Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Stranger Things

If you live in Erie you know that last night we had quite the storm. What I watched outside my window forty-two minutes after the electric came back on - my clock was blinking 12:42am - looked like the way movie makers portray the apocalypse: the sky continually illuminated by lightning while booming thunder filled my ears.

So this morning I wanted to go over to the lake and check it out. The scene this time was definitely "the calm after the storm," but I did notice a squirrel running around the beach. I couldn't think of another time when I'd seen a squirrel scurrying around on the sand. Seeing a squirrel seemed much stranger to me than seeing a seagull! (There were also plenty of them.)

In case you've missed it, Stranger Things is THE show to watch on Netflix right now. One of our sisters told me about it, and within a week, I finished the eight episodes that comprise the first season. I even realized that with my new pixie cut, I could easily pass as 011, the show's heroine, for Halloween. What I loved about the show was the way that the outcasts, the people many would deem "on the margins," were the ones who persisted and believed - without saying any more about the show. (Today also happens to be the Feast of St. Lawrence - when the prefect of Rome asked him to gather up and give him all the wealth of the Church, Lawrence proceeded to give all the riches to the outcasts, to those on the margins, and present those people to the prefect, telling him that they are the real treasures of the Church.)

Wait, why am I writing about all of this?

Well, all of these things have helped me as I reflect on what's coming next - the novitiate. On Saturday morning, the community voted affirmative on my request to move into the next phase of the initial monastic formation process. After the vote, I received affirmation in the form of hugs, well wishes, and kind, thoughtful words from the entire community. It was a beautiful experience, one that will carry me on even longer than just the novitiate year ahead.

Overall, I have been so grateful for the support of community, friends, and family as I journey into this life, but there are still people who question my choice to enter a "dying institution," joining a religious community where I am the youngest by more than twenty years. But as for me, I think there are many stranger things I could be choosing to do with my life, things that don't fit with the person I know myself to be here and now. By entering this community, I am choosing to make a commitment to a group of wise women who live a life of prayer and witness, a life that upholds those on the margins, a life that demands relationship with God and with others. I have no doubt that this life is not dying, but rather is exactly what our world yearns for right now.

And, yes, age is certainly a factor, as it is for many of us entering religious life in the 21st century - a squirrel among a flock of seagulls perhaps - but we who are entering are receiving the wisdom and love of those who have journeyed ahead of us, and I believe it is that very wisdom and love that we receive through relationship that will give us the energy to continue on the journey.

It felt appropriate that Parker Palmer posted these words from Wendell Berry on Facebook the day my novitiate vote took place. They are titled The One-Inch Journey.

Always in the big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into.

What you are doing is exploring. You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anyone else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.

I have no doubt that God knew it would be a good day for me receive these words. I have no doubt that the novitiate will challenge me in many ways. I have no doubt that this community will support me through the challenges. I have no doubt the journey is worth it.

Let us walk in the holy presence.