Friday, January 01, 2016

Solemnity of the Mother of God

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.
Luke 2:19

Reflecting in Her Heart

The first day of this New Year finds me in a new way of life; a way of life totally unanticipated at the beginning of 2015. I am no longer a Redemptoristine nun. I no longer live in a monastery pursuing the daily round of prayer, work and recreation. I can no longer depend on the work of others to keep life spinning. It is hard, at times, to know who I am now. (A previous post offers some background to this profound change.)

To append this change to the list of events to which I often refer as "my checkered past" makes me shake my head in disbelief. Italian-American Brooklyn boomer, daughter and sister, college girl, wife, mother, divorcee, single mom to three sons, teacher, graduate student, librarian, parish and community volunteer, contemplative nun, grandmother, and at the age of 70 a lay person once again. It really makes me wonder.

Running over the list in my mind I most often tend to dwell on how much I messed up; all the times and places in which I failed; all the people I let down and did not love well; and all the times I imagine being a disappointment to God. I see all the broken places.

But I have been urged to turn away from notions of brokenness and rather to ponder the continuity of spirit (with an upper case 's' as well as lower) which undergirds the meandering events and occupations of my life. 

The presence of God was always there; the guidance of the Spirit; desire for the Holy One; and the "Hound of Heaven" unrelenting in pursuit of a soul often not knowing where it was headed.

Today's Gospel is a simple one concerning the shepherds coming to see Jesus and praise Him and Mary's reaction to it all. Luke says, "Mary kept all of these things, reflecting on them in her heart." Another translation offered, "Mary wondered at these things, and pondered them in her heart." I wonder and I ponder. "Wonder" suggests awe at the mysterious ways of God and "ponder" speaks of the effort to plumb all these things for depth of meaning.

I have said that I am currently exploring a new contemplative path, a way of living contemplatively in the world as a lay person. In this context my small but very comfortable apartment may be considered my hermitage. I do relish my time here alone. But I am too much of an extrovert to ever dignify myself with the title of hermit. Rather I have returned to an image from the writings of Maria Celeste Crostarosa, foundress of the Redemptoristine Nuns. One collection of her writings is entitled "Il Giardinetto", or "The Little Garden."

But this is no ordinary garden. She suggests that a more precise meaning is this; that for God the 'giardinetto' is the dear enclosed garden in which God and the soul enjoy each other. My little place can be this enclosed garden. It has all the verdant, cool, shady loveliness and protection of a childhood remembrance; the lush grape arbor seriously cultivated by the old Italian immigrant gentleman who lived next door.  

So as Mary kept, wondered, reflected and pondered in her heart the wondrous things that had taken place in her short life, I do the same but with a longer list unrolled over a whole life time and still unfurling to reveal its mysteries. In daily meditation I struggle to center myself, to enter the precious enclosed garden and ponder the meaning.

A Great Shift

It is necessary to always fly under true colors.  So I share with followers of this blog the message below which was sent to family and friends two months ago.

November, 2015
Dear Friends,​ 
​With a heavy but hopeful heart I am sending word of a change of address both in formal title and place of residence. As of Sunday, November 8, I am no longer a member of the Redemptoristine community now located in Beacon, NY.
 My decision to withdraw from vowed contemplative life has been a long time in coming and was not finally arrived at without a great deal of pain and prayer. Many of you are aware that much has happened in the life of the Redemptoristine Nuns of New York and in my personal life in the last few years. Beginning in 2012 the community was forced to leave its monastery, endured a seemingly endless search for a new home and a period of temporary housing, and finally, by the grace of a last minute generous invitation from the Carmelite community in Beacon, found a new home. During these years my father died, my mother's dementia required her placement in a nursing home, and her younger brother became my responsibility. After his death there were the usual financial matters calling for attention. I report all of this not as reason for my departure from the community but as context for the stress and the process.
 Old difficulties combined with the struggles of changes within the community as well as the new living situation were taking their toll in body, mind and spirit. In the past I had thought I was too old to make such a change. I am now 70 years old. But in August I realized that it was the only healthy direction in which I could go. Because I love my sisters there was excruciating pain in the process of discernment. There is and will continue to be the experience of something dying. But there is also hope for resurrection. 
After a discouraging search for affordable and appropriate housing I was offered an apartment in subsidized senior housing about 10 minutes drive up the road from the original Redemptoristine monastery. Two of my sons live in Kingston about 15 minutes away. Each has a child and I cannot pretend that I am unhappy about having more occasions to see one year old Harrison and two year old Matilda. My oldest son lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two boys. All of my sons have been marvelously supportive and helpful to me. I could not have moved without their help. The Redemptoristines too have been very generous. Our many moves yielded an excess of furniture and I have been blessed in their donations to this new household.
 Please do pray for the community of Redemptoristines in Beacon and for me as I make this huge adjustment and on-going discernment of God's will for me in this time of disorientation. I am trying to discover a new contemplative path.
 With appreciation for you all and trusting in our loving God,