What We Don’t Blog About and What it Says About Us

Blogging, we are told, reveals what interests us and the kind of people we are. What we say and how we say it captures our essential essence. Le style est l’homme même indeed. But I wonder whether what we don’t say is just as revealing. The austere format of this blog suits me, but I know it puts some readers off. Perhaps, secretly, I don’t want the kind of readers who prefer visual imagery and catchy formats; so while I protest that I like the ‘monastic’ simplicity of the layout, I am actually trying to ensure that I only attract readers who are in sympathy with me? O devious Dame, if so!

You will find that I very rarely comment on what is going on in other churches. There has been no word from me on the subject of women in the episcopate or the doctrinal formulations of the Reformed or Protestant Churches, for example. That is not because I have no opinion, but because I do not want to be drawn into controversies I can never fully understand from the inside. I would need to be an Anglican or a Methodist or a Baptist to engage at any real depth. It is easy to see why. I may have read a fair amount of Anglican/Methodist/Baptist theology, but I have never lived as an Anglican/Methodist/Baptist so there is a gap between my theoretical understanding and my lived experience. Turn that back to front, and you may see why occasionally I am irritated by members of other churches making statements about the one to which I belong. It is not that I think they have no right to do so; it is just that I am not convinced they are always as well qualified to do so as I (note the ego!) think they should be.

I rarely comment on marriage or family life and have largely side-stepped the debate on same-sex marriage, yet I know that for many readers, they are questions of fundamental importance. My reticence stems from an awareness of my limitations. Why should I comment on that which is beyond me and about which others are infinitely better informed? Turn that around, and you may understand why I sometimes smile over comments that tell me how I ought to understand/live the monastic life. Many comments are helpful and make me examine my own practice, but there are a few that take us to cloud-cuckoo land!

I know I have many American readers, from both north and south, but I am very hesitant about commenting on U.S. politics. I have views, certainly, but I am not equal to the sheer intensity of American responses. The hatred of President Obama expressed by people I know to be good and kind leaves me speechless. I just don’t understand it — just as I don’t understand the apparent unwillingness to do anything about gun crime or the brinkmanship that has led to the latest shutdown of government. Turn that around, and as a European, I find the American tendency to think that what is good for Americans must be good for everyone else quite troubling.

Today you might have expected me to blog about St Thérèse of Lisieux, as I have done in the past; but I haven’t, because there are aspects of her life I find difficult. She was a great woman as well as a great saint, with more of steel in her than little flower, I think, but she plunges us into the stuffy world of the nineteenth century bourgeoisie, and I find that unattractive. I cannot relate to it in any meaningful way. In fact, I have never been drawn to Carmelite spirituality, much as I honour and hold dear those who are. I think that illustrates one final point about what we don’t blog about. No matter what we leave out, what we choose not to write about, someone, somewhere will have something to say that is worth reading, on precisely the subjects about which we ourselves are inadequate.

So, pray on — and blog on!

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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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Connecticut Connections

Bridgettines and Benedictines
Bridgettines and Benedictines in Darien, CT

Last week Quietnun and I made a return visit to the U.S.A. for a series of meetings which took us from Connecticut to Georgia in something of a whirlwind tour. As before, everyone was enormously kind and helpful, even the much-maligned Homeland Security staff who had the job of frisking us at every airport. In London one is accustomed to the occasional jibe or unpleasantness, but we never encountered anything like that in the States. So, lesson number one, the legendary friendliness of Americans, like the exquisite courtesy of Madrileños, is something we could all well emulate.

Our friend Meg made our visit very easy, helping us with transport arrangements and throwing open her home to us while she decamped elsewhere. So, for a few days, Derby CT had a small Benedictine community in its midst. The latter part of our stay was spent with the lovely Bridgettine community at Darien CT, from which it was  a short train journey into New York city. Mother Eunice and her sisters made us very welcome, and we enjoyed the quiet beauty of the Sound and the prayerful atmosphere of the community chapel.

Americans are much quicker to grasp the significance of what we are trying to do as a community and much more understanding of the struggle we face in trying to meet the demands of monastic life with the slender resources we have at our disposal. Indeed, several people asked whether we would consider moving to the States and I must say, by the end of our trip we were beginning to wonder whether that might be something we should think about.

We saw enough of New England on our travels to be charmed by its beauty. Digitalnun kept saying useless things like, ‘Ooo, listen to that lovely accent. I bet that’s what Shakespearean English sounded like,’ while Quietnun went native with her ‘Wows!’ and ‘Ay-mens’. Along with the business meetings went some rather more fun events, including a delightful evening spent with friends in Milford.

Georgia was hot and humid and we didn’t have time to venture beyond Atlanta, but again we were fascinated by the city’s architecture and the local accents. I don’t know why Americans keep saying they have no history to speak of. They have as much history as anyone else, it’s just that it’s recorded in different ways. Derby, for example, was ‘founded’ in the seventeenth century but that only refers to the date of settlement. Before then, as some of the local names indicate, Native Americans were in the area and their history is not recorded in books.

One of the great joys of our visit was to meet our New York discerner again. She has now formally applied to join the community, so please keep her in your prayers.

It will take a while for us to catch up with everything but in the meantime we thank God for our visit. May God bless all those we met on our travels and who gave so generously of their time, especially Meg, who welcomed us ‘tamquam Christus’. Were it not for our internet outreach, we would never have made the connection. Now that is a thought worth pondering, isn’t it?

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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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