Ember Day Report, December, 2005
Let me begin my report with an apology for tardiness. I came down with some crud, Mom fell and sprained her left thumb and I was running her around to the doctor and errands and then it was Christmas and Christmas Eve mom fell down and slightly sprained her right ankle. I'll be visiting the doctor with her to see if there is any reason she is falling down other than trying to do 2 or 3 things at once.
Immediately after Christmas I turned my attention to the Medicare D issue and that took 2 long days. The following day was my Medi-Cal annual re-certification which according to the postmark was mailed 12/1 and I received it 12/27 and it is due 12/30. It is only now I have the time to turn to my Ember Day Report.
First a point of business:
I ask permission to amend my rule (I know, I know, what already!!!!!) from
This Rule is intended to guide the novitiate period of_____________ [how long should it be???] in which this life will be explored and discerned by Father Michael Russell, Rector of All Soul's Episcopal Church, San Diego, CA; Christie Fleming, spiritual director; and me as guided by the Holy Spirit. When he deems it appropriate, James Mathes, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego will become involved."
This Rule is intended to guide the novitiate period of twelve months in which this life will be explored and discerned by Father Michael Russell, Rector of All Soul's Episcopal Church, San Diego, CA; Christie Fleming, spiritual director; and me as guided by the Holy Spirit. When he deems it appropriate, James Mathes, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego will become involved. If at the end of this period, all parties agree that the novice should be allowed to profess her first or temporary vows, this would take place on the Feast of all Souls, November 2, 2006.
Although I did not profess any vows on All Souls Day, making novice promises, I awoke on November 3 feeling as if there had been an ontological change within me. Monasticism is not what I do, it is who I am. In the weeks since then, I have increasing had the sense that at last, I've gotten it right. The puzzle pieces have fallen into place and I see my life previous to 11/2/05 which has nothing in that did not lead up to this. I think I have shared the vision I had in 3/82 of the cupped hands of God and what that vision meant to me. It's as if when the Bishop laid hands on me, I was just settling even deeper into those cupped hands. I had said for 20+ years that the truest thing I could ever say about myself is that my identity is to be found in those cupped hands, that that is where i live and move and have my being.
Not having ever done such a thing before, I looked to our Canons which state: "Ember Weeks: each candidate shall communicate with the Bishop in person or by letter, four times a year, in the Ember Weeks, reflecting on the Candidate's academic, diaconal, human, spiritual and practical development."
I realize this canon applies to one seeking the diaconate or the priesthood, but with your permission, general principles apply, I think, and I will use this as he outline for my letters. Your comments about format and content are encouraged.
` Of course, this is probably the easiest for me to report. I do love to read and study! I was fortunate to obtain, free of charge, a library card at the University of San Diego as a professional courtesy. This is quite a blessing and I am grateful as it is not their policy to give out library cards to non- USD people.
Since July, 2005, I have read the following:
Monks of New Skete, In the Spirit of Happiness. Monasticism from a Greek Orthodox point of view talking about how monastic principles can enrich all of us in our daily living.
Rossing, Barbara R, The Rapture Exposed. Ms Rossing was preaching to the choir in me. While she made important points, the book is an exercise in redundancy. But an otherwise good case to prove that this belief (or superstition) has no basis in Scripture.
Burgess, Francis G., The Romance of the Book of Common Prayer. A short history of the BCP, putting a good spin on some of the more unsavory bits. Charming.
Tyack, G., Lore and legend of the English Church. Fascinating tidbits about why this or that custom. It is in storage in the Central Library downtown.
Nemeck, Francis Kelly and marie Coombs, Called by God: A Theology of Vocation and Lifelong Commitment to God. Excellent treatment of the subject and I was surprised to learn from it that all vocation means is that we are each called by God to be the best incarnation of the person He created us to be. would very much like to develop a teaching opportunity around this.
Cummings, Charles, OCSO, Monastic Practices. Apparently considered a definitive work as it appeared on all the reading lists for all the Benedictine groups I discovered on the Internet. Covers: Sacred Reading (aka lectio divina or continua); Liturgical Prayer; Work; Customs; Monastic Decorum; Silence; Short Prayers; Self-Discipline; Watching; Community and Communications; The Monastic Cell; Stability; From Death to Life. While this is a book I will need to read and reread, on my first reading I was particularly challenged by the section on Monastic Decorum. I am not a formal person at all nor am I very "reverent" in a of pious way and on the whole, I consider that a positive. However, I am not a person who is comfortable in a group and my discomfort shows in ways which do not necessarily respect the dignity of every human being. For example, I interrupt people and I am past mistress of the wise crack. I do not consider these and others appropriate behavior and I am in process about them.
Norris, Kathleen, Cloister Walk. I can't imagine that anyone reading this book would have any other reaction that to become a Benedictine Oblate. I love how she takes what the monks teach her and combines it with everyday life, demonstrating there is nothing to the monastic life except ordinariness.
---------------------, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women's Work. A series of lectures delivered by the author. Not as feminist as the title might imply, but with an emphasis upon our tendency to devalue the ordinary, the repetitive.
Paulsell, William O., Rules for Prayer. Found this short book in a used bookstore. The author reviews what some of the Patristics had to say about prayer and sums up with the book with some suggestions for making one's own personal rule of prayer.
Godden, Rumer, In this House of Brede A novel about life in Stanbrooke Abbey in the UK.. I love it. the joys and the sorrows of conventual life, both.
Losada, Isabel, New Habits. Ms. Losada interviewed 10 novices from various Roman Catholic monasteries in the UK. Each concentrates on why she chose as she did and her experience so far.
Loudon, Mary, Unveiled: Nuns Talking. Ms. Loudon interviewed 10 Roman Catholic nuns in various stages of profession. The same sort of interests were pursued as in above. The nuns were honest about their struggles, mistakes and how they stay in the Roman Catholic Church even though most of them find it emphasizing the wrong things. I was particularly struck by one nun who had been chaste for some decades and her comparison/contrast of her view of chastity then/now. Her view of chastity perforce had to change as she is now in a lesbian relationship and I came away from her story thinking that she deludes herself since she still refers to herself as chaste. It challenged me to think through my own understanding of monastic chastity. I haven't completed that yet and I feel I need to study the issue.
Van Zeller, Hubert, OSB. The Benedictine Nun: Her Story and Aim. A boring book about the history of Benedictine nuns, when and where house flourished, when and where they failed.
Henderson, Michael, Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate. fascinating account of forgiveness learned, absorbed and taught to others and implication for international politics if countries would forgive each other in the same way Christ would have us forgive individuals and what that might do for international relations.
Donnelly, Doris, Learning to Forgive. Short book about the nuts and bolts of forgiveness, nothing sugar coated or romanticized here. Practical.
Daley, Lowrie, SJ Benedictine Monasticism: It's Formation and Development through the 12th Century. Interesting history.
De Wohl, Louis, Citadel of God. A novel about the lives of St. Benedict and Boethius.
Let me be the first to admit that of these books, none of them are on the list of things to be studied during the novitiate as found in my rule. I came across most of these in the San Diego Public Library when I was searching it to find books that were on my list.
It has been often said of me that I am too much in my head and, I admit, it's a busy place up there. I'll research a subject, read everything I can get my hands on and let it all burble away up there until something takes shape. I am not as good at journaling the process as I wish I were.
My development as a human being has continued. I joined the Y and exercise there 3 days of the week to work on my own physical health. which does need the work. My mother and I have entered a new phase of our relationship where she is now more dependent on me than she was 3 months ago. This is at once a trial and a joy. A trial because I see in myself that I am not very good with neediness, realizing I don't anyone to be dependent upon me. But there is mom and I am all she has and I love her. It is also a source of joy because after many decades of a very troubled relationship, we finally have one that works. Our time together is precious to me.
Around Thanksgiving I made the discovery that in 2005 I had had only 1 major depressive episode and that was in Lent, which seems like an appropriate time for some sadness out of all the seasons of the church year. This discovery is significant because until this year, I have had 3 or 4 and sometimes 5 episodes of major depression. It was after Lent I began to speak up to Rev. Sarah Odderstol, Fr. Jim Carroll and Christie Fleming, my spiritual director about being set apart for a special vocation and got busy writing my rule and studying up on the whole thing.
I am almost afraid to make the connection between the above and the lack of depressive episodes. I had accepted that my life would be one filled with such episodes and have come to see depression as a blessing or else I would not be a contemplative and that has certainly brought such joy that I could almost say the depression was worth it. Almost but not quite because it is a damnably heavy burden to bear. But id there has been the ontological change I discuss in Some comments above, then may i really look forward to a life with less depression. I am afraid to hope for it, to be honest.
My friends and mother have been very supportive. I have had to endure some jokes. My best friend refers to 11/2 as my ascension I asked her if she meant like Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG1 (a science fiction TV show we both enjoy) she said no, like the mayor of Sunnydale. A Buffy the Vampire Slayer (another TV show) reference and the Mayor ascended into the form of ravening demon beast intent on eating up the entire high school graduating class. We all laugh every time it comes up. I know her well enough to know she means nothing but good by it.
As I begin this section, I realize i am uncomfortable with dividing myself up into bits as if academic, spiritual, human and practical development were all separate bits instead of a whole, but here goes.
Spiritually, the last several weeks have been unusual. Was I really allowed to...? Did I really do it? And mostly who on earth do I think I am to do such a thing. I have had really odd dreams too. This is unusual because I take Prozac and for the most part, people who take Prozac don't remember their dreams. But I have had strange dreams that all turn on the theme of who do I think I am. At first the dreams turned out badly but as the weeks go by, they are becoming more positive.
Above I said that reading one of the books has started me off to rethink chastity. Over the years I have come to think of chastity as a sexual thing, the definition of chaste behavior differing if one is married or not. I have known of course, that monastic chastity is more than this, but I shied away from the whole idea of nun as bride of Christ. In reading what I considered the Sister's twisted and new understanding of chastity that allowed her to participate in a same sex love affair, it occurred to me that monastic charity has more to do with the heart and the heart's direction. I wrote in my rule that "singleness of heart is to love one thing" mostly because of reading this book.
But what does that mean? How does one live that out? Obviously, sexual chastity applies. But I think there is something much more to it. Another concept I have shied away from is celibacy, mostly because I think a celibate priesthood is a silly notion. But I find myself wondering how are celibacy and chastity related? A term I have known all my life but have never bothered to think about is "custody of the senses", protecting the senses from that which would diminish chastity. I've researched it on the Internet and I find references to it in various Roman Catholic rules in the chastity portion. The concept is a given, no one defines it or details how to live it. Let alone offer anything that would guide me to have custody of mine.
Not even sure what the canons mean by this!! Please feel free to correct me if I have defined it incorrectly, but I am taking it to mean I am to write something about the development of my practice of the monastic life.
I have to admit that my practices have been chaotic in a way they have not been before. Partly it was the effect of those dreams and partly it is a result of my own inability to say no. I have been asked to do so many good things in terms of compassion and mercy. What's more I am particularly interested in tall of these things and i allowed myself to be drawn in because it never ever occurred to me that being asked to do something out of compassion and mercy might be a temptation to make me stray from prayer and lectio. But so it proved.
It's been a whirly swirly beginning to my novitiate. I am not proud of it. But I recognize it as one of the pitfalls of being a solitary. I have no novice mistress to grab me by the back of the collar and say "Whoa, Nellie!!" to me.
Something that has worried me a lot is the question, can I truly be formed as a monastic in the way I have been going? And then I think if anything is going to form me, it is the Psalms.