Wednesday, 19 March 2014

St. Joseph's Day - Memories and Silences

"Be still. Let the tide of memories wash over you.
Listen to the whispers of the saints.
Feel the breath of wisdom refresh your mind.
Return to the place of peace, your holy island."

I wish I could share the painting of this...
Exquisite art work of Mary Fleeson of Lindisfarne - Holy Island

Icon of St. Joseph

40 years ago today, I was life professed in the Society of St. Margaret. Three years earlier, I'd taken first vows. St. Joseph never meant anything special to me until I was given that date for my profession. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - those years at the convent were so formative that I choose to welcome the memories and continue to integrate that part of my life.

Sister Christina Faith, who was the only other St. Joseph's Day Sister (though her anniversary was actually a St. Joseph's feast in May, she kept it on March 19th) gave me a little book. On the front she'd taped in calligraphy: "The Gospel according to St. Joseph." Inside, the book was blank. It recently occurred to me that p'raps she meant me to write a Gospel of Joseph. I've always taken it to mean Joseph's was a secret life that we know so little about. He's hidden in silences.

We know Joseph received messages in dreams (echoes of the earlier Joseph) and was a man of integrity. Faithful. Obedient, we could say. Largely silent. In fact, I don't think we have any of his words - just his actions. We don't know when he died or where he's buried. We don't know what kind of father he was except that he raised a son who was open-minded, love in action, compassionate, non-judgmental, challenging, comforting ... loved children and was loved by them. We know Joseph was a carpenter. 

It doesn't matter to me whether the birth narratives are 'fact' or myth telling us truths that can only be expressed poetically. The child's birth - well - let's see possible facts: Jesus had a thatch of black hair, weighed (if they had scales in the stable) 7lbs 9oz - (just picked a number - that's what I weighed), was 21 inches long, bright dark eyes, cutest little nose - and he cried when he was born. The meaning of his birth - well - that's a whole story that only began at a certain moment in time and unfolded over the years and centuries.

I love St. Joseph and St. Joseph's Day. I committed myself to God with heart, soul, body, and mind. I had no idea what the future would bring, nor that I needed to fall apart to find health. And I still belong to God. Sometimes, there's a temptation to a teensy? bit of guilt - I didn't 'keep' my vows. Mostly, however, today I give thanks to God for a vocation that called me to SSM - for the days and months and years of love, compassion, struggles, Haiti, prayer, silence, gifts developed, Sisters who changed my life... and now I also give thanks that God would not have wanted me to stay in what would have become living death (for me - because of things I didn't know were buried deep) - that God continues to call me, and us, around bends and twists, through joys and sorrows - and that those Sisters, many of whom have died, are so much a part of me for now and always. I'd always wanted a sister. I got quite a few.

Sister Christina Faith could often be found in the library - sorting and organizing books. Other times, she was in the basement kitchen making interesting concoctions with gelatin and anything else she was moved to add - ginger was a favourite. For a special diet of some kind. She had twinkly eyes. Wore wire frame glasses, I think. Was loving, very intelligent and liked to chat. When I knew her, she was quite stiff, somewhat bent forward, and slow getting around. I wonder if she was into marathons or just what she was like when she was young?  :-)

And speaking of silences - and those years - sometimes I wonder where I was. I was in the US in the midst of the civil rights struggles, marches, violence, bussing in an attempt to integrate Boston schools and the rage it stirred - especially as the integration was forced in places like Southie that didn't have the power of a wealthy suburb (as Karen explained to me years later), the Vietnam War, the assassinations of MLK and Bobby Kennedy ... I remember some of the details, but don't feel as if I was involved - living the times. And I wonder why - and if I, and we, wouldn't be part of the demonstrations and marches if it were now?

Today I had a meeting at the diocesan office about a grant application for a new project at our church - intergenerational Sunday School and more. Then I went to the eucharist at the cathedral for St. Joseph's Day. Paul Kennington, the dean, preached a short homily - said Jesus gave his parents enough to set them off - staying behind in the temple and stressing them out ... but that it also shows us that if even these saintly parents couldn't keep God on a leash, we certainly can't. While we can't hold God to our plans - when God shakes things up, God is still with us on the journey - and Jesus did go back to Nazareth with them and was obedient for a while. OK - so I may be misquoting Paul - general idea, though.

Lunch at my favourite restaurant - healthy vegetarian Commensal - then walked to Atwater and went to see 12 Years a Slave. Powerful beyond words. Not going into this too deeply at the moment - just that it made me think more about the kinds of silences. The silences a slave had/has to keep, burying feelings, thoughts, Self to survive. Not live, survive. Evil silences of the oppressor - using the Bible as a weapon. Non-silence - vicious words and actions to subjugate other human beings - who of course were not seen as human.

Extremes. But we keep silences, too. P'raps not as obviously dramatic and evil - p'raps. What's the measure? I keep coming back to the silences we continue to keep in the church (yes, Anglican, as well as others) about the abuse of so many children by parish priests and others. And I feel sick. Still. The ripple effect out into the lives of those whose innocence was violently stolen. 

There's silence and there's silence.

This evening, I'm trying to hold in my heart alongside that wrong kinds of silence, the silence of the chapel of Louisburg Square, kneeling in the dark, seven sanctuary lamps lit - the tiny candle flickering in the blue glass at the feet of Mary's statue, four carved archangels just visible in the dimness above the altar, my Sisters around me ... and then Compline. 

"Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give thine angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for thy love's sake." Amen.  from ECUSA BCP.

Goodnight, my Sisters. 


  1. "All for Thy Love's sake"... how lovely! Thank you, Dear!

  2. So many varied threads come together in the making of a life and you have a way of appreciating every one of them. plus, you have a wonderful gift of being able to weave them together so beautifully! - Nancy French

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Ros.

  4. BTW, we have indeed participated in several public candlelight vigils, etc.

    1. Thought so - and I'm so glad. :-)