Thursday, June 25, 2009

Get Thee To A Nunnery . . .For Real???

In my list of reasons as to why I have not been blogging I quipped about personal computers not being allowed in the convent. By “personal computer” I mean a computer belonging solely to one person though there certainly are computers available to those living in community. I know this because I did consider seriously whether or not I was being called to live my life as a member of the First Order, to be a sister. Franciscans do not usually refer to themselves as monks and nuns but rather as brothers and sisters.

For as long as I can remember I felt called to a religious life. As a child being raised in a non-church going family I longed to go to church on Sunday mornings and CCD on Wednesday afternoons like all my friends were doing. Instead, I was home alone on Sunday mornings watching Davey and Goliath in claymation. In these early years I had no sense of different denominations and faith traditions. All I knew was that all the kids in my neighborhood were going to church except for me. The fact that they were all Catholic and I a cradle Episcopalian, though I didn’t really know it at the time, didn’t mean anything to me.

For many years I stumbled around wanting a relationship with God but not knowing how to foster that. Finally when in high school I had another group of friends who were Catholic. I now know that they must have been liberal and progressive Catholics because they took me in like I was the lost sheep. This was during the era of the Folk Mass so I was drawn to them and them to me through music. I attended the Catholic Church throughout high school never being confirmed and taking communion every Sunday.

When I got to college, I began to search again for a place to build on my relationship with God. I went to the Catholic Church for awhile, the Methodist church with my roommate, even sang in a Baptist choir for a year until I finally stumbled upon Canterbury the Episcopal student group. From that point to the present, I have been an active member of the Episcopal Church.

About fifteen years ago, I began to feel a yearning for something more, to be closer to God, to serve in a more profound way. This search led me to the Third Order of the Society of St. Francis, a community of individuals living our lives by a rule of life much like our first order brothers and sisters, but in the secular world. I was life-professed in 2003 after nearly six years in formation. During that time, I finally found the relationship with God that I had been searching for and hoping for for so long.

As I began to grow as a person, as a Christian, and as a Franciscan I started to feel that all too familiar tug pulling me to something deeper. I felt like I was being asked to consider a call to the first Order. It was ridiculous to consider such a radical call. I was married and was raising children, things that were not conducive to the monastic life. I pondered this question for several years.

When it became obvious to me that I needed to file for divorce, my first thought was that this was God opening the door for me to consider seriously this call. I agonized for several months over what to do. Because this whole notion seemed so “out there” I talked to only one person about it. And because God doesn’t want any decision to be made hastily (or easily) this period of discernment soon became complicated because of Weber coming into my life. Why did everything have to be so darn difficult to figure out?

As my marriage dissolved and my relationship with Weber grew, so did my level of confusion. I had no idea what God was calling me to do. I did tell Weber early on that I thought that I might be called to test my vocation in the First Order so I might not be the best person with whom to get involved. “OK”, he said and life went on. Almost daily my question of what I was supposed to be doing came up in my daily prayer and with some regularity it would come up in conversations between the two of us. We both came to the point of saying that we needed to be open to God and the answer would be revealed in God’s way and in God’s time.

We left for Assisi with me still wondering what I was being called to do.

Then, it was God’s time . . .

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Please Don't Ruin My Picture!

Yesterday I said that when travelling it is important to have a sense of the place you are to visit before arriving. With regard to the practical, this is true, but after thinking about my statement, I believe that it needs a few caveats.

I have been reading the writings of St. Francis himself as well as the words that others have written about him for nearly vtwenty years. I have seen many images of this saint in icons, book illustrations, stained glass, various forms of art, even comics. Many descriptions of the sites of Assisi are also present in these readings and artistic representations. From these various portrayals, I had created for myself the St. Francis and the city of Assisi with which I was comfortable and comforted. This somewhat subconscious process is much like what we do when we read a good book; we make the hero or heroine be whom and what we want them to be - what they look like, what they talk like, their gestures, and so on. I must admit that I was a bit reluctant to give up my image of the roads that Francis walked for the real thing. What if I was disappointed? What if the places that were so filled with God's presence in Francis' time were cold and empty? Returning to my book comparison, I didn't want to feel the kind of disappointment I felt when the image that I had of Terabithia from Katherine Patterson't wonderful Newberry award winning children's was completely destroyed by its reality when the book was moved to the big screen. In many ways, this trip was a huge emotional risk - personally and spiritually.

This is my first glimpse of Assisi as we literally stepped off of the train.

I am happy to say that everything about this trip far exceeded my expectations. My imagination and my faith were not capable of expanding big enough to have even foreseen a glimpse of what transpired during that week in March.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Termini, Where Less Is More

When travelling, whether to a neighboring town or a far away land, it is usually a good idea to have some sense of what to expect when you reach your destination. A basic understanding of language, currency, tipping practices, and local customs will alleviating many scary and embarrassing situations. It is no secret that in Europe you must pay to use public restrooms, a practice that has long since disappeared in this country, though I can remember those dime slots in U.S. airports. Knowing this, I made sure to visit the facilities in the Rome airport, where the toilets were free, before we began the two train and several hour journey to Assisi. My beloved travelling companion kindly stood with the bags while I went to restroom, but failed to take advantage of this opportunity himself.

So begins our first tale from our glorious trip to Assisi. The following words are Weber's. Just as he kindly guarded our luggage for me in the airport, I returned the favor in the train station at Termini.

I had the good fortune to go to Assisi with my love and a group of good Franciscans (undoubtedly better than going with bad Franciscans). As I am just beginning the journey with Saint Francis, I consider my self fortunate to have the opportunity to walk in the places where St Francis and St. Clare walked at the very start of my own way; guided by others who have made the Franciscan journey.

Some of my reflections were deeply spiritual, some marvel at the wonder of being a visitor in someone else's home, and others simply convey elements of the practical This will deal with the practical. In fact very practical; as it chronicles my first experience with Italian public toilets.

I will skip the flight stuff and simply say we got to Italy as planned. The train ride from the airport to the city was uneventful and made me jealous of a place with a functional public transportation system. We arrived at Termini only to discover that because it was Sunday there were fewer trains to Assisi and we would have a nearly four hour layover.
I found I needed to heed the call that all must follow and went searching for the facilities. Having been forewarned that Italy has “a pay when you go system” of public hygiene and with a 5 euro bill I headed off in the direction of the “Servizi Ingenico” signs; the ones with the small icons telling the non-Italian speaker what is meant. When I got there I found the entrance to the facility blocked by a toll booth that required €0.80. “Non รจ un problema”; a change machine is conveniently located next to this potty portal. It had a place for coins and bills. You may not know that the Euro comes in 1.00 and 2.00 coins and there are not any bills for those denominations. So the logic, to me, is that the bill slot is meant for the 5.00 euro bill. But it was Sunday, and the machine was evidently, like my bladder, full. So it would only take coins. Exact change is required for the turnstile to relief which takes neither of the larger coins.

So off I went in search of the another facility, which was inconveniently located at the other end of the terminal. This is a considerable, but not impossible walk under normal circumstances. But for he of full bladder, it was the level of Hell Dante overlooked. Having no other options, with knees as close together as could be to allow walking, off I went. And when I arrived what did the change machine say “Monete solo per favore”; “Coins only please.” Torture most polite! So, back down the terminal I went. I asked at three shops for change. No one was giving change was given unless you bought something. (Economic stimulus Italian style.) The thought of buying a Coke in my present state was certainly less than appealing. This strikes me as a type of hard sell tactic bordering on blackmail. On the positive side, I did learn quickly that the ability to absorb an unknown language under duress is amazing.

And the pressure was on - literally and figuratively.

Finally a Panini place, sympathetic to my situation, gave me 5 euro coins for my bill and off I went to the pause that refreshes.

And so it began. Not some mystical experience but a down to earth practical lesson in language, money, another country, and the need to find peace.

This may not be the most inspirational story from our trip, but it was a study in humility. And hey, even the saints had to go.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Top 10 Excuses . . .I mean Reasons


10. The endless opportunities for TV watching on Dish network have consumed all my free time.

9. My computer was overtaken by our Alaskan neighbors and everything appeared in the Cyrillic alphabet.

8. All my fingers were broken while playing in the beach volleyball world championship, thus making it impossible to type.

7. I was on an archaeological dig looking for signs of a lost civilization.

6. I've been busy writing the next great American symphony.
5. Reading every entry in Wikipedia so that I can be the next Ken Jennings has taken longer than I expected.

4. They don’t allow “personal” computers at the convent.

3. The dog ate my computer.

2. I’m just plain lazy.

1 The amusement park caliber roller coaster of emotions over the past six months has been too difficult to articulate well.


10. I have spent all these months searching Dish network for something edifying to watch and have come up empty handed. I suspect that this is because TV is a vast wasteland though I suppose that possibly it is because I have no idea which remote does what around here.

9. Offspring No. 1 has been home for the week, the offspring that is studying Russian. She informed me that no deep dark secrets, other than my waist size and that Cheez Whiz is the secret ingredient in my broccoli and rice casserole, were leaked while my computer was occupied by the northern visitors.

8. My beach volleyball career is over because like with most successes it all comes down to looks. The casts and the bikini just didn’t cut it. And I thought the hot pink casts would be a distraction.

7. Offspring No. 2’s room has been completely excavated. This scientific endeavor was successful: there are now signs of civilized beings, ones that recognize the merits of trash cans, dresser drawers and even hangers.

6. Well, I would like to write the next great American symphony. Instead I helped a student with a composition that did win a National award and I have added personalized ring tones to my iPhone. (Just think of all those doodles on cocktail napkins my now great artists.)

5. I do find Wikipedia to be a fascinating odyssey for the mind but I am taking a break until school starts again. Admitting the problem is the first step.

4. I really did consider a life in the convent. Seriously. I did, for a long time. There will be more on this in a later post.

3. The dog did not eat my computer. She has eaten nearly every pen, pencil and marker I have, but not my computer. The good thing is that I have finally gotten to a point where I no longer hand-write everything I do first.

2. I have been busy. Like I said in an earlier post, my teaching schedule last semester was very heavy. I am now settling into the summer routine, one that does not involve getting up at 5:15 am every day and grading papers well until midnight or later, and have realized that I really do miss blogging regularly. The occasional threats from those of you who actually read what I write and have told me that you miss reading are a great incentive as well.

1. And eventually I wander around to the truth. Life has been a roller coaster of emotions. For the most part they have been good emotions but still hard to get a handle on, especially in a way that I feel confident sharing them with the whole world. Many people have asked about the stories from Assisi that I spoke of in my last point. During the three months that have passed since that trip, I have processed many of the wonderful and mystical experiences and am excited to share them with you.

Talk to you tomorrow!