Monday, August 25, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Who is Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 11, 2008

Home is...

Home is... where the heart is, something you can never return to, where they have to love you whether they like you or not. All those definitions apply in one way or another, yet none of them can describe the sense of home.

I've had a lot of homes in my life, have had to leave a lot of them for assorted reasons, and the idea that you can't ever go back, not really, is as clear as glass. But you can go back to the memories, and as I do that, year after year when I visit Newport, I recapture some sense of what home was for me then.

The beach is my place... for whatever reason... Irish genes, childhood joys, the fact that we all evolved at some point from the sea, and Newport, Rhode Island, was the closest I ever got to living near the beach. You could say I  lived near enough, all those years in Jacksonville, Florida, but the ocean was eighteen miles away. I lived near the river. The river is lovely, but it is not the beach.

The smell of salt, seaweed, decaying fish, the cool breeze off the water, the sound of waves slapping the sand, or crashing against rocks, the whole salty-sandy-sticky earthiness of the experience is what takes me away. Where do I go? I go to God. In the cosmic sense, I go to the beauty and breathtaking created world... the sheer expanse of blue sky scudded with clouds atop the equally majestic expanse of water below. But I also go inside. I remember things at random... childhood things, beach things, talks I've had with God that were never resolved, the choices I've made over a lifetime that have been wise or foolish, but have led me here... to now, to this latest place I call home.

Last night I unpacked. I pulled out my beach dress, the cover-up I wear over my bathing suit. It smelled of salt and seaweed and suntan lotion. I put it on and wore it to bed. 

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Newport Report

Come Saturday Morning... that's a song I remember from my past somewhere. Saturday morning it is. Today is my last full day of rest time... where did it go?

As I said goodnight to one of our elders last Sunday night, she asked me "How long will you be gone?" "Just a week," I said, more to assure her I'd be home soon than to comment on the length of time I'd get to play. "Oh, that's not enough," she replied. I smiled, "It will have to do."

Vacations are like that, aren't they? You either have the kind where the days fly by and it's time to leave before you know it, or the kind where you're slipping things into your suitcase two or three days before it's time to go.

I used to be a four-day-girl. That was the exact amount of time I could spend before I started getting antsy to get back home, back to work, back to my own bed. Not this trip. My work at home can be done by others. (Not that any of them wants to keep doing my share.) My bed here is way more comfortable than my own, and it feels like I've just not had enough beach time to rest my weary soul. I haven't. It's rained a bit... cold rain. We went to the movies on one of those days, (Mama Mia!) and drove around shopping on another. On another I just cuddled up with my books and the remote control. TV is such a novelty, even if there's nothing I want to watch. 

Yesterday was sunny. Wahoo! So off we went around noon... loaded down with umbrellas, beach chairs, our books, a cooler, towels. 

I remember my first husband lamenting his days when he could go to the beach with just a towel. At that time we were also lugging all the kiddie paraphernalia: pails and shovels, rafts, blanket, towels, the cooler. Going to the beach was an expedition, and the combination of sand and salt water usually left everyone a bit cranky. 

My second husband disliked the beach. He was fair-skinned and burned easily, so it was always time to leave just as everyone else was getting comfortable. He'd tap his watch impatiently to wrangle the kids out of the water, and we'd begin packing up. The "beach" also meant sand in the car, and he carried big gallon jugs of water to wash everyone's feet right before boarding. "Stay on the towel!" he'd shout to the sandy offenders in the back seat. Everyone was a bit cranky.

Yesterday my friend and I spent most of the afternoon under our umbrellas, reading. We walked the shore a bit (lots of seaweed, no shells) and took turns lying in the sun on the blanket. When it was time to come home, nobody was cranky.

I'm not sure what we'll do today, but it looks like it might be sunny again... :)