Monday, December 31, 2012

Greeting the New Year of 2013

Roman Missal Page Decoration
Created by Brother Max Schmalzl, CSsR
1850 - 1930

on this
Solemnity of the Mother of God
Illustrations of the various titles for Jesus (Root of Jesse, Morning Star, Key of David, Alpha and Omega) adorn the corners of this piece so rich in detail and buzzing with activity. Some of your image will be blocked but this had to be enlarged as much as possible to show the detail. Fortunately the great work of this modest German Redemptorist Brother is enjoying a renaissance.
Some changes are coming to this blog with the arrvial of the New Year. Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Redemptoristine Contemplative Christmas

We hope you enjoy a tour of our home all decked out for Christmas. As decorations appeared we all thought, "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas." It was great to be able to say that even though this is not really our home.

Enjoy the slide show and be sure to turn on your speakers.

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Welcoming the
Christ Child
into our
Fractured World

Most of the people I know - people who genuinely wish to spiritually welcome the newborn Jesus into their lives at Christmas - find themselves struggling to go to a place within, a place free of the demands, the craziness, the media assault, and the violence around us.
This poem written by the monk Thomas Merton over 50 years ago offers all of us some encouragement and comfort.

An Advent Song

Into this world, this demented inn,
in which there is absolutely no room
for Him. Christ has come uninvited.

He comes...
to the crisis before breakfast
the unexpected at dinner
in between the cranky toddler
and the exasperating senior citizen

when fatigue blights our day
worry disturbs our night
disappointment saps our strength
defeat destroys our hope...

into this demented inn
Jesus comes
and though uninvited..

Do check out our new
community website

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Redemptoristine Nuns
of New York
Announce Their New
In 2008 our contemplative monastic community lauched its first website. It was a home grown effort. Last year we began to dream of a new site , one with some bells and whistles, that we allow us to more effectively communicate who we are, our role in the Church, and the goal of our charism which is to become "Living Memories" of Jesus, our Redeemer.
The new site offers all of the things you are used to plus slide shows, a blog to which you can subscribe, a reading room for access to PDF documents of talks and articles by Redemptoristines as well as translations of the writings of Maria Celeste, and on-line comments option and vocation questionnaire.
Please visit the site, explore it and linger there.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dioramas in Miniature

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA - 1.25 inches across
Matthew Pleva

Heidi Abrams and Matthew Pleva
Artist Genes



to Grandson

My mother Matilda Nimke is an artist. As a teen in    the 1940s she opted to attend a special commercial high school in Manhattan, the School of Industrial Arts. The program was designed to train artists and craftspeople whose skills would be an important resource for the businesses on 7th Avenue, the garment district of New York. My mother, inspired by her aunt and many friends who worked for designers, chose to pursue fashion design. By 1947 she was the mother of two and that dream faded away. Beginning in the 1963 Mom began painting again and taking classes, especially at the Brooklyn Museum.

Here are some of my mother's paintings. She discovered her gift for watercolor, much to our delight. Today Mom has put the paint brushes aside. I used to tell her to "clean less and paint more". Fortunately she did paint more. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren will all eventually enjoy looking at her work in their own homes.

In turn I have dabbled here and there. A bit of drawing and painting was overwhelmed by work in the needle arts. Mom exposed us early to all kinds of art and craft media as well as needlework. Many family members worked in the garment industry; all the women sewed; many did knitting and crocheting of the most elaborate kind.


Now it is my son Matthew (the middle one) who is making his way through the art world with more training than his grandmother or mother every had (BFA - SUNY Purchase). He also has much more imagination than most people. Here is a Photobucket Slide Show  of his most recent gallery show at the Art Riot, the establishment that he and his lovely lady Heidi Abrams (and greatest support) have created on John Street, uptown Kingston, NY.
Scenes of Kingston
 top - home
middle - Old Dutch Church
foreground - Henry Hudson's Half Moon 

Friday, November 23, 2012

For Book Lovers Everywhere

Dear Bibliophiles,

Give yourself a treat, avoid the lines at your local box store today and read this opinion/memoir piece by author Anne Lamott which appeared in the Sunday Week in Review Section of the New York Times last weekend. Lamott is a  popular author of down to earth reflective memoir with realistic insight rooted in the wisdom of sobriety and an adult experience of faith. The love of reading, cultivated by otherwise disfunctional parents, is one of the gratitudes on Lamott's Thanksgiving list.
What would your personal account of early exposure to the wonder of books include? Where do the memories lead you?
Its a great day to curl up with a good book? What are you reading? The middle school  librarian in me is eager to finish "Son" by Lois Lowry, the fourth in her "Giver" series.
Happy Reading!
Anne Lamott is the author of "Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers".

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Knitted in Your Mother’s Womb

What mortal hand can e're untie
The filial band that knits me to thy rugged strand.   
Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832 – The Lay of the Last Minstrel

Little Owl cardigan for my grandniece
Is it the Book of Psalms or the Book of Wisdom in which we hear that our creator God knew us as we were being knit in our mother’s womb? Could it be that our God is a knitter? That may be more than a bit of a stretch. But knitting is an apt image of the work of creation – a slow and deliberate effort of the benign artist. Someone once said that “The act of creating is all we know of God.” When we create something with our own hands, out of our own imagination, from our own design – written, painted, sculpted, woven, knitted, embroidered, molded, carved, sewn, constructed, drawn, etc. – we experience the vital creative function of the divine.
Silk and wool vareigated lace weight
A few weeks ago I posted some pictures of knitted lace shawls, the making of which has become a passion of mine. That some of my life be dedicated to the creation of something beautiful, whatever the art form, is a necessity for me. Handwork of many kinds especially knitting, quilting, and spinning fit as hand to glove into contemplative life. This is true of any effort at artistic creation. Designing a garden, arranging flowers, as  well as any and all of the visual and creative arts fit the life of prayer and serve it well. Each is a creative, slow, repetitious, contemplative process that can remove us from the noise and distraction of 21st century life in the first world.

Handspun merino wool lace weight knit-on edge
Needlework is something practically bred in the bone of my history. I was urrounded by a family and a neighborhood dominated by talk of New York City’s garment industry. Sewing machine operators, sample and pattern makers, pressers were joined by my mother in her youthful pursuit of fashion design. My father would often survey his daughters gathered with their mother around the dinette table all absorbed in needle work of one kind or another and declare, “Another meeting the of the Idleness is Sin Club!” I do not remember being taught to crochet. I just seemed to have always been able to do it beginning with mini-items of clothing for Ginny Dolls of the 1950s. My mother started us in embroidery by handing us a scrap of white fabric, probably torn from an old sheet and stretched in a hoop, along with a sewing needle carrying colorful thread. She would say, “Draw a picture.” Thus we learned how to make a friend of that pesky needle.

Variegated wool sock weight with crochet edge
My mother introduced me to knitting when I was about ten years old but I was significantly helped along by a neighborhood friend a couple of years older who at least knew the knit and purl stitches. Mom’s help was limited. She could not follow written directions and made all of her gorgeous boucle tops via step-by step instructions at the local yarn store. I remember a white blouse with evenly spaced black jet hanging beads and another with a checkerboard motif highlighting the scoop neck. Every Brooklyn neighborhood had at least one yarn emporium in which a sorority of knitters filled chairs pushed up against walls bearing floor to ceiling shelves of  woolen fiber in a riot of color. In high school I decided to knit a real sweater for the first time. Mom was not encouraging and warned that she could not help me with directions. But the older sister of a friend promised I could do it under her guidance. The rest is history. Most of the people I have loved in my life received products of hasty needles performing in the rythym of the continental style of western European knitting.
I tell friends that if I sit in front of the TV without any needlework in my hands they can safely assume that I am dead tired. Years ago, when I began to find myself at many and various meetings, especially evening meetings following a long day of work, knitting came along to keep me attentive and awake. This seems counter intuitive but knitters universally report this phenomenon. We always have a simple project put aside as ‘meeting knitting”. This knitting also helps me to keep my mouth shut. There is also some truth in what Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the author of At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much, declares: “...the number one reason knitters knit is because they are so smart that they need knitting to make boring things interesting. Knitters are so compellingly clever that they simply can't tolerate boredom. It takes more to engage and entertain this kind of human, and they need an outlet or they get into trouble… knitters just can't watch TV without doing something else. Knitters just can't wait in line, knitters just can't sit waiting at the doctor's office. Knitters need knitting to add a layer of interest in other, less constructive ways.”

Natural handspun lace weight
Having tired of sweaters, hats, socks, Afghans, plain shawls, and baby attire I tried lace knitting a few years ago. I failed abysmally when following written directions and was told, “You just must learn to read charts.” It is consoling that at my age I could, with discipline and attention, pick up a new skill. So now I am enchanted by knitted lace. The treasures of antique patterns from European countries are being published, particularly those of the British Isles and Estonia. Yes, lace is knitted. What we call Belgian lace is not knitted. It is woven with intertwining threads each one on its own bobbin. But while women of the Low Countries and France were producing this lace, women in Spain and Ireland were creating wedding ring shawls, lace knitted in such fine yarn that the entire thickness of a shawl could be gathered and run through a wedding ring. Interestingly the history of knitting reveals that it probably originated in the Middle East and that Muslims brought the craft to Europe around the 10th century.
Today knitting has enjoyed a great revival, especially in its appeal to the young, and not just women. Taught one of my own sons how to knit as we enjoyed a pre-concert picnic on the great lawn of Tanglewood, the Bershires summer home of the Boston Symphony, in Massachusetts. Later he said, “Mom, now I know why you love doing this.”

(everything knitters want to know about knitting and a zillion patterns)  (history)

Book:    No Idle Hands: The Social History of Knitting by Anne L. MacDonald


Monday, November 12, 2012

Reflection for the Grieving


The elders here will remember a phrase common in Catholic culture of the past; a phrase uttered by a grandmother, a parent, a sister who taught us in school. In response to one complaint or another we would be told, “Offer it up.” Being told to offer our suffering up to God always limped a bit because, as was also part of the culture of the time, we were not given any opportunity to voice the interior experience of disappointment, insult, neglect, pain, sorrow or grief. Today we have been educated to value the need to express feelings. We know that giving them voice is necessary for healing.

But after healthy sharing with compassionate friends, after joining a support group, after praying through the grief, and perhaps after seeing a counselor, a question remains in the heart, “What do I do with the pain?” In this we may need to re-appropriate the concept of “offering it up.”
We are created in the image and likeness of God. The spark of divine life has lived in us since the moment of our conception and that spark was fanned into flame when Jesus entered into the human sphere. We have a Savior who is like us in every way except sin. The gift of the Incarnation, the gift of Jesus taking on the total human experience was to draw us further into divine life. The ancient Fathers of the Church declared “God became human in order than we might become God.” What does that mean? It means that we fully participate in divine life here and now. We participate in the both the glory of God and the pathos of God’s suffering. So we can sit with our pain and say with St. Paul:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…Col 1:24
We need only to read the newspapers, watch T.V. news, survey our own families and friends to see the suffering held within the Body of Christ. Since the Incarnation unites in that Body we are one in the suffering of all humanity. But we do not sink into the suffering. Rather we unite our pain, our sorrow to the entire human experience. By our union with Jesus on the Cross we fully participate in the on-going Redemption of all creation. Even the quantum physicists are telling us that at a mysterious sub-molecular level everything is interconnected. Nothing happens without affecting everything else.
As you contemplate your loss, as you touch your emptiness, as you empathize with the pain of those made homeless by the storm, those being slaughtered in Syria, those who are starving in Africa, those who are homeless in our towns and cities, “Offer it up.” Unite yourself with the God who knows our suffering, who sees our tears and cries with us. Ask that your experience be incorporated into the on-going work of Redemption in our families, in our communities and in our world.
The reflection above was offered at an All Souls Memrorial service at St. Jospeh's Church in Kingston, New York.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Contemplative Prioress Filled with Spirit

Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR
On September 25 we had our monthly celebration of "Little Christmas" remembering in a special way the Incaration of Jesus our Redeemer. As is the custom we renewed our vows at Midday Prayer after our prioress had shared with the community some inspiring words.

Remember the Call

Music: Do You Remember the Call


It has been quite a year.  I don’t remember the last time I gave the prioress’ ferverino on the 25th!   Nevertheless, here we are in the early days of autumn renting space in Cabrini on the Hudson.  Soon the leaves will begin to change color and then leaves will float gently to the ground and decompose back into the earth to replenish the soil for new life to take root.
In remembering the Incarnation and remembering our call we harken back to
the ‘Gospel seeds’ that were planted in our hearts: seeds that took root and grew into tender green shoots that eventually became tall and strong over the years in the light of Christ.  And now, basking in the Son’s rays, we trust in the journey thus far and gather our collective wisdom and insight and mulch them into ground of our beings and water them with hope in preparation for whatever future God has in store for us.

We live our Redemptoristine life in hope that we will still flourish because ‘Hope is the power of Jesus Risen in us.’  (Constitution and Statutes  135)  What that will look like we don’t know.  New life is hiding.  Perhaps what we do, how we live our contemplative life now, will plant new gospel seeds somewhere else that will take root and grow. In order to flourish and generate new life for the Order new planting may be called for: new planting in the salvation history of the people of God, new planting in the culture and the times in which we live, new planting of the contemplative monastic structures by on-going formation, dialogue, conversion and adaption for the sake of a deeper renewal of the charism of the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer. 
Through the inspiration of our Incarnate Lord, generations of Redemptoristines before us have planted seeds in the world to ‘be a visible witness and a living memorial of the Paschal Mystery of Redemption in which the Father has accomplished His plan of love through Christ and in the spirit.’ (Constitution and Statutes #1)

In all our joys and sorrows, challenges and achievements, sisters young and sisters aged with wisdom have courageously lived in their lives the Paschal Mystery just like our foundress Ven. Maria Celeste.   

Jesus promised Celeste, therefore us, that when we ‘leave everything in his hands all things will fall into place for the best purpose!  (So) with faith, believe in him; with hope, keep your every good secure; and love only him, as the Lord of your heart and as the Life in which you live!’ (Florilegium 101)

We have offered to the Incarnate Lord, our Holy Redeemer, our life of praise and intercession by faith in the living Christ in response to the love God has bestowed on us through the Son.  May the ‘Consoling Spirit who gathers us together help us live in unity’ (Constitution and Statutes #3) and continue to grow into the fullness of Redemptoristine life in our changing times. 

Remembering our call and the seeds of Love planted within our hearts let us renew our vows.

Profession of Vows
Loving Lord and Father, you have called me to relive
in myself the Mystery of Jesus, your well-beloved Son
and to be a living memorial of it, and, under the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit to pour out on the world
the light of your love, shining on the face of your Christ,
the Savior of the world.
To perfect in myself the union with the mystery of the
death and resurrection of Christ, begun in Baptism, to
glorify your name and for the redemption of humanity,
I wish to confirm my first consecration by a new covenant.
For this reason, in communion with the whole Church, I
profess vows of poverty, chastity and obedience according
to the Constitutions and Statutes of the order of the Most
Holy Redeemer.
I trust in your mercy, O my god, with the maternal help of
Mary, Mother of Christ and our Mother, to remain faithful
to my covenant.



Monday, September 17, 2012

Feast of Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen:
Abbess, Mystic, Prophet, Author, Musician (1098-1179)

Hildegard's feast has been set in the Roman Martryology for centuries but it is only now that she is being officially declared a saint AND Doctor of the Church. She will be the 35th individual declared Doctor of the Church and the fourth woman after St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux. We were given hints that Pope Benedict XVI  might make some proclamation of Hildegard when he spoke of her frequently in his talks in 2010-11. The early effort to officially canonize her suffered from neglect but she was canonized by acclamation in Europe, especially in Germany. It seems that the Pope will present her name and about 20 others to the upcoming Synod of Bishops in Rome. Also on the list are two Americans, Kateri Tekakwitha and Sister Mary Ann Cope of Molikai.
Research for revision of material for my presentation at Holy Cross Monastery on October 10 has brought a great discovery. A doctoral student at the University of Tennessee, Allison Elledge has written a number of very significant papers on Hildegard. She has made great use of new translations and her own linguistic skills. Her great success is to view Hildegard in her time and place rather than through the lens of our experience. She down plays the feminist but emphasizes the freedom of the prophet and the calls to reform issued by Hildegard in her texts, letters and sermons. There are a number of papers so just Google.
For other words about Hildegard search this blog. Use the search box in the side bar to the right.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Taken from the terrific


My friends over at occasionally recruit guest bloggers. When asked, I offered to supply a blog post on this special feast day for our community and Order the Exaltation of the Cross and also the anniversary of the death of our foundress, Maria Celeste Crostarosa 1696-1755. Do check out their website, live podcasts, daily blog posts and much more; a site especially designed for those women discerning a vocation to vowed religious life.

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

by Guest Blogger on September 14, 2012
A Nun’s Life is delighted to be joined today by guest blogger Sister Hildegard Pleva, OSsR, of the Redemptoristine Nuns and the blog Contemplative Horizon.

The Feast of the Exultation of the Cross is one of a cycle of twelve great feasts celebrated in the liturgical cycle of the early Church. Legendary stories of the discovery of the true Cross in the 4th century and the patronage of Saint Helena, mother of Constantine, are often told in relation to this feast. More important is the tribute offered here to the Cross as the instrument of our salvation. The entrance antiphon for Mass on the feast declares, “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, our life and resurrection, through which we are saved.”
This day is an important feast for Redemptoristines, my community of contemplative monastic women in the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer. September 14 is also the anniversary of our foundress’ death in 1755. The Venerable Maria Celeste Crostarosa (1696-1755) made of “her will an echo of Christ’s will.” (Florilegium 64. Colloquies II, 7 (11)) She was united with him on the cross in many trials endured throughout her life. Therefore, it was apropos that she should die on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and be united with her Beloved in heaven as she was on earth.
Jesus invited his disciples, Celeste, and us as well with these words, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Celeste responded, “Oh with what love I embraced the cross, loved it, desired it and took pleasure in it — all for your love.” She continues, “Likewise those who love bind themselves to the cross … savor the true and solid sweetness of God and the true peace found therein.” (Florilegium 118. Rules. Love of the Cross, 9r-9v (188-189)
Cynthia S.S. Crysdale in her book Embracing Travail: Retriving the Cross Today (NY: Continuum, 1999) suggests that in order to unite ourselves with the cross of Christ and his suffering we must correctly identify the real suffering in our lives. This is not the suffering created by our ego needs but rather the suffering necessary for transformation, that transformation of the false-self which enables us to attain the promised freedom of the children of God.
For consideration in prayer:
  • Does my ego cling to a particular suffering? Is my clinging misplaced?
  • Is there another suffering being called for as I seek union with the Cross of Christ?
  • Is there an effort toward true transformation in Christ that I choose to ignore?
May the Holy Spirit guide us in this meditation of love, this exaltation of the Cross of Christ.

* * *
Join A Nun’s Life faith community for prayer tonight at 6 p.m. CT at

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Current Situation of LCWR

Sr. Patricia Farrell - President LCWR
An Overview
by Professor Margaret Susan Thompson
Syracuse University
Peggy Thompson is a scholar of the history of women religious in the United States. She was asked to give a homily at her parish church offering an over view of a thorny situation in our Church and to plumb the depths of scripture for application to this process of discernment. Many are aware of the controversy but few understand what has happened. Peggy has done a great service by synthesizing what has happened and stating the current situation. It is worth reading. Reprinted here with permission.

            When  Father Jim asked me to speak this weekend, I was both excited and nervous. I was excited because it’s been a long time since I’ve spoken here, and nervous because he asked me to address some of the controversy that has erupted recently between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (or “LCWR”), a large organization that represents most of the Catholic sisters in the United States. The Syracuse Franciscans are part of LCWR; so are the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet  and most of the other sisters who minister in Syracuse. I’m not nervous because I am afraid to talk about this subject—though some people are—but because it’s a subject so important to me, and something I feel so strongly about, that I was afraid I couldn’t do the topic justice.

 Briefly, let me try to explain what the controversy is all about.  In December 2008, two separate offices in the Vatican initiated investigations into women’s religious life in the US.  The first—and the one that originally seemed to arouse the most attention and suspicion, was called a Visitation, and—as the name suggests, involved visits to large numbers of sisters’ communities by delegates (mostly other sisters) who took special oaths of fidelity to the Vatican and then made secret reports about their findings.  It was the oaths and the secrecy that caused a lot of concern, but this investigation ended up (at least so far as we know now—but who knows?) kind of fizzling out.

 Meanwhile, the second one—conducted by the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (what used to be called the “Inquisition”)—didn’t get a lot of attention at all.  Its focus was not on rank-and-file sisters but, rather,  on the organization to which their leaders belonged, and which was suspected of theological radicalism, mainly because of what some speakers at its assemblies had said, or because of some “working papers” that had been published for the benefit of their members.

 For three years, not only did this investigation receive almost no attention but, according to LCWR’s officers (who met regularly with various Vatican officials, who assured them there was no need to be concerned), the sense was that it, like the Visitation, was not going to amount to much.  Then, last April, without any warning and very shortly after another apparently uneventful meeting between LCWR’s officers and the relevant Vatican prelates, an edict was issued.  Stated simply, LCWR was judged to reflect a number of theological irregularities, including too much emphasis on social justice, and not enough emphasis on matters such as opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.  Also, speakers at LCWR assemblies, and LCWR leaders themselves, were found guilty of harboring  so-called “radical feminist ideas”  (ideas which were never defined).  So three bishops were appointed to oversee the “reform” of LCWR.  As of now, it is unclear what will happen. LCWR had its annual meeting in August, at which time those present said they would continue to dialogue with the Vatican and the 3 bishops, but might reconsider their cooperation if they were asked to compromise anything essential to what they are all about.

 Whew!  This is a story that, as of now, does not have an end.  Some observers think the timing too neatly coincided with the 2012 US election (keep in mind that all of this applies only to sisters in the US), in part because LCWR—as well as other organizations wholly or largely led by sisters, such as the NETWORK social justice lobby and the Catholic Health Association—had supported the Affordable Care Act, while the US Bishops had not.  It’s not my intention here to go into more detail about this, except to say that while it is a mess that seems confined to sisters at the moment, in fact it affects all of us, and that is what I want to reflect on in the rest of my remarks today.

 First, most of us know and love and have benefitted from the friendship, example, and ministry of countless Catholic sisters. Whether it’s Sister Pat and Sister Eileen in our parish—and others, such as Sister Margaret when she was with us and the many sister-teachers at St. Lucy’s School, as well as thousands of other schools around the country including our own Diocese, not to mention those at St. Joseph’s Hospital going back to the soon-to-be-canonized Mother Marianne Cope—most of  us regard the sisters as OUR sisters, who dedicate their lives to prayer and ministry and radical representation and incarnation of Jesus’s Gospel.  Indeed, in the months since the April edict from Rome, literally tens of thousands of American Catholics have expressed their support for their sisters.  We have done so here through special prayer vigils, the signing of petitions, and welcoming our own diocesan “Nuns on the Bus” just a couple of weeks ago.   When Sister Simone Campbell, director of NETWORK, spoke the other night at the Democratic National Convention, her strong call for social justice and reconciliation was greeted with applause in the hall and almost universal praise and gratitude from those commenting in the media and among the general public. I think those who called for the investigation and those in charge of it have been astonished by the widespread enthusiasm that American Catholics—and not just Catholics—have expressed in so many ways.

 Second, many people wonder: why the sisters? After a decade in which the sexual abuse scandal has rocked the church not just in the US but in so many parts of the world, and during which financial mismanagement (and worse) by too many prelates has made repeated headlines, why is it the sisters who are threatened with discipline, external supervision, and censure?  This is not a question I can answer—but it’s certainly one that has been asked a lot.

 Third, we know from experience, and through the examples of so many of those whose pictures line the walls of this parish, that an attack on one of us is an attack on us all.  Today it is the Sisters; who will it be tomorrow? We have to stand in solidarity with those who are under attack, both because we want people to stand with us if WE are attacked but, more importantly, because—as many of us learned from both the formal lessons and the selfless examples of the sisters—it is the right thing to do. As Pastor Martin Niemuller famously said, when the Nazis overran his native Germany:

 First they came for the socialists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a          socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

          So often these days, we hear the phrase, “What would Jesus do?”  It seems particularly relevant under these circumstances.  Jesus stood firmly with those who were marginalized, abused, assaulted both verbally and physically, and those condemned by the contemporary powers-that-be.  If we read the Sermon on the Mount, we see not only what was at the core of Jesus’s life and ministry, but what is central to what the sisters are being condemned for doing—BY THE POWERS THAT BE IN THEIR OWN ARENA.  Indeed, two of the Beatitudes seem particularly important for us to remember today, and should give comfort to the sisters of LCWR: “Blessed are those persecuted for holiness’ sake; the reign of God is theirs.”  And, even more powerfully: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven.”

           A homily, of course, is supposed to reflect upon the Scriptures for today, and I haven’t really done that yet, have I?  So, if you’ll give me just a couple of more minutes, let me correct that—but in a somewhat indirect way.  Last week’s Gospel, from Chapter 7 of Mark, excited me, because I knew what came next in that chapter, and it seemed just PERFECT for what Father Jim asked me to discuss today. But then, when I looked at THIS week’s Gospel, I saw that the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman—known as the Canaanite woman when the same story is told in Matthew’s Gospel—was curiously (or not-so-curiously) skipped over.  Let me read the version from Matthew, and you’ll see what I mean:

 Jesus left the place where he was and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  It happened that a Canaanite woman living in that locality presented herself, crying out to him: “Lord, Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is terribly troubled by a demon.”  He gave her no word of response.  His disciples came up and began to entreat him, “Get rid of her. She keeps shouting after us.”   “My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus replied.  She came forward then and did him homage with the plea, “Help me, Lord!”  But he answered, “It is not right to take the food of sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs.”  “Please, Lord,” she insisted, “even the dogs eat the leavings that fall from their masters’ tables.”  Jesus then said in reply, “Woman, you have great faith!  Your wish will come to pass.”  That very moment her daughter got better.

         The Syro-Phoenician or Canaanite woman—who, by rights, we should have celebrated in today’s Gospel reading—is  an alien and a woman: a marginalized, anonymous and seemingly powerless figure--and yet she dares to approach Jesus for help.  The disciples—institutional ancestors, we are told, of the hierarchy of today—beg Jesus to tell her to shut up and go away.  He ignores her, and then calls her a dog. And this beautiful woman, so marginal a figure that we are not even told her name, persists.  She pleads not for herself, but for her daughter.  And ultimately Jesus sees the light.  He calls her a "woman of great faith," and rids her daughter of the demon. The woman disappears; we never hear of her again.  But she remains the only person in scripture who does one extraordinary thing: she is the only one who changes Jesus' mind.

         This, it seems to me, is a revolutionary incident.  And, as for its omission from the Gospels we hear at Sunday Mass, who can blame the hierarchy from trying to keep us from hearing it? For if the bishops can see themselves in "apostolic succession" to the disciples, then maybe we should see the woman in this Gospel account as one of us—or, more specifically, as the “mother” of today’s religious Sisters—and OUR sisters!   Marked by faith, fearlessness in faith, persistence, and compassion, her determination changed not only Jesus's mind but salvation history.  She tells those of us with nothing that we have nothing to lose, so we may as well take risks and confront religious authority, even God.

 But she also holds out hope, not only for the sisters of LCWR, but for us all.  If even JESUS could change his mind, she holds out the possibility that truly radical change is both possible and legitimate.  Her prayer, after all, was answered; her daughter was healed.  And so the women of LCWR and we, also her daughters and sons, can pray TO her and WITH her—for persistence, for dialogue, for healing, and in anticipation of ongoing reconciliation, and transformation for us all.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Quilters Guild Celebrates

Wiltwyck Quilters Guild
35th Anniversary
Thirty-five years ago I participated in the founding of a guild of quilters. It was born out of the effort to produce a pictorial quilt honoring the history and culture of our county in honor of the bi-centennial celebration of our country. Yesterday the Wiltwyck Quilters Guild enjoyed an anniversary luncheon meeting. It was my privilege of offer the following remarks. Over 100 women attended and a wonderful time was had by all.
          In 1976, in late winter and in early spring, traditional quilting bee season, four to ten women at a time gathered around a large frame dominating the living room of the Kingston home of Ruth Culver. We marked, threaded needles, thimbled them through all three layers of the stretched quilt, buried our knots (if there were any) and we shared stories. I have been told that you would appreciate hearing the Guild story.  Much will be familiar to my peers here and I beg their forgiveness for any failure of my memory. That 1976 quilting bee, women working and creating, united in a mission to mark the bi-centennial of our country, is just part of the story.
It all began with Ruth Culver for whom quilting was not a resurrected historical craft but an art born of necessity, a skill bred in the bone and coaxed into day light by women who had gone before. Like women in the dust-filled Oklahoma mud soddies of the 19th and early 20th centuries, they made quilts so their families wouldn’t freeze and made them as beautiful as possible so they wouldn’t go mad. This sensibility was in Ruth’s Appalachian heritage DNA.
That heritage morphed into quilting courses at Ulster County Community College in the 1970s. With the coming of the nation’s bicentennial a dream was born – a county quilt presenting a pictorial history of the place and its culture. From the ranks of friends and students Ruth gathered 42 women ranging in age from 18 to 78 and invited them to an initial planning meeting on a windy February night in 1975. Each of us has our ‘how I got started with the Guild’ story. After taking a class with Ruth this meeting is where my story would begin.
After growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, I’d married and lived in Connecticut before moving to Kingston in 1974. Surrounded in childhood by garment workers, knitters and embroiderers, I’d always had a needle in my hand. But I ignored the thimble. Such a nuisance! My Aunt predicted that I would never be a real seamstress until I’d made friends with my thimble. That friendship was to be cemented by an introduction to quilting. Ruth Culver is the second person I met upon moving into our house in her uptown Kingston neighborhood The rest is history, thimble and all.
The organizational meeting that cold winter night was my first outing less than a month after a Cesarean delivery and with a nursing baby in tow. I nearly fainted after running across the windy parking lot and up the stairs of Vanderlyn hall. Collapsed in a chair and did some Lamaze breathing and was ready for business.

I do not remember precisely what was decided at that particular meeting. But I do know that we were fired up by Ruth’s enthusiasm and her ‘no obstacle too great’ attitude. We talked about eventual size, what blocks might depict, materials, timeline for production, work sessions were we would help each other solve design problems and swop fabric to get just the right tone and texture for the pictures we were going to paint with fabric. We dreamed too of mounting the quilt in a show incorporating other quilted pieces. All of this eventually came to pass. The nursing baby eventually played under the frame as we quilted in Ruth’s living room. There were non-stop bees composed of rotating quilters, one leaving and another taking her place before the seat had time to cool. There was not a single topic of interest to women that was not discussed around that quilting frame: children, husbands, discipline of both, parents, childhood memories, recipes, home remedies for illness, networking of every kind. Our youngest quilter, Kathy Baxter Krayewski, was only 18 and she got some education. We were teachers, artists, homemakers, nurses, business women, secretaries, waitresses, retirees, college students, young mothers and grandmothers from every ethnic, racial and religious background who became friends in the effort to create something beautiful, a tribute to our history and culture, emblematic of our pride in the bicentennial celebration of our country. The Guild has in slide form a photo of each block of the quilt. My father came with a tripod and his Rolleiflex to immortalize each block. Those slides have now been digitized. They were used in presentations made to 4th grade classes in schools throughout the country to augment local history studies during the period of the bi-centennial celebration. 
The dream of a show featuring the quilt came to pass in late spring of 1976 in the art gallery of the college. We were so pumped up after that show and wanted a place to put our energies, a way in which we could maintain the bonds formed between us. We also knew that working together spurred us in creativity.
Early in the spring of 1977, to express our gratitude, the 42 bicentennial quilters presented Ruth with an album quilt at a luncheon in her honor. We all knew that we did not want it to end and discussed at table how we would proceed to create a permanent group. We know of the Embroiderer’s Guild and thought we could promote and educate others while stimulating our own creativity and skill development. In conversation various names were tossed around.  Ulster County Quilters’ Guild, Kingston Quilters’ Guild were rejected In our research for the historical blocks of the bicentennial quilt we had learned that the early Dutch name for the area was Wiltwyck (wild wood) and I suggested we us this name. Wiltwyck Quilters’ Guild has a nice ring to it. In the summer of that year Ruth, Polly Briwa, myself and one other woman whose name eludes me, met a number of times to write the organization by-laws.  We began regular meetings at the college in the fall of 1977 and elected Ruth as our first president.
Aelittle side story his called for here. Polly Briwa was a larger than life personality, a sort of ‘Auntie Mame’ figure dedicated to her enthusiasms. She and her IMBer husband lived in a restored old stone Dutch house on Sawkill Road. She became a prolific quilter but she was also a chain smoker and died much too early. After moving to Glens Falls she became active in the guild there. Upon her death, her husband began sponsoring a cash award for the finest log cabin pattern quilt at every guild show in Glens Falls.
Looking back, it seems we worked at brake neck speed, but we were younger then. Most of us had families and/or other day jobs, were creating fabulous quilts at home, meeting regularly as a fledgling guild formalizing its structure AND mounting our first major show in June of 1978. This last could not have been accomplished without the visionary leadership of Ruth Culver and the considerable tech support of Ulster County Community College under President Donald Katt. The college provided the venue, insurance, printing and security for a show that ran for two weeks. Since many of you, I am sure, have been involved in show presentation there is no need to list the complications but for others I must. Themes, invitational quilts, raffle quilt, judges, prizes, staffing, vendors, demonstrations and workshops were all put into place. How pleased we were to present the profits earned to the college scholarship fund.
So much for history. I cannot close without speaking of how the Guild achieved its primary purpose which is to promote the art of quilting and continue skill development in its membership and become a sorority of quilters; women with purpose and creativity . At a time when the commercial sector had not yet responded to the bicentennial boom in quilting we were inventive. Before clear grid rulers we used metal and plexi-glass scraps purchased at places like what was then P&D Surplus on the Strand in Kingston. We had our husbands cut them into measured strips. Before rotary cutters we made pattern pieces with Shrinkydink plastic stolen from our kids (smooth on one side and matte finish on the other. Kids drew on it, cut out designs and baked them in the oven until shrunk. And for the hand quilters among us we do not fail to remember when Elaine Blyth, charter member from New Paltz, reported quilting her prize winning navy blue and white patchwork beauty entirely on a lap hoop. This was the equivalent at the time of moving from a Commodore 64 computer to and Apple PC or today stepping up from a simple one purpose cell phone to an I-Phone. We simply couldn’t believe it. “Are you sure you won’t have gaps and ripples?” we asked. Elaine reassured, “Just baste the hell out of it in a frame and quilt from the center out. She was right and we were liberated.”
          Thank you for the part each of you has played in allowing the Guild to continue to achieve its purpose and flourish. A mark of your success is the number of members who have been admitted to the Catskill Quilters Hall of Fame over the years. Other signs are the continuing string of workshop offerings and the presentation of bi-annual shows. You are to be congratulated.
On a personal note, although I withdrew from the Guild in 2000, the education in this art form and the influence of countless creative, generous and inspiring women stayed with me. I continue to quilt and have become more adventurous in my efforts. For that I am grateful. But most of all, I am grateful for the memories, the wisdom, camaraderie, listening ears, and creative example of women. Some things about quilting never change, except that now men are sharing the wealth.
In the mid-1980s when I was inducted into the Catskill Mountain Quilters Hall of Fame, I closed my words of gratitude with this citation from the Book of Psalms. With your kind permission I will use them here:
May the favor of God be upon us,
and prosper the work of our hands,
O prosper the work of our hands.
          Best wishes for your upcoming show. Thank you.