Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Not Knowing What to Say



I honestly don't know what to say about this weekend, so I shall blather.

I could say, "I could have gone to Pulpcon and spent time smelling the yellowing paper, and I could have gone to Basefilk and sung with my friends. But instead I went to a workshop exploring whether I wanted to make a career change into a more human-oriented industry."

I could say I spent time with a bunch of native Ohioans, all of whose last names sounded very familiar to a native Daytonian, and who knew many of the same places and people as my parents.

I could say something about spending time with a bunch of intelligent and self-possessed women who'd seen a lot of the world and human nature, and who'd done a lot of different kinds of work.

But all of those descriptions, though true, are misleading. This weekend, I went on a discernment retreat with the Sisters of the Precious Blood, whose motherhouse is over on the other side of Dayton.

It's an interesting order. I didn't know much of anything about them, because they don't happen to work at any of the parishes where I've lived. They don't wear habits, but they're also remarkably free of the stereotypical characteristics of habitless nuns. (They don't wear polyester. They don't have really scary politics. They aren't mad at the world. They aren't ashamed to mention Jesus. I wouldn't have gone if I thought they were like that, but I was pleased they weren't.) They did and do a lot of good work: mostly schooling and nursing, but now they are moving into lighter work. (Maybe because the members are older?)

Their foundress was Mother Brunner, a little old Swiss farmwidow who went on pilgrimage to Rome and decided that St. Gaspar de Bufalo really had something. She went back to live with her son the priest (one of her priest sons -- she had tons of nun daughters, too) who was running a boy's school in a castle, and persuaded a couple of the castle maids to join her in after-work adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Before long, there were enough maids interested to maintain Perpetual Adoration in shifts. And then she kicked the bucket at the advanced age of 72, but not before wishing she could continue helping in the hereafter. Her son and the women the maids recruited ended up in Ohio as the Missionary Priests of the Precious Blood and the Sisters of the Precious Blood, helping the German settlers out in the wilds and farms, and recruiting like crazy. The congregations were one (the head Missionary Priest running the community and the head sister controlling the treasury) until the Vatican decided late in Victorian times that this wasn't so great. They still have good close relations, thanks to their sharing of heritage, spirituality, and property borders. ;)

The first night of the retreat, in fact, some of the sisters were having some of the priests and brothers over for dinner, along with five seminarians doing their year of "Special Formation" (IIRC). I was there as one of three Inquirers (the 4th couldn't make it) and two Pre-Candidates (the 3rd couldn't make it).

Now, I've been around. I've met lots of kinds of people. No place I've ever worked or lived has ever not been diverse. But these folks were special. I've met people who love God and prayer, and I've met people who have a purpose in life, but I've never met any great mass of people who were quite so joyful, or who made me feel quite so much at home, and that includes fandom. This is not a slam at fandom, either. But there was always a large part of my soul that most of the folks in fandom could never even begin to touch, and which always felt very cold and hungry in the midst of my friends. And that's exactly where these folks live. Fandom is a place for the mind and heart, yes, and for the sense of wonder at what is and what might be. But religious life is for the soul. It's for people who don't want to follow God through normal life, but as normal life.

This is not to say that folks in religious life can't be God-scorning jerks, or that people can't have deep prayer lives without joining up; but it helps. Oh, it obviously helps. And I looked at them and saw something I'd seen in the mirror without knowing what it meant. They were people just like me, people who could understand the things I couldn't even articulate to others. This was what I was made for. It was like being a spoon who'd occasionally seen a knife or fork, but never realized there were whole cutlery drawers out there.

I didn't expect that. The only reason I'd gone on the retreat in the first place was that I felt like God was being unusually heavy on the hints lately, and that after a good ten years of putting it off, I'd better go do something about this whole nun thing. It also had not escaped me that as a career woman I was not exactly ambitious, and that very few of my talents were going to any use. I was dreading the whole thing, really, especially since it was habitless nuns. Of course, I probably would have dreaded nuns with habits and neotrad credentials just as much. (Never let it be said that I'm particularly fond of change or challenges I don't think up myself, or which require a degree of responsibility that I can't hide from myself.)

So there I was, finding out one more time that -- duh, God knows best.

I was impressed. I was even more impressed the next day when I heard their stories. If I could say when I die that I'd done half the good works they've done, I'd be pretty satisfied. That's not to say things were perfect. There were were a few things that I didn't like or thought were profoundly silly. I could definitely ask for decorations in the chapel that were as traditional as the ones in the motherhouse hallways. But on the whole, it was pretty darned good.

I have no idea what they thought of me. The whole weekend I was trying to be on my best behavior, but I kept finding all kinds of shards of emotions coming out. I really liked everyone and felt welcome, so mostly I was in happy chatterbox mode instead of being my normal introverted self (or Evil Bitter Chatterbox). But on the whole I think I came off as joyful instead of 'drama queen', and they appreciated me being in good voice.

Even more interestingly, God decided it was time to use the Cluebat of Enlightenment upon my head. For lo, not only did I go into serious mystic mode during Holy Hour the second day, after many years without anything major -- including some really unprecedented-for-me stuff, and believe me, the sisters were feeding us well and giving us plenty of sleep, and with all the old sisters with breathing problems, they had a light hand with the thurible incense -- but I even realized later on that I'd dreamed about details of this retreat about six months ago. Stupid unique details that were not just deja vu, either.

This is not to say that I'm taking any of this as a no-alternate-interpretation sign, or signing up tomorrow, or what have you. And I'm sure as heck not telling the sisters, because they don't know me yet and I don't want to freak them out, or my parents or brothers, because I don't want to freak them out and because I've never felt any real call to fill them in on the whole mystic thing. But...it is unusually definite, as indications of heavenly mandate go.

But though I'm not going to talk down the gift from God of a religious experience, it was more a lagniappe than the reason to make a decision; I'd already figured this stuff out the day before. Don't forget that God also creates and controls ordinary conditions and ordinary reasons to make decisions. Also, it may well turn out that God was just trying to get me to look at religious life, and that I'll find myself being drawn toward some other order as I learn more.

I told my parents back in June that I did in fact feel that God was being unusually hinty, and that I was planning to look into becoming a Sister. So at least they had some warning. They're not being obstructive; in fact, they're being helpful; but they're not totally overjoyed, either. My poor dad is very stressed by all this, understandably. (If anybody reading this doesn't know, my dad was raised in a small denomination which later on merged with the United Methodists. He agreed to raise us kids Catholic, and he and Mom got married in the Catholic Church; and he's almost always gone to Mass with us as well as his own church. But he's still Methodist, and this is freaking him out.) Of course, since Dad and I have always been very close and alike, it's probably the thought of losing me, more than his religion. I'm kinda afraid to ask. Meanwhile, Mom seems to have recovered somewhat from her earlier upset and is getting a bit enthusiastic about the whole thing. But I know that when and if I should take another step, Mom will be crying again. We aren't much alike, but I can understand her there.

I don't know how my brothers will react. No clue whatsoever.

But at this stage, I'm still just shopping around. Shopping around with HONKING BIG SIGNS hanging over my head, I admit, but we'll see.

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