Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Unexpected Afternoon

My blender broke last week. It was brand new. I made fruit smoothies with it once, and the next time I filled it up with yogurt and frozen bananas and frozen berry blend, it was dead.

I had ordered it from Amazon, so I opted to return it to the not-so-nearby service center rather than pay shipping back to Amazon--if indeed they would even take it back; I don't know. With my children cheerily assuring me that they knew exactly what to do for their schoolwork, I allowed myself to be pushed out the door to do that errand this afternoon.

The service center was not in an area that I ever have reason to go near, ordinarily, but it was a straightforward process to drop it off; they'll let me know in 5 days whether it's being repaired or replaced. As I headed for home, it seemed like I had a bit of unexpected time to myself, if I wanted to take some, so I stopped at a monastery where I had spent a day once, years ago.

People often think that "monastery" refers to a place where monks live, and "convent" refers to a place where nuns live, but actually, either gender can live in either place. This monastery had sisters, and there were darn few of them left, it seemed, when I had been there for a personal retreat day. They had begun turning their ministry into a nursing home, and when I returned there today, I hardly recognized the place. Huge wings had been added to house more residents; a whole section of "retirement villas" filled what had been an enormous front lawn. It clearly was run by a professional staff now, not just a few nuns.

The chapel that I remembered was unavailable; it's only open once a day now, for Mass. The grounds were entirely changed by the additions, and I couldn't even locate the lovingly tended garden area that I remembered so well, where an unfearful squirrel had come right up to me as I had sat on a bench, praying, soaking up the silence and receiving much-needed rest for my soul.

They have a really cool European-style grotto there, a vision made reality in the 1920's by the labors of a nearby orphanage for boys, now a Catholic boys' school. When I was there before, you could explore its stony twists and turns, follow them up and down and through stone gateways, admire the plantings in and around the rocks, pray at its altar area. I always meant to take my kids there sometime on a mini field trip to see a real, live grotto. Now, they have enclosed the whole thing with an iron fence, with no gate.

The only thing that was as I remembered it was the little cemetery in the woods at the back edge of the property. Row after row of "Sister Mary Somebodys" lie there, their graves marked by identical granite headstones flat against the ground. I remembered it as a deeply peaceful place, and it was still that.

I wandered among the graves, looking at dates, wondering about the two nuns buried side by side who both died in their twenties. Cancer? Influenza? It was ninety years ago. One nun had died in World War II, in her fifties; hers was the only headstone with any additional information on it. Here were those who had died in the last five years. How many sisters were left, to join those here?

I pondered the sacrifice, the dedication of those buried here. They made their choice to forsake marriage and children out of love for God, out of a desire to serve Him...possibly with other motives or circumstances fueling their choice; but are any of us able to love Him purely?

They knew what it was to seek to serve Him, following their best lights, even when they couldn't see very far down the road. They knew what it was to try and live a life of devotion, despite rubbing elbows with very human beings, full of frailties and sin.

I am not Catholic, but in the company of the mortal remains of those sisters, I could almost understand where the tradition of praying to saints began. I have heard it described as just like me turning to you and asking you to pray for me; why not turn to ask those near to God's throne, those now with perfected wisdom--and time on their hands, so to speak--to pray for us? I wanted to ask these sisters, who had known what it was like to serve God throughout their life span, to pray for me in the midst of anxiety and uncertainty in mine.

"A little light, please, Lord," I prayed. "Just a little light to see just the next step." We've put our house on the market, but no one has even looked at it in six weeks.

My children's faces rose to mind. Six days into a new homeschooling year, and already I was ready for a break. "I need strength, Lord, to serve you in the midst of my family. I can be so selfish."

I sat for a moment on a cement wall. I should stop talking and listen, I thought.

Have more love, daughter.

Love casts out fear.


That's so right.

Fill me, Lord! I cried out. I am such a leaky vessel!

We are meant to leak, I thought, meant to have to come daily to the Lord for His replenishment...and sometimes, we need to drink more deeply than those little hurried sips.

Thank you, Lord, for the deep drink of silence, of solitude, of solidarity in mission, and for Your replenishing words today. I'm glad you got my attention for awhile here today--even if You had to break my blender to do it.

(It's a Braun, for heaven's sake, top-rated by Consumer Reports; there's no earthly reason...!)

Maybe when I have to drive back next week to pick it up, I'll bring my kids along to see the grotto. It's still pretty cool to see, walking around the perimeter.

And I don't know if they'll have any grottos in Wisconsin....


Summer in FL said...

Oh J! I have felt the same thing. I've prayed for patience and for strength with my two precious little girls. It seems that patience is running short and strength -- well, I'm as weak as weak can be. Isn't marvelous what the Lord can do! Thanks for sharing!

elaine@bloginmyeye said...

Great story. I'll tell you our moving story when we get together. -e.

Anonymous said...


Your love of things monastic reminds me so much of Kathleen Norris' writing. Do you know her books?

Praying for your home sale.

Jen in Seattle

At A Hen's Pace said...


Yes! to what the Lord can do...


I look forward to your story!


Kathleen Norris has been VERY inspiring andf encouraging to me.

Islandsparrow said...

praying for light, love and deep peace for you. I'm thinking what a story you will have to tell someday...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this beautiful post.

Anne Kennedy said...

Funny of God to manouver so many inconveniences. Had to recently loose my purse in a church for God to get me back in the door to pray really. Had just been for a service and was so distracted by everything, I forgot to pray. Then left my purse behind and went back in a panic. Realized what I'd really forgotten, the prayer part, and sat for a bit. And am still praying for your house to sell.