Thursday, 27 February 2014

Lima Beans and Bucket Lists

Baby Lima Beans (Butterbeans)

I don't like lima beans. I can't stand either the taste or the texture, and the colour leaves much to be desired. At the convent, when we had lima beans, I swallowed them whole because good nuns ate what was provided whether we liked it or not. It might not be a bad theory or theology; it might even be good. And of course, there are millions of people in the world who have nothing to eat, so liking lima beans (or not, as the case may be) shouldn't be a big deal. Still ... 

Lima beans raise important questions. To eat or not to eat. I've just finished reading a book by Abbie Reese called Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns. Abbie Reese was allowed into the enclosure of Corpus Christi Monastery in Rockford Illinois, a community of Poor Clare Colettines. Every Sister's name was changed in the book (both her name before convent days and her religious name).  They are hidden from us and in some ways from each other, as the silence prevents them from knowing much about what each one was before entering the community, or what they think. The inside flap of the cover says: "This artistic and ethnographic work highlights the countercultural values and dedication of individuals who, at incredible cost, live for love of God and humanity, out of faith in what cannot be seen, and with the belief that they will be rewarded in the afterlife..."

The book is fascinating, scary, challenging ... I hear echoes of the type of person I was long ago - the searching person - and of a theology that (some of it anyhow) no longer makes sense to me. Which is not, of course, to dismiss it or the value of the life of these nuns. It's a comfort to know people pray in that way. And yet ...

One of the Sisters shared a story that reminded me of lima beans. She is lactose intolerant. Supper at the monastery is bread, cheese and an apple. Period. Consistently. Cheese made her really ill, but she knew the diet wouldn't be different/changed for her. Is that poverty? Maybe for those Sisters.

Anyhow, now I don't have to eat lima beans or swallow them whole.  I do need to ask myself a few questions ... about poverty ... about obedience ... and/or I can just laugh about the lima beans. That Sister couldn't laugh about the cheese, though.

And then - there's a question about giving our lives to God - how God calls - I used to believe God called from without. "Tell me what you want of/from me!" "Just tell me and I'll do it! I'll get it right eventually. What do you want of me? Do you care whether I eat lima beans or not?" I wonder if Jesus liked lima beans?

What if heaven isn't as we have imagined it? What if we give our life while expecting reward in heaven - and heaven isn't there ...? I don't know what comes next. I live in the mystery, gradually living with not knowing. Life is about love, and those Sisters are certainly caught up in love. Take 20 women and put them in a monastery where silence reigns except for the daily one hour of recreation together - all different personalities...  love is hard. What if the reward isn't from having lived as perfect a life as we can here? What is the reward? ?And I'm kind of weary of trying to be perfect, to get it just right so others will love me, accept me, recognize me ... sounds like 'me' becomes pretty important... ? ;-)

And then there's a bucket list. What is the bucket list if every ounce of energy goes towards perfection? Can we have bucket lists? How do the items listed square with poverty of spirit - and with the extreme poverty we see in the world around us .... ??

Well, I have a bucket list anyhow. I've crossed off finding Grandpa Macgregor (though I'd still like to know more about this mysterious man). I've discovered an amazing network of relatives and friends. AND - last week, I did something I hadn't even known was ON my bucket list. 

I was driving through Hudson off the west end of Montreal Island. In the warmer weather there is a ferry from Hudson to Oka but imagine my surprise when I saw that there is a snow bridge across Lake of Two Mountains!  :-) So ... I drove across the lake. $7.00. Return would be $14.00, but the kind man said if I was coming right back, he'd only charge me one way. Driving on ice 28" thick, he said. Conifer trees anchored in the ice on either side of the track across, whistling wind blowing snow .... It was wonder-full. Fun! Magical!

So, the things on our bucket lists don't have to be big things. What's on yours? It'd be neat to share ... 

And then there are things I'd love to do if I had more lives to live - and am not putting on my bucket list. I'd love to see Nepal, Switzerland, return to New Zealand, take the trans-Siberian railroad... We make choices. I'd rather return to Bermuda and the UK to see my family and friends. 

Those nuns in the cloistered communities don't go anywhere outside the monastery except for doctors' appointments. They don't go to their parents' funerals or to weddings or baptisms or family reunions. Their focus is on a life of prayer in this life, and the hope of reward in a life to come. They are joyful. Committed to God.

For the Poor Clare Colettine Nuns of Corpus Christi Monastery in Rockford, IL, this year has been one of experiencing the words of St. Clare: “Great is the grace of our vocation.” The community witnessed the arrival of a postulant, the celebration of a Silver (25 years) and a Golden (50 years) Jubilarian, and the death of another sister.  (from a website: Cloistered

Clothing of a novice

That kind of dedication should raise questions about life and death, if not about lima beans. I think I'm finding a balance that is right for me - we can do things we love in this world. We don't know what comes next, but we still (those of us who believe in God by whatever name we use) know with whom we journey. 

Meantime, I guess I won't spend a lot of time worrying whether God cares that I don't like lima beans, or whether I avoid them or swallow them whole.

And I'm pretty sure Jesus wasn't fond of lima beans, eggplant, or liver. How's that for making God in our own image?

Hot cross buns with real icing from Patisserie Belair is a whole other story.  :-)

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Trouble with Snow Angels and Speaking of Depression

One trouble with snow angels is ---- getting up! Not such a problem getting down there, hands and knees, flop over, extend legs and arms and go for it! A friend and I made snow angels a couple of years ago in Toronto - new-fallen snow. A slight hill to make it easier. Two people in our 60's - so we could help each other up. Ha! Not! We laughed and laughed - both making angels and then trying to rise. Laughter makes it more difficult. Fell backwards. Laughed some more. Pulled on each other's arms - halfway up. Fell backwards. Eventually, we were both up, but our snow angels reflected only the struggles, and perfect angels they were not.

Ah well, the fun was in the decision to make fools of ourselves, getting down (knees not what they used to be), pretending to be 10 year olds - legs and arms flailing to create the shape, remembering our child selves, attempts to rise without spoiling the angel shapes, the laughter and more laughter, the pure silliness of the project, and the bond of friendship. Well - so what if the angels were 'ruined.' ;-)

Look at that image. Tell me how someone got out of that angel without messing it up. Must have levitated. Or the angel pushed 'em up.

Yesterday I went for along walk about the neighbourhood in lightly falling snow - and wanted so much to make a snow angel. I didn't have anyone to help me up, though :-)  Still - I will before winter's over and there's life in the thought and in memories. 

New fallen snow cries out for angels. I stood on Tuesday in a country spot, snow shadows bluish, the wonder of the billions of sparkling flakes - of being able to see, the longing to create an angel and the knowledge that it isn't the looking like a fool that would trouble me - it's not knowing how to get up with at least a modicum of decorum. But why should I care about decorum?! 

Next time I'll wear my waterproof pants (as in snowpants, not diapers - I haven't reached that stage quite yet)... and maybe carry a stick or something to lean on for getting up.

People are complaining about winter and I just can't. I LOVE winter. I wait through all the other seasons, enjoying them yes, but waiting for winter.  Snow. The peace of it. The silence as it falls. Blowing snow stinging and reddening my cheeks. Sparkling snowflakes. Sticking my tongue out to catch them and noting how different each one is as it lands on my mitten. Cartoons and quips. Now some of you will not only laugh at this (I did), you'll agree with the sentiment. Nope - six more weeks of winter is fine with me.

If you want so see some exquisite photos of winter in Duxbury, MA, go to Sister Sarah's Excellent Adventure. Snow in Duxbury is uncommon, but this year - well!!  When I was in Boston all those years ago, I'd leap out of my convent bed on Louisburg Square in winter to see if the Hancock tower light was flashing red and/or if it was snowing! It wasn't nearly often enough. But when it did! Pure joy! 

Snow brought back memories of my home in Canada - playing street-hockey with Jim, massive snow banks because the snow wasn't carted away as it is today.  Marshmallows on fence posts. Lying in the woods at the farm in South Bolton, snowflakes drifting silently down through the conifers, wind blowing gently or fiercely through the treetops. Rabbit, mouse, and squirrel paw prints in the snow. Now and then signs of a fox or owl having feasted on one of the above.

Boston, November 1975 - being hospitalized at McLean on the hill and in the woods of Belmont during my breakdown. Walking, once I had privileges, in the snow, making snow angels, imagining that the snow could take me to a place of peace and life, away from depression, uncertainty, terrors - the Pit. Walking off the grounds without permission in a storm, up the long hill to my therapist's office and losing privileges for awhile. ;-)

February 1978, I was living on my own in a rooming house on St. Mary's Street, a dividing line between Boston and Brookline. Two huge (as in huge) snowstorms. Boston and environs was declared in a state of emergency. No cars were allowed on streets. People skiing down Beacon Street and other main arteries. I took the subway to Harvard Square and walked miles to Belmont to see my therapist, still caught in a futile hope that somehow the snow could deliver me into tranquillity. Visiting my friends in Southie during a week-end storm, walking by the water and deeply touched by the angry waves.

Last week, Belltalks created programming around suicide and mental illness/mental health. Many people shared their stories, including Senator Roméo Dallaire who was in charge of UN troops in Rwanda in 1994 during the genocide - and who had pleaded for help from Canada and the UN as it became apparent that the country was on the edge of unimaginable tragedy. He didn't get the help. He suffers from depression, and has been suicidal. He speaks out passionately.

The Canadian government has just closed 8 help centres for veterans across the country, with the expectation that those suffering from PTSD and other traumas of war (Afghanistan being the most recent) have to travel (at their own expense) to centres hundreds and thousands of miles away. Oh yes - we take care of our veterans who put their lives on the line. More about treatment of our veterans can be found elsewhere. This after spending $1,800,000,000 on a G-8 conference a couple of years ago. Shame on this government.  8 or 9 veterans - young people -  have taken their lives since December. Shame on us.

There were young people sharing their stories. A family whose son gave no indication of being depressed took his life his first year away at university. A young woman (also away at university) slid down and down and very nearly took her life. She managed to get help and eventually has found a level of healing that continues. Others whose family members took their lives told their stories and have created projects/programmes to help others suffering from mental illness, severe depression, reaching out to youngsters in the First Nations communities and in schools and universities across the country. 

And then, the brother of a man shot four times in the chest and killed by police while wielding a hammer and standing on top of a police car (would a shot in the arm not have been enough?) spoke on the radio this afternoon. He shifts some blame also to our medical system, saying that those suffering from severe, chronic mental illness have been de-institutionalized and the streets of  downtown Montreal have become the psychiatric hospital for Quebec.  The top psychiatrist in Quebec agreed with him - that there needs to be some form of institutional care provided for some (even if it doesn't look like it used to obviously). People end up in the emergency rooms. Are kept 'til a crisis is over perhaps, and then sent back out on to the streets. There are very few beds available. many cannot take adequate care of themselves re meds, etc. There is such limited follow-up care available, as in therapy for those who could benefit from it. Tragic. Unspeakably tragic.

Our bishop, Barry Clarke, spoke publicly about his recent experience of depression, thereby giving everyone of us permission to admit to our own experiences, hopefully then a willingness to get help without shame.

I imagine you can find more details at BellTalks on CTV facebook or Webpage, etc., of the programming. The point of this is - we need to talk. To share our stories. To admit to weakness as well as owning our strengths. And for some (perhaps most of us) enormous strength grows from our journeys underground.

So - let's talk. Share our stories. Let others know that there is no shame in mental illness. Mine gave me the opportunity (with many years of hard work) of new life. At the time, I could not see any hope of life ever being better. I clung for a long time to thoughts/desires of disappearing into somewhere the other side of nowhere in the snow. 

Others hoped for me. Held onto my thread of life. Offered encouragement that I couldn't hear - but still - somewhere in there - it held me. They told me I had gifts. Invisible. They said I would get better. Impossible. They spoke of light at the end of the tunnel, when I only felt the train bearing down on me from the other end. 

BUT - I made the choice to live many, many, many times. And I look back to 1975 and some years following - and I realize none of what I have become or done would have come about if I had lain down in the snow and refused to get up.

And a note - on suicide - sometimes the pain is so unbearable I don't know how some people go on. And I understand why some choose to end their lives. I have a friend who prefers the term "end your life" to 'commit suicide' which sadly has layers of guilt, shame and stigma attached to it. 

If life doesn't end with this one, if our relationships continue in some way, well.... it's not the end. But that's an after thought - and not meant as false comfort for those who loved someone who took his or her life. And it IS is the end of things as they were. 

Back to snow and snow angels. Snow if life-giving for me - not as an escape from horror and the Pit, but as a simple sign of beauty and life. Snow opens me. 

Snow angels. - well, even if we make a mess getting up, we still make them.  May we all have a friend or more to help us up, to love us and laugh with us. And - when there's no one nearby - may that angel give us a push up. Stranger things have happened.