarity? I cannot count the times church people have responded to a new event — from contextual crisis to their own individual angst — by grasping at familiarity: declare the new wrong because it is new, fit the new into old categories, greet the new by reenacting old conflicts, treat the Word as an icon to be treasured because it never changes, rather than as a lance to the heart bringing God into this very day. —Tom Erich

The Transfiguration is many stories within the story... deeply packed, full of different meanings for different people. (Or different meanings at different times for the same people, or all of the above.) For Jesus perhaps it was an anchor, what self-help seminars call a resource state. Our celebrant this morning had a different take on the story than Tom's. Both are important, I think, as we move forward into Lent.

"If the picture is in a frame. it goes on the wall." she said. She was relating a story from her own childhood, her own heritage, where, because of humidity and culture, in her grandparents' home, all framed photographs were hung up high, near the ceiling. "You had to look up," she went on, "much as the disciples had to look up to the scene of Jesus talking with Elijah and Moses." She went on to point out that in Matthew's Gospel, Peter is not scolded for wanting to memorialize the event he has just witnessed. The moment passes, and Jesus is there alone with them again.

The moment passes. So much of my dealings with God and Spirit can be summed up in those three words. I am honored with glimpses, blessed with instantaneous understandings, given the benefit of peaceful moments... but they are gone before I am sometimes even aware they were there. Coming back to earth isn't easy; of course we want to frame the picture, the feeling, the remembrance of who we knew ourselves to be in that moment.

But even a framed picture is only a two-dimensional reminder of whatever experience we had which suffused every particle of our being. As Barbara Brown Taylor has said, "...reality is not flat, but deep."

And it is this very depth that familiarity cannot capture. So, as Tom says above, we resort to what we know in our fear of what we cannot know fully. To embrace the new will mean to embrace the cross. To understand the Word of God to be an organic, evolving, transforming process, rather than words on a concrete tablet is to see the safety nets removed as we venture forth on the precipice. "...a lance to the heart bringing God into this very day" is what we can find during Lent... if we're willing.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


She changed her mind. On her own... no bullying by the medical establishment. This time her surgery was brief and successful... a kink in her intestine was easily straightened out (unlike last July when six inches had to be removed) and all seems to be well. Thanks for your prayers.

Does this give new meaning to the term "twisted sister"?

Friday, February 01, 2008


Just last week one of our elderly sisters sat on the couch and declared, "No more surgery!" She went on to elaborate that she had lived a full life, had always had tons of energy... getting up before 5:00 every morning and going to bed after 11:00 at night. She was fed up with feeling exhausted all the time and attributed this to the major surgery she underwent last July. "Seven months!" she said, "and I'm just now beginning to have a little more stamina. So, no more surgery!"

We all heard her say it. In fact, some of us had heard her say it several times these past seven months while she struggled to slowly regain her strength and appetite and mental faculties. Last night she was back in the hospital with the same condition that required the emergency surgery in July. Today we are all on pins and needles. Will the doctors be able to treat her without surgery? What if they can't?

I've often declared myself, that if I ever come down with cancer I have no intention of undergoing chemo. I've used much the same language as my sister... I've lived a full life... blah blah blah. I have no certainty that I won't change my mind if it should happen, but I want the right to make the choice. My sister wants that right. Yet we don't want to lose her either. We are all praying for a less-invasive treatment that works.