One Year On

This time last year Quietnun and I were in the U.S.A. I had gone there to attend the Benedictine Development Symposium in Schuyler, Nebraska, where I was scheduled to give a talk about our online ministry, followed by meetings with Quietnun in New York and various places in Connecticut and New Jersey. Most of our meetings concerned the development of the community and the need for permanent accommodation, but we also managed a couple of visits with our postulant-to-be and some good friends nearby. It was fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. Never having been in the States as nuns, we were surprised by how kindly we were treated by everyone. The legendary friendliness of Americans is real enough, so we had to keep reminding ourselves we were guests in a foreign country. The fact that we spoke a similar language did not mean we could assume perfect understanding!

Where are we now, one year on? We have learned a lot; and we have found what we hope will prove to be a permanent home here in Herefordshire. That was not at all our idea when we went to the States last year. We have been powerfully reminded that our ways are not always God’s ways, that following his leadings means we have to give up ideas of our own and be prepared, at whatever age, to start anew. It means abandoning the loved and familiar. We had already done that twice, but who are we to limit the call and grace of God? So, one year on, a little like Abraham, we find ourselves having taken up our tent pegs and moved on into the unknown.

Probably most of you can resonate with that to some degree. One bumbles along, more or less happily, thinking nothing will ever change, and then some event, some person perhaps, causes a change we are totally unprepared for. Why should this happen to me, why should it happen now? In our case, we accepted the move to Howton Grove with joy because it means that others can now join the community. Other changes can be much harder to accept. We struggle, don’t we, hoping against hope that something will not come to pass. Our email prayerline is full of people’s secret fears and dreads: that a cancer may not spread; that the bank will not foreclose on a mortgage; that a son or daughter who is estranged may return to the family; that a husband or wife may not divorce. What has not changed for us, and never will, is the duty to take all these concerns into our prayer and intercede for others.

Today, if you have time, spend a moment or two in prayer for those faced with difficult transitions. They will never know you have prayed for them, but by praying you invite God into situations from which he may have been, in some sense, excluded. Intercessory prayer is dangerous, of course, but being surprised by God may be exactly what someone, somewhere, needs.

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Only in America

Got back from the U.S.A. yesterday and have been fully occupied with catching-up: collecting Bro Duncan from the kennels and taking him straight to the vet’s (yes, I know), doing huge amounts of washing, skimming through post and emails (we had eight days with very little internet access), so it wasn’t until this morning that I had any time to think about President Abbas’s call to the U.N. for recognition of the State of Palestine and some of its implications for the seemingly-moribund Middle East peace process. I hope that Palestine will be recognised, and that Palestine and other Arab countries will, in turn, recognise Israel. Much will depend on  the U.S. stance, but having read President Obama’s very pro-Israel address, I am rather doubtful.

Being doubtful, however, is not the same thing as being pessimistic. Human beings can, and do, cross the divides of religion, politics and culture. If we didn’t, we would be in a state of permanent war. Why am I hopeful, despite my doubts? A little incident will explain.

On Wednesday we were in the Rockerfeller Center in New York. Coming towards us was a Hasidic Jew. I expected him to pass us by. Two gentiles, and women at that (note my prejudices). On the contrary, he stopped, greeted us, and a short conversation in German, English and biblical Hebrew ensued, from which we learned that he was an Israeli rabbi, a doctor of psychology and a mystic who saw in Catholic contemplatives a couple of kindred spirits. That gives me hope. Peace processes and other big questions are ultimately resolved by the goodwill of individuals.

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In Praise of the Salesians

There is much to say about my recent trip to the U.S.A. but there is a lot of catching up to do first, so this will be no more than a brief ‘I’m back’ kind of post.

For the New York part of my stay I enjoyed the hospitality of the Salesian Sisters at Haledon, New Jersey. They couldn’t have been kinder or more generous (though I did wonder briefly whether the large mug and copious quantities of tea bags on 4 July had some Deeper Significance). There were lots of good things I noticed about the Sisters but one struck me very forcibly. I never once heard any of them grumble about any of the other Sisters or speak testily to them. It may be that they already are saints; they certainly are living as saints. Community life isn’t always easy, as anyone who has tried it will tell you. Being thrown together with a group of people one hasn’t chosen and to whom one is not related by blood, each of whom is blessed with idiosyncracies and foibles one doesn’t necessarily share, can be taxing. All credit, then, to the Salesians for being so considerate of one another, not just the guests. St Benedict would have approved.

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Looking through the Window

It is hot here in New York, seriously hot, with a high humidity content. My habit is as limp as I am, so I have chosen to stay indoors and work next to the air conditioning rather than go to the Cloisters Museum as I had hoped. Mad dogs and Englishmen may go out in the noonday sun, but not sensible Englishwomen like me (? Ed.)

So, I have been looking at life through the window, as it were. The deer feed near to the convent in the early morning, and there are a couple of turkeys who seem to have taken up residence on the edge of the woodland. It is familiar and strange at the same time. It struck me this morning that ‘looking at life through a window’ is exactly how illness or age may force us to experience much that goes on around us. How much we miss when we cannot hear, smell, touch or taste. The same is true if sight goes and we must rely on the other senses.

I don’t feel deprived that I cannot smell, touch (or taste) those wild turkeys but I am glad that I have the choice, whether to go outside and experience the sensory beauty of the early morning or stay inside my air-conditioned room.  Not everyone has that choice. Thinking about that has certainly transformed my disappointment at not going to The Cloisters. Instead I give thanks for what I have, and want to pray for those who have much less. Please join me in that.

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