My Little Superhero

faithhopechocolate:

My niece, who is autistic, is one of my super heros. All kids are special, some are just more special than others. It’s obvious she’s smart, especially now she’s in a school with staff trained to meet her needs. The right support, especially at an early age, is crucial.

Originally posted on Stories that Must Not Die:

From day one, my son has been a miracle. During five long years of trying – I thought having children may be impossible for me. Then, one day out of nowhere I was pregnant. After nine months it had been a healthy pregnancy. One night, that all changed. It was about two weeks before my due date and I was experiencing pain and contractions at the same time. Instantly, I knew something was wrong. A slight terror blanketed me. I had lost a child before. I checked myself into the hospital.

Hours of tests followed. The doctors and nurses didn’t even bother to do an ultrasound. It didn’t matter that I was insisting upon it. One female doctor even had the nerve to tell me it was probably gas. Since when does gas give you a shooting pain in your lower left side? Idiot.

They sent me home. About…

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Who needs to go to the gym…

…when they live in a convent?  It’s currently donkey grooming season, fruit picking season and garden weeding season.  Add into all this the fact that we’re in a building of three storeys and my cell is on the top floor, and there has been some extra cleaning to do and also furniture moving to get more shelving in the library (where I’m probably going to be moving some books around) then I find I’ve done quite a bit in a day.

On Monday this week, I also walked into Whitby twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  So why am I now surprised at my leg muscles feeling a little used?

One of the many good things this week was my June retreat.  On Monday evening I went to our retreat house so that I could have all of Tuesday there, and I returned to the Priory on Wednesday.  One of our senior sisters gave me a retreat address in the morning, and as the other guests were also in silent retreats, the meals were spent listening to music. 

I think that’s one of the brilliant things about Religious Life, the balance between doing and being.  Our day is structured to allow time for both, which is something I realise now I’d wanted before I’d even considered the possibility of this vocation.

It’s funny how things work out!

Easter, Spring and Summer!

So, I’d had this great idea that during Holy Week, I’d write down my thoughts for each day to turn into a blog post.

I managed to make notes for two days, and then totally failed.  I do remember that we had a very good retreat, with addresses from the then Archdeacon of Cleveland, and now Bishop elect/designate (not sure which to really use) of Whitby, Paul Ferguson.  With the various extra duties because of the assorted liturgies and extras – we sing Tenebrae in Holy Week –  the retreat was a much-needed space to prepare.  Easter Day itself was a brilliant day, but the weather wasn’t quite so fantastic, as we had a lot of cloud and not so much sun.  It was a very long day too, with getting up at 4.30 that morning and I didn’t go to bed until about half 9.  The following day I was up early again (as I was the daily sacristan and so had to unlock) and I was very surprised to not be completely shattered that evening.

One thing on Easter Day was when I was in Chapel, pottering around doing some sacristy duties.  I was up at the front, by the apron step, on the left hand side of Chapel, when I had this sort of warm fuzzy feeling and the sense of being absolutely, perfectly and utterly at home and in the right place for me.

Since then, life has more or less returned to normal.  If there is ever such a thing, which I doubt!  A more normal routine, perhaps.

Spring is starting to turn into summer now.  And the pollen count is quite high, so I’m snuffling rather a lot, which is unpleasant.  I’ve been doing a fair bit with the donkeys, who really do need a lot of grooming as their winter coats come out.  The swallows are back nesting in the donkey shed too, which means I have to watch that I don’t upset them too much when I do go to the donkey shed (they nest inside the shed itself).

I’ve also had confirmation that I’ll be able to go to the Greenbelt Festival this summer again.  Not with the same Sister as last year, as she’s got other commitments, but with another Sister who would have liked to go last year but wasn’t able to get away.  I can’t wait and am currently trying to organise borrowing a suitable sized tent for the two of us to sleep in.  I do have a two-man tent, but I really don’t know why they call them two-men tents, as you can’t put two people of any decent size in there with luggage.  It would be more accurate to call it a two-child tent, perhaps – providing the children are no taller than 4 foot 6!

One thing I do with this blog is keep an eye on the search terms people use to find me.  Some are rather obvious – like Order of the Holy Paraclete, or faith hope and chocolate blog.  Others are more questioning.  Two that have come up recently have been more about some of the things I’m intending this blog to be used for – “leaving religious life” and “what happens after being postulant and then novice”.  I hope that those people found my posts on those subjects, and that they were useful to them.

One that popped up is “I’m a Christian can I get a henna tattoo” – and I guess they found me because I got a henna tattoo at Greenbelt last August.  The way I see it, if people can wear makeup, then of course you can get a henna tattoo.  It’ll wash off eventually (takes about 7-10 days, depending on how frequently you wash and how hard you scrub at it).  Just be careful when you do wash, because henna can make a real mess of the towel you use to dry off with.

One of the things I do here in Whitby is sing with a local choir called The Tuesday Singers (who rehearse on a Monday evening and usually have their concerts at a weekend – the founder members came from a choir which did meet on a Tuesday, and which now no longer exists).  The summer concert is approaching fast – it’s Saturday 12th July, here at the Priory.  The programme is going to include the wonderful work that is John Rutter’s Magnificat.  It’s a lovely piece.  It also has a soprano solo part.  There are five of us who sing first sop in the choir, and when the choir’s musical director asked for a volunteer for it, the other four metaphorically took two steps back, and I found myself saying “I’ll give it a go”.  So I’ll apologise to Mr Rutter now, and to the rest of the world, for the screeching which will be taking place while I’m learning and practicing it.  I hope to have it right by the time we get to July!

I think that’s about it for now, at least, that’s all I can think of right this minute anyway.  I do have plans for other posts, but those need me to sit down and think about what I’m going to say, rather than just splurging at a keyboard.

The Dance

faithhopechocolate:

I’ve not yet seen the last two episodes of the latest series of Rev, but this describes the feelings that I find in every episode.

Originally posted on Dylan Morrison ~ The Prodigal Prophet:

The Dance

The Dance

I’m not a great fan of tv’s portrayal of faith folk, for below the surface there often lies a hidden agenda where  anyone with a religious or spiritual belief is fair game for overkill satire and ridicule. However, one recent series on the UK’s BBC has changed the whole scapegoating game. ‘Rev’, starring Tom Hollander as a kind but deeply flawed Anglican vicar trying to hold together a failing inner city church and tenuous marriage has ticked all my boxes. It reveals the ludicrous position that many men and women have been placed in as they attempt to work out a sense of Divine calling on a full-time basis within organised religion. Tom’s character, Adam, isn’t some kind of evangelical superstar, confident in his packaged message and his own pastoral abilities but rather a very human being attempting to be honest with both God and man. Anyway it’s now…

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Easter Happenings

Well, I had intended on writing a post about Holy Week, by making notes at the end of each day, to then post on Easter Day.

The reason behind this was because we were in Retreat for the first three days of Holy Week, and then on Maundy Thursday we go into Silence until Easter Day. In times of silence, we don’t chatter, we may talk but only strictly about the work being done at that time, and we don’t go on the internet. The TV doesn’t get switched on either – not even for the news.

So my plan was to write some notes at the end of each day and then type them up into a blog post. This failed, because I managed to write notes only at the end of the first two days.

So, to summarise what happened.  Our Lent Retreat was led by the Archdeacon of Cleveland (and now Bishop Elect of Whitby), the Venerable Paul Ferguson.  He spoke to us on the perception people have of Religious Life, starting each day with a question.  “Are you a nun then?” was day one, “are you a sister then?” was day two and “are you religious then?” was day three.  All of which provided much food for thought.

Maundy Thursday, we had the morning to work and also most of the afternoon.  The Silence started after Vespers, which we had earlier, and then after afternoon tea was the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, which was followed by the Watch.

Tenebrae had started on the Wednesday evening, after Compline.  We sing this ancient office for three nights.  Traditionally it should be done after midnight and be followed by Lauds, but it is no longer practical for us to do this, as most Sisters are of an age where they would struggle to get up again and then once up, would struggle to get back to sleep.  It’s a beautiful and spine-chilling liturgy, and the plainchant – especially for the lessons of the first nocturn of each evening, from the book of Lamentations – is incredibly haunting.  It’s a huge honour to be asked to sing it.  (It would be fantastic to get more novices here, as there’s a part for two novices and this year I sang it by myself, and the year before I joined it had had to be sung by the two junior sisters.)

Good Friday and Holy Saturday are Black Fasts for the Community.  This means silence, and a much-simplified diet.  Bread for breakfast, bread and cheese or bread and fish paste at lunch, then a fish pie or fish pasta bake for supper.  It may not be the healthiest of meal plans, but it reminds us of the sacrifices being made by people all over the world in a variety of circumstances.

Easter Day itself was pretty good, but hard work.  We woke up at 4.30 to the rising bell, crept down to Chapel for the Vigil & Eucharist.  There were a few moments where things could have gone wrong but fortunately there were enough of us around to be able to put things right.  The traditional talk breakfast was lovely, especially because one of our Sisters was also celebrating her Profession Anniversary.  A few jobs were done and then five of us walked down to the sea, an OHP tradition which the most senior of the five explained how it came about when she was a very junior sister and one Easter Day, the sun was shining gloriously (we had cloud this year) and someone who was sat on the top table with Mother Margaret said she felt a walk to the beach would be appropriate given the weather – and so the tradition was born!

Since then things have settled back into “normality” – whatever that is.  The Sisters who were here for their Retreat and the Easter Celebrations have returned to their branch houses.  Priory Sisters have been on rest and returned, and others are preparing to go away.  Next week it’s my turn to go away, when I travel to St Mary’s Abbey, West Malling, for the next Inter-Noviciate Study Residential.

Religious Vows III: Obedience

We’re all taught as children about obedience and being obedient to our elders and betters. And what we’re taught is that you do as you are told.

It’s not just about doing what you’re told. The actual meaning is that it’s to do with listening. So we listen to the request made to us, and the person making the request should listen to our response.

It’s also about how you do things. It’s about sticking to decisions made. In my case, one thing it is about is trying not to pull faces when pudding turns out to be stewed fruit, and getting on and eating it without kicking up a fuss. Even though there are a number of things I’d rather do than eat gooseberries!

It’s also about how you deal with a request to take on a job – any job – and how you respond to one that you feel you really can’t do. You don’t ask “why do you think I can do this?” The response is either “yes, I can do that” or “please may I have some time to consider this?” And then, taking the time to consider the task and whether it is feasible, making a list of valid reasons as to why you feel you both can and can’t do it.

For example, when it comes to the placing of Sisters in Branch Houses. The Prioress is the one who makes the decisions, but if a particular Sister feels that she isn’t suited to the work in that particular House, she has to say why not. Practicality is also taken into account. If, for example, a Sister was asked to go to a particular House where the only bedroom available to her would be up a steep, narrow flight of stairs which she would have trouble negotiating, then that would be a valid reason for asking for the decision to be reconsidered.

One great example of Religious Obedience comes from our Foundress, Mother Margaret. It is documented in “The Whitby Sisters” and “Fulfilled in Joy” that when she was a Novice, with the Society of St Peter, Horbury, she was the headmistress of their school, St Hilda’s. However, as the time of her Noviciate came to a close, it was felt she had not spent enough time living with the Sisters (there was at that time only one other Sister on the school staff). For a period of I think about 4 months, Novice Sylvia (as she was known; SSP already having a Sr Margaret meant that Mother Margaret used her middle name there) lived in the Convent with the Sisters and took on the work of SSP at that time, which was prison visiting. It is recorded that one of the pupils at St Hilda’s School said “Novice Syliva’s getting so interested in the penitents she’ll have clean forgotten about us!” or words to that effect. However, for Mother Margaret, the school was her first love, which is why when SSP decided that they would not be able to continue running it (because of the announcement of World War I), she felt moved by the Spirit to leave SSP and found her own community, who would continue running the school. Essentially, St Hilda’s School simply moved from Horbury to Whitby. (Also, for reference, the Society of St Peter at Horbury is now known as the Community of St Peter Horbury.)

My point about this is that Mother Margaret, as Novice Sylvia, rose to the challenge presented to her. There is no record of her grumbling (or mumuring, as St Benedict puts it) about having to leave the school.

I could pull other examples from other OHP Sisters, but those are not my stories to tell. (The above story about Mother Margaret has already been published in “Fulfilled in Joy”, so it’s already in the public domain.)

I think one of my own stories of obedience comes from my Branch House experience. Every novice spends 3 months during her second year in one of the other houses, to learn about the other work that OHP does. I had looked at the houses we are currently running, and knew that my options were out of two houses. The house I would have loved to go to is our pastoral centre/retreat house, St Oswald’s. Where I got sent was the other house, Dormanstown, which is in Redcar, a bit further north up the coast from Whitby and not far from Middlesbrough. I think that actually, in going to Dormanstown I learned a lot more than I would have done if I’d gone to St Oswald’s, as the Sisters there work in two very different parishes.

In the Rule of Life, Poverty and Celibacy are quite clearly defined. Obedience isn’t. We are simply given Jesus as the standard, and that He “learned obedience through the things he suffered. This deeper obedience is hard…”

This is is because it’s hard to define things that involve the heart. It’s easy to say “keep what you need and no more”, but it’s rather less easy to define obedience. It’s a bit like asking someone to define what love is, because it means something different to every different person.

So thus concludes my musings upon the three vows. I have other ideas about things which relate to Religious Life, the hospitality of the monastery and the discipline of the daily office being two of them. They won’t be posted until after Easter, as next week we will be in Retreat or in silence because of it being Holy Week, which also means no internet access.

Religious Vows II: Celibacy

At OHP we vow celibacy. Not that these days it means all that much different from Chastity. I know some people think “that means no sex” and then go on to think “but how?” – but that’s kind of missing the bigger picture.

One Sister has told me of a conversation she had with a small group of youngsters who were trying to get their head around the idea of celibacy. They completely understood the whole “no men” issue, but had to ask directly if the reason behind the “no men” thing was because the Sisters preferred women instead. The answer to that was “no women either”. (Apparently this confused them so much they resorted to asking about football.)

When I was in Redcar on my branch house placement, I had the slightly bewildering experience of being in one of the shops in the town centre, and one of a group of lads, seeing a nun in the shop, decided to be really big and clever and ask me “are you a virgin?” I rather wish I’d thought faster, as instead of ignoring him, I should have answered something along the lines of “why do you wish to know? Are you interested in Religious Life?” or perhaps “no points for originality, please try again with a rather more relevant question”.

Because it’s not about not having sex, or whether you have had sex, or have not had sex, or what your sexual preferences actually are. It’s about right relationships. And that means a right relationship with God, with your family, with your friends, with the others in the community with you and most importantly, with yourself! Which makes the “are you a virgin” question completely irrelevant. And you could also say that a person’s sexuality is about as relevant as what they ate for breakfast that morning, if they’re living the vowed life.

When the Anglican Novices get together on the inter-noviciate study residentials (three times throughout the year, and I think it’s fair to say that we all look forward to them, especially those of us who are “lone” novices) the conversations cover a wide variety of subjects. Depending on who is there, sex may become one of those subjects. There are some people who are happy to talk about their personal experiences (whether that’s a lot of experience or none whatsoever) and there are others for whom it’s not a subject they feel they want to talk about. But whether we talk about it with each other or not, it’s something we will have to think about, and work out what our preferences are and how that relates to us as individuals.

In the case of Religious, we choose not to have the intimate connection with one person. The Rule states about how this frees us to do God’s work, and to be Mother of none in order to be Sister to all. What it actually means is that in some ways, we’ve the freedom that a single person has, and yet at the same time, the responsibilities that someone in a long-term committed relationship has. Paradoxical much?

Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t still find people attractive. Whatever commitment we make to our communities, we are still human, still feeble and frail, still men and women who are subject to hormones same as every other man and woman, still seeking love and attention from those around us, and of course, there will be people out there who find us attractive – in spite of, or in some cases, because of, the habit.

As a random footnote, I was thinking about all the people who say that they’d accept homosexuality if it can be proved to be genetic, rather than a culture thing (nature not nurture). I find that quite an unpleasant thought. After all, no-one seems to object to people having preferences in hair colour, eye colour, height, weight, intelligence, manual ability and other aspects of personality, so why should it apply to sexuality? Also, further to this, celibacy is a valid response for someone to make in regards to their own sexuality, providing that they choose it for themselves and weren’t forced into it. (I’m fairly certain the Roman Catholic Church would have had fewer problems with their priests if they’d been allowed to marry or at least be open with regards to their sexuality.)

So, basically, what I’m saying is, it’s OK to be heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, bisexual, or any of the other flavours of sexuality out there, highly interested in sex or completely disinterested in sex, and still join a religious community. What a vow of celibacy requires is an honesty with yourself about who you are and how you react to the people around you.