30 April 2018

Waltz of the Flowers

I hope this is as delightful to you as it was to me. Especially cool is the way circular magnets are used to capture one common musical figure. Watch the whole piece; it is so well done! Meanwhile, the one below is absolutely astounding. Can't say enough about it and what it says about life, patience, letting go, etc. ENJOY!. Be sure and enlarge screen!

24 April 2018

Hi Ho!!! Diocesan Hermit Rides Again!

Well, this will certainly be a different kind of post for me. It has been many years since I have been able to drive and around Christmas a friend and I found that the Grinch stole my mountain bike out of a locked storage area. I began trying to figure out how to replace my bike and was very fortunate to have help including a number of generous friends from the parish (c/o Knights of Columbus), the local community, and even from childhood (!)  who helped get some money together in order to replace the bike.

In the meantime I began to think about my needs and wondered if replacing the bike was the best choice. I am getting older and I have been injured a couple of times in the past three years which kept me from riding much. (Heck, these injuries kept me from walking much!!) This led to a vicious circle of getting out of shape and riding less, etc. etc. SO, I began to think of the possibility of getting an electric bike! Such a bike would allow me to pedal and get a decent workout but if I was injured or lacking stamina or something similar, the bike would be able to be ridden while powered. (For that matter it might be able to be ridden while I'm wearing my habit --- though the bike helmet and veil might not play well together.) Though we have lots of bike paths linking nearby towns, an ebike would be especially helpful around here (hills make usual riding challenging sometimes --- our Church is at the top of a steep hill and I could never ride there on my own steam!).

Anyway, I researched and researched some more, talked to friends (a couple of whom own ebikes) and eventually got the bike in the picture above. It arrived last Thursday "pre-assembled" --- which meant after a friend helped me haul it out of the box I spent that evening and the next one assembling what remained to be put together. It all went pretty well with one hiccup, namely, the front fender does not fit well. The tire and the frame are just too close together and the fender either rubs against the frame or the tire. For now, because the same bracket is needed for the headlight which is wired into the system and needs to be secured in place, I just put the fender on backwards. Looks a bit wonky and certainly won't protect me from mud or puddles, but it's okay for the time being. There are a few things I still need to pick up, a new U lock (that too was stolen) some  bungee cords or net or something similar to secure books or groceries --- those kinds of things. I also need to take the bike to the bike shop to get it checked over and tuned up, but in the main I think it's ready (read safe!) to ride.

Now, if I can only get my courage up to give it a try beyond a few times around a nearby parking lot!! I admit to being a little intimidated to move out on the roads with it. However, once I get to riding I am excited by the possibilities this bike will open up to me. It can go anywhere a bike can go including on BART. It also folds and will fit in the back of a car. Beyond this it will go around 20-30 miles without pedal assist and up to 60 miles using pedal assist on a single battery charge all depending on a number of factors. The tires are "fat" tires and are designed to be stable on gravel, sand, snow, off road, etc. On the whole, pretty exciting!!

I used to be known around here as the "running nun". I kind of wonder what nicknames will be applied now.

18 April 2018

Diocesan Hermits and Hospital EEM Ministry

[[Dear Sister, is there any reason a diocesan hermit cannot act as an EEM to hospital patients?]]

Good question. First, there is no reason a hermit could not do so simply because they are a hermit. Generally diocesan hermits are allowed to reserve Eucharist in their hermitages and this means that while the oratory itself is NOT open to others, the hermit may be allowed to act as an EEM in limited situations and either draw on or reserve extra hosts in the hermitage tabernacle. For instance, because I live here myself I will bring communion to residents of our local Senior housing complex and will do so every Sunday as an extension of the Sunday liturgy (!) or more frequently in emergent or less usual situations (instances of serious illnesses, for example). I also have my pastor's approval to do communion services for this specific residence if folks want such a thing. Occasionally I have been asked to do a communion service at a local nursing home (the usual minister could not do it and required a substitute), but since I don't drive and therefore depend on parishioners providing transportation, it is impossible to serve in this way more than very occasionally. Similarly, I have visited residents when they have been hospitalized and requested my presence specifically. In such a situation I will go to one of the local hospitals and bring communion (in case it is desired) as part of a more extended pastoral visit.

However, there are a number of good reasons I or another hermit might not be allowed to serve in this capacity. Some have to do with the framework for pastoral care in the region and some have to do with my life as a hermit itself. In my area local parishes serve to provide EEM's for Catholic patients while the hospitals call in priests to serve these patients for other Sacramental needs. They also have trained and certified chaplains who visit in the meantime and care for more general pastoral needs. This means that Catholic patients, including those from my own parish are well taken care of pastorally. They don't need me coming in to give Catholic patients communion. Moreover it is unlikely given privacy issues that I would be allowed to do so; I would and should not be given access to the census of Catholic patients so unless a patient specifically requested to speak to me via the hospital's pastoral staff or the parish's staff, I would have no reason to bring communion to anyone in the hospital.

Now, these considerations also suppose that bringing communion to neighbors or to do so regularly to patients in a hospital setting are things my Rule and life as a hermit allows. It is important to remember that I am not (as in the Episcopal Church)  a solitary (Catholic) nun --- that is, an unaffiliated nun living alone; I am a hermit and the canon under which I have been professed defines a specifically eremitical life of the silence of solitude, stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, etc. It may be that I discern part of living my vocation requires limited active ministry outside the hermitage but if this is the case my bishop and/or delegate (director) will approve of this and too, it will be written into my Rule --- something which is formally approved by my bishop and which I am obligated both morally and legally to live. If my bishop was to determine that bringing communion to hospital patients on a regular and frequent (daily?) basis was not appropriate for a hermit generally or for my Rule specifically, I would need to accommodate that decision.

Additionally, if a diocesan hermit wanted to do limited work bringing Communion to hospital patients she would need to work this out 1) with her diocese (including her director/delegate), 2) with her parish pastoral staff, and 3) with the pastoral staff of the hospital itself. There would need to be limits and specifications on what was appropriate during visits and what was not. There might need to be training and some level of certification and identification for the hospital itself --- especially if the hermit desires or is to be given access to the Catholic census. (Some hermits are already trained as chaplains and others are priests as well; these folks would still need some orientation re the hospital's pastoral care program, especially if they have not done much hospital ministry recently.)

It is true, I think, that hermits could serve very well in such a capacity and that such ministry could be  undertaken without detriment to an eremitical call. Such a ministry could certainly deepen the hermit's spirituality and personal growth; but it is also true that to some extent the hermit would need to work with others and eschew acting as an isolated or solitary religious without accountability to, or place within, an established program of pastoral care. Acting once a week as a minister to the sick to bring communion from the Sunday Mass if the parish is responsible for the hospital in the area would, it seems, to me, to be well within the diocesan hermit's vocation. Anything beyond this would need to be worked out collaboratively as well as in some conjunction with the hermit's Rule and those who supervise her living of this.

17 April 2018

Diocesan Hermits and Proprietary Habits

[[Hi Sister, I wondered why you don't wear a Camaldolese habit. Since you were once a Franciscan, how about a Franciscan habit? I know a diocesan hermit in the Eastern US who wears a Franciscan habit so it is done; how did you decide to wear something more generic? Was this your Bishop's decision?]]

Thanks for your questions. While I am a Camaldolese oblate, I am not publicly professed as a Camaldolese. I do not have the right nor the ongoing covenant commitments or formation with and within an institute which would allow me to represent myself publicly as a Camaldolese nun or hermit. The same is true re a Franciscan habit. While I identify formally as an oblate and while I (still) hold Franciscan values and sensibilities, these are not enough. I am not A (publicly professed) Camaldolese or Franciscan.I have told the story here before that when I was preparing for perpetual eremitical profession it was necessary to speak with the Camaldolese and be certain they had no objections to my using a white cowl. I am not the only diocesan hermit associated with the Camaldolese who wears a cowl and they had no problem with the white cowls we wear. However, it was requested that I make sure the hood or cuculla of the cowl was not cut in the distinctive way the Camaldolese hood is cut --- a long or elongated triangle rather than, for instance, the more equilateral triangle of the Trappist hood.

This was not pickiness or mere legalistic pettiness. Habits are proprietary symbols; they belong to the life, history, and sometimes even the unique charism of a religious institute. The members of a religious institute only gradually earn the right and privilege to wear a representative habit. Habits cannot be adopted by an unaffiliated individual without specific approval of the institute to which the habit is linked. (Let me be clear here: even a diocesan hermit's bishop does not have the right to grant the privilege or right to wear the habit of a specific religious institute to a diocesan hermit; this right belongs to the institute itself.) Thus too, a friend who is also c 603 and Carmelite in her experience and spirituality worked hard to design a habit which was 1) reminiscent of Carmelite habits in color and style but at the same time 2) was clearly distinct from and not an identifiable or proprietary Carmelite habit. Diocesan hermits who wear habits and come from a particular spiritual tradition do take pains to adapt what they will wear as hermits so they are not effectively making statements like, "I am formed and publicly professed as a Carmelite (Camaldolese, Benedictine, etc.); in doing so I represent the (charism of the) Order in all I say and do" or "Where you see me you see the (specific institute) at work in the life of the Church"!

All of this raises the issue of a diocesan hermit wearing a Franciscan habit. I only know one diocesan hermit (there may certainly be others whom I do not know!) who used to wear a Franciscan friar's habit but his new bishop made it clear he (the bishop) did not have the right to grant (or allow) this privilege --- something which led the hermit and myself to have a conversation on the topic. I explained what I just wrote about above and noted the diocesan hermit's need to adopt a more generic and less proprietary habit than that of a Franciscan Friar. (Unless a person has been a religious wearing the habit of a specific institute, s/he might be ignorant of the customs and sensibilities outlined above.) So, for instance, I would be really surprised to learn he is, three or four years later, still wearing an identifiable Franciscan habit. However I would also suggest a hermit's bishop is ultimately responsible for requiring the hermit understands and desists in this matter. Again, the point is that hermits without a history of public vows in an institute may simply not know what is customary or why it is important and thus, they may simply need to be educated in this matter. The person you are speaking of may not have yet had such conversations with their dioceses et al.

My own diocese and bishop simply asked if I would wear a habit and I indicated I would, specifically, a modified generic habit unlinked to any identifiable institute. Beyond this and as we moved towards perpetual profession, we briefly discussed the use of the cowl as a prayer garment granted at perpetual or solemn profession. So, while the nature of my habit was not the specific decision of my bishop, I am sure had I said I would adopt a specific and identifiable habit (Franciscan, Dominican, Benedictine, Trappistine, etc) the chancery staff I was dealing with more regularly (Vicars for Religious, canonists, bishop) would have said something to make sure I did not adopt something I had no right to and something the diocesan bishop had no right to allow or vest me with. Whether or not a hermit will wear a habit is far from the most significant concern a diocese/bishop will attend to in discerning such a vocation; it is certainly far from the most important concern a hermit will deal with. Even so the question of what habit one will wear (if any!) --- and why or why not this specific habit -- are significant ones that need to be discussed.

I hope this is helpful.

08 April 2018

Second Sunday of Easter: What's Thomas' Doubt All About? (Reprise)

Today's Gospel focuses on the appearances of Jesus to the disciples, and one of the lessons one should draw from these stories is that we are indeed dealing with bodily resurrection, but therefore, with a kind of bodiliness which transcends the corporeality we know here and now. It is very clear that Jesus' presence among his disciples is not simply a spiritual one, in other words, and that part of Christian hope is the hope that we as embodied persons will come to perfection beyond the limits of death. It is not just our souls which are meant to be part of the new heaven and earth, but our whole selves, body and soul.

The scenario with Thomas continues this theme, but is contextualized in a way which leads homilists to focus on the whole dynamic of faith with seeing, and faith despite not having seen. It also makes doubt the same as unbelief and plays these off against faith, as though faith cannot also be served by doubt. But doubt and unbelief are decidedly NOT the same things. We rarely see Thomas as the one whose doubt (or whose demands!) SERVES true faith, and yet, that is what today's Gospel is about. Meanwhile, Thomas also tends to get a bad rap as the one who was separated from the community and doubted what he had not seen with his own eyes. The corollary here is that Thomas, in some kind of unjustified intransigence, will not simply listen to his brother and sister disciples and believe that the Lord has appeared to or visited them. But I think there is something far more significant going on in Thomas' proclamation that unless he sees the wounds inflicted on Jesus in the crucifixion, and even puts his fingers in the very nail holes, he will not believe.

What Thomas, I think, wants to make very clear is that we Christians believe in a crucified Christ, and that the resurrection was God's act of validation of Jesus as scandalously and ignominiously Crucified. I think Thomas knows on some level anyway, that insofar as the resurrection really occured, it does not nullify what was achieved on the cross. Instead it renders permanently valid what was revealed (made manifest and made real) there. In other words, Thomas knows if the resurrection is really God's validation of Jesus' life and establishes him as God's Christ, the Lord he will meet is the one permanently established and marked as the crucified One.

The crucifixion was not some great misunderstanding which could be wiped away by resurrection. Instead it was an integral part of the revelation (the making real in space and time, i.e., in history) of the nature of truly human and truly divine existence. Whether it is the Divine life, authentic human existence, or sinful human life --- all are marked and revealed in one way or another by (the signs of) Jesus' cross. For instance, ours is a God who has journeyed to the very darkest, godless places or realms associated with human sin, and has become Lord of even those places. He does not disdain them even now but is marked by them and will journey with us there --- whether we are open to him doing so or not --- because Jesus has implicated God there and marked him with the wounds of an exhaustive kenosis.

Another piece of this is that Jesus is, as Paul tells us, the end of the Law and it was Law that crucified him. The nail holes and wounds in Jesus' side and head -- indeed every laceration which marked him -- are a sign of legal execution and the collusion of Jewish and Roman leadership. We cannot forget this, and Thomas' insistence that he really be dealing with the Crucified One reminds us vividly of this fact as well. The Jewish and Roman leaders did not crucify (or demand the crucifixion of) Jesus because they misunderstood him, but because they understood all-too-clearly both Jesus and the immense counter cultural power he wielded in his weakness and poverty. They understood that he could turn the values of this world, its notions of power, authority, etc, on their heads. They knew that he could foment profound revolution (religious and otherwise) wherever he had followers. They chose to crucify him not only to put an end to his life, but to demonstrate he was a fraud who could not possibly have come from God; they chose to crucify him to terrify and cow those who might follow him into all the places discipleship might really lead them --- especially those places of human power and influence associated with religion and politics. The marks of the cross are a judgment (krisis) on this whole reality.

There are many gods and even manifestations of the real God available to us today, and so there were to Thomas and his brethren in those first days and weeks following the crucifixion of Jesus. When Thomas made his declaration about what he would and would not believe, none of these were crucified Gods or would be worthy of being believed in if they were associated with such shame and godlessness. Thomas knew how very easy it would be for his brother and sister disciples to latch onto one of these, or even to fall back on entirely traditional notions in reaction to the terribly devastating disappointment of Jesus' crucifixion. He knew, I think, how easy it might be to call the crucifixion and all it symbolized a terrible misunderstanding which God simply reversed or wiped away with the resurrection -- a distasteful chapter on which God has simply turned the page. Thomas knew that false prophets showed up all the time. He knew that a God who is distant and all-powerful is much easier to believe in (and follow) than one who walks with us even in our sinfulness or who empties himself to become subject to the powers of sin and death, especially in the awful scandal and ignominy of the cross --- and who expects us to do essentially the same.

In other words, Thomas' doubt may have had less to do with the FACT of a resurrection, than it had to do with his concern that the disciples, in their desperation, guilt, and the immense social pressure they faced, had truly met and clung to the real Lord, the crucified One. In this way their own discipleship will come to be marked by the signs of the cross as they preach, suffer, and serve in the name (and so, in the paradoxical power) of THIS Lord and no other. Only he could inspire them; only he could sustain them; only he could accompany them wherever true discipleship led them.

Paul said, "I want to know Christ crucified and only Christ crucified" because only this Christ had transformed sinful, godless reality with his presence, only this Christ had redeemed even the realms of sin and death by remaining open to God even within these realities. Only this Christ would journey with us to the unexpected and unacceptable places, and in fact, only he would meet us there with the promise and presence of a God who would bring life out of them. Thomas, I believe, knew precisely what Paul would soon proclaim himself, and it is this, I think, which stands behind his insistence on seeing the wounds and put his fingers in the very nail holes. He wanted to be sure his brethren were putting their faith in the crucified One, the one who turned everything upside down and relativized every other picture of God we might believe in. He became the great doubter because of this, but I suspect instead, he was the most astute theologian among the original Apostles. He, like Paul, wanted to know Christ Crucified and ONLY Christ Crucified.

We should not trivialize Thomas' witness by transforming him into a run of the mill empiricist and doubter (though doubting is an important piece of growth in faith)!! Instead we should imitate his insistence: we are called upon to be followers of the Crucified God, and no other. Every version of God we meet should be closely examined for nail holes, and the lance wound. Every one should be checked for signs that this God is capable of and generous enough to assume such suffering on behalf of a creation he would reconcile and make whole. Only then do we know this IS the God proclaimed in the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul, the only one worthy of being followed even into the darkest reaches of human sin and death, the only One who meets us in the unexpected and even unacceptable place, the only one who loves us with an eternal love from which nothing can separate us.