Sunday, March 22, 2020

A "New York Times" Opinion Article on the 1918 Pandemic and Nuns

Friday evening, in the midst of the daily corona-virus updates on confirmed cases, deaths, and recoveries, I felt a reluctance to watch the national news and PBS Newshour. Yet a sense of urgency accompanied that reluctance—a real need to find out how I can help others (beyond staying here in my home). 

Daily, I find myself thinking of all the refugees in the world, especially those in the camps in Syria and those traveling north from Central America, hoping to find a new life in the United States.

In every city, the homeless are especially vulnerable. I fear that when the virus settles in among the refugees and the homeless the numbers for those dying from this pandemic will dramatically increase.

Daily I read the digital New York Times to keep abreast of what is happening, and Saturday I found an inspiring story that took me back to my convent days. In the memoir I wrote about those eight-and-a-half years, I fortunately didn’t need to write about a pandemic, but I hope I showed in some way the generosity of so many of the nuns.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, long after I left, a number of those in the Benedictine convent where I made my vows traveled to El Salvador and Nicaragua to help the farmers who were being threatened on all sides. 

The nuns from that Benedictine convent and from many nunneries here and in other countries have always reached out to help others through their teaching, nursing, social work, response to the AIDS epidemic, food pantries, counseling, visiting prisons, setting up food kitchens.

They live the recognition that “everywhere there is one, and never two” as the German poet Gertrude von Le Fort wrote during World War II. 

In the midst of that war, she knew that we are one. We may fight against that truth. Resist it. Deny it. Ridicule it. Go to war over it.

All in vain, because always and ever, we are One. 

This Oneness is never more apparent than today as together, around the globe, we all face a crisis that unites us no matter who we are or where we live or what spiritual tradition we follow or what the color of our skin is or our sexual or gender preference or our social status or our economic comfort or discomfort or . . . our political philosophy and party. 

No matter what we’ve thought divided us, we can today embrace the realization that we are one family, sprung from the hope for survival and the need to clasp the person we thought of as the “other” or “them.” We are, as so many are saying, "in this together."

Within the labyrinth of our mind and the chambers of our heart, we can embrace those who have seemed "other" and proclaim —for all the globe to hear—“I am One with this person. We are One, never Two.”

I encourage you to read the article published in the opinion section of Saturday’s (3/21/20) "New York Times" about how the nuns of Philadelphia responded to the 1918 influenza. As this opinion piece, written by Kiley Bense, shows so clearly, Philadelphia was hard hit, but its citizens, including those nuns, stepped forward to heal the sick, visit those who lived in fear in their homes, and comfort the grieving. 

Called by their mayor to help, they responded. Each of us needs to find our way to respond. For many of us that way is to stay at home; to practice social distancing. But for some, the clarion call is to put their own lives at risk. They are the heroes of today. Or, as the Roman Catholic Church might say—the saints. 

Here is the URL for the article. I hope you have the time and the inclination to read it. It brings with it a deep belief in the basic goodness of humanity and the compassion that this crisis calls forth from the deep center of our being. Peace.

All the photographs are from Wikipedia. 
I'm grateful for their free service to us.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Poem on Coronavirus by Brother Richard Hendrick

I’d planned that this Sunday I’d begin the final postings for my experiences with psychics. I’ve shared my first and second experience, and I want to share with you’re the experience I had last March that caused me to, in a way, lose myself for several months. 

However, this morning, I received an e-mail from a friend who’s still in the convent. Both of us will be 84 soon. She lives at the convent with many elderly nuns; I live here in my home with three cats. 

But both of us are deeply aware of the crisis our world is facing today. So instead of writing about my life, I want to post this heartening and inspiring poem that Barbara sent me. It illustrates so well what Mom used to say to me—that out of all things comes good. 

Richard Hendrick wrote the poem. When I looked him up on Google, I discovered that he is a Capuchin Franciscan brother living in Ireland and he posted his poem on Facebook on Friday. His wisdom touched my life today and filled me with hope. I hope his message reaches millions of people. We all need to embrace what he is saying. Peace. 

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.


They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise you can HEAR the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet the
sky is no longer thick with FUMES but blue and clear.

They say that in Italy people are SINGING to each other across the empty squares, keeping their windows open so that those who are alone may HEAR the sounds of families around them.

They say that in the West of Ireland a young woman is spreading fliers with her number through the neighbourhood so that the elders may have someone to call on.

All over the world people are SLOWING DOWN and reflecting and looking at their neighbours in a NEW WAY.
All over the world people are waking up to the reality of how big we really are, to our interconnectedness and to how little control we really have.
Waking up to what really matters, to the power of prayer, meditation, kindness, caring and Love.

So we pray and remember that while there is fear, there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation but there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is sickness but there does not have to be disease of the soul.
And yes there is pain, suffering and death but there can always be a rebirth of community, peace, harmony and love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live today and now.
Pay attention.
The birds are singing,
the sky is clearing and Love
always encompasses us.
Open the windows of your soul and though you may not be able to touch across the empty square...... SING and give thanks for your life and all you have.
by Richard Hendrick

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Correction for the 2/23/20 Posting

Today, I’m deviating from my recent decision to post every other week. The reason? Last week, my posting gave an inaccurate impression of how A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Storycame to be. I realized this when I read the comment left by Jean and when I reread the ending of my 2/23/20 posting. 

Toward its end, I introduced a psychic who knew nothing about me and still said, “You’ve experienced great sorrow recently. The death of someone. Not a human. A cat. She’s your soulmate. It’s like your heart is broken.” Then, she told me that the cat and I were going to write a book about our relationship and it would touch the lives of many people. 

Ending the posting, I wrote: A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story happened.

All that is factual. What I failed to add in order to help readers appreciate what actually happened is the following: Dulcy died on Thursday, July 6, 1989. Two days later, I woke from a deep sleep and felt compelled to go downstairs to my computer. 

Once there, I placed my hands on the keyboard, unsure of what was happening. Then my hands began to move. These words, like tickertape, appeared: “At the end, all the matters is love . . . my love for my human and hers for me. I have planted the memories of our life together in her heart. She will find them there when I am gone and they will comfort her.”  

I hadn’t composed those words. They came unbidden. For the following week, I sat down at the computer each morning, unsure if Dulcy would continue. Astoundingly—to me—her words came each day. I said then and I believe now that the words came from Dulcy. That is, they came from the deep center of myself where Dulcy and I are One.

A week after Dulcy began to share our story with me, I got up from the computer and stood in the doorway to my office. Once again, unbidden, came words I hadn’t known I thought. Out loud, I said, “This book is going to be published. It’s going to be published by Crown. And it’s going to touch the lives of a lot of people.”

At the time, I didn’t even know if there was a publisher named “Crown.” I just knew with a fierce certainty that Dulcy was giving me the story of our relationship. This was her final gift to me. My final gift to her would be to see that it got published.

I called a neighbor to announce the wonder of the words that were coming. She, a published author, scoffed at what I described. “You’ll have to throw it all away,” she said. “The first draft’s just trash. That’s all you have. Trash.”

Her words wounded me, but I continued my vigil at the computer. Dulcy’s words continued to come. Still, the ridicule niggled my confidence. I’d never felt competent as a writer; I thought myself a hack—a hack who was unworthy of the gift Dulcy was giving me.

That’s the background for my early September visit to the psychic. When we met, she knew nothing about Dulcy’s daily gift to me. So when she said that Dulcy and I were going to write a book about our relationship and it would touch the lives of many people, I felt freed from my neighbor’s dismissal. 

The psychic’s words matched mine; they shored up my own intuitions. They gave me confidence that the book would happen. That I was being true to Dulcy.

PS: Next Sunday, I hope to write about the 2019 psychic whose words I let cast a blight on a year of my life. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

My 1989 Psychic Experience

In my posting of 2/9/20, I began to discuss my experience with psychics and said I’d first met one in 1990. However, on reflection, I realized that’s incorrect. The year was 1989. Also, in the past two weeks, I’ve remembered an earlier visit with a psychic—two decades before that 1990 session. 

While studying at a local university in 1970, I took a week off and visited friends in a nearby state. One of them urged me to put aside my hesitation about psychics. She’d booked an hour session for me with a man who’d previously told her something amazing about her family; she wanted to discover what my thoughts on his abilities were. 
This man, I’ll call him Ephraim, began by telling me about how he’d discovered his gift. After at least a half hour, if not more, Ephraim suddenly shook himself as if to awaken to my being there. Then he proceeded to tell me several things about myself that I thought he could have discovered from my speech patterns and regional dialect. So I wasn’t impressed.
Next, he talked about my family life. That did impress me for he knew many things about my extended family. (When I later asked Betty what she’d told him about me, she replied, “Just that I wanted to reserve an hour for a friend.”)
After telling me several things about my family—all of which were true—he told me that I had a spiritual guide whose name was “Arthur” and that he watched over me and was my great-uncle. Once again, I thought that he was off target. I’d never heard of an uncle called Arthur. The only Arthur I knew was the imaginary lion who’d accompanied me everywhere from the time I was in kindergarten and got me through the trauma of seeming abandonment. 
The next summer, while visiting my aunt, I asked her about her uncles. It was then I learned that indeed I did have a great-uncle Arthur, the brother of my grandpa Ready. I wondered then if Great-Uncle Arthur was the indwelling spirit who lived in Arthur, the lion who’d befriended me throughout my youth. 

So until 1989, that was the extent of my experience of the “occult”—the term Cynthia used in her comment for my last posting. Here’s a brief journey through that experience: After Dulcy died in early July 1989, I lost my usual exuberance and love of life. A friend—an ex-nun—urged me to see a psychic. “You might hear something,” she said, “that’ll really make you laugh and lighten up! Help you get your equilibrium back!”

The next day, I researched and found a well-recommended psychic. At our session, she wore a T-shirt and jeans; her only jewelry was a wedding ring. Immediately, I felt myself relax. She seemed like someone who could become a friend.

I’d told her only my name, nothing else about myself. Yet when we sat down and she dealt the cards, she looked at me with concern, then reached over to grasp my left hand. “You’ve experienced great sorrow recently. The death of someone. Not a human. A cat. She’s your soulmate. It’s like your heart is broken.”

I burst into tears.

When I was calm again, she told me that the cat and I were going to write a book about our relationship and it would touch the lives of many people.

A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story happened.


PS: In my next posting, I hope to sum up other experiences and then share with you what happened in March 2019 that left me bereft. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Background Posting on My Experience with Psychics

The initial story behind this posting took place in 1957 when I was a junior in college. During a math class, I experienced transcendence. Drawn into what neither mind nor heart, nor word nor speech can understand or explain, I knew pure joy. My words cannot capture its essence. I have been able to arrive only at this lackluster definition: For me, joy is the totality of bliss at the height and depth of my being.

As I left the classroom that day, I knew three things: I was going to enter the convent the following year; I’d become a Benedictine nun; and I’d devote my life to prayer for all creation. 

Before that class, I’d not known that in the next hour, I’d come to two divergent roads: One, which I’d cherished for ten years, was to become an engineer. The other had never occurred to me; it was not even drawn on the map of my consciousness. After that class, I knew as well as I knew the sun rises daily that I’d enter the convent in fourteen months. 

The next story behind this posting took place the following year. I was taking a one-credit-hour course in religion. Father Francis, a Benedictine monk, taught the class. He took seriously his responsibility to inculcate the Roman Catholic dogmas and doctrines into the young women sitting before him in that classroom.

On one particular day, he used both the Hebrew and Christian testaments to talk about “false prophets.” He said that when someone predicts a happening, we should be wary if that person gives a definitive time and place. We might have intuitions about the future, he said, but only God knew anything for sure. We were not in control. 

So, he concluded, steer clear of those who shouted from the rooftops that the world would end at such and such a time; or that something dire would happen according to the intoxicating words of a self-proclaimed prophet.

As I listened, I thought of my transcendent experience of the year before. Was I being a false prophet to myself in predicting when I’d enter and where and what I’d do for the rest of my life?  For all those months, I’d felt so sure. As I sat there, examining my experience and my response to it, I could not let go of the belief that I’d somehow been called to a life of service as a nun. I wasn’t being a false prophet.

Then Father Francis began to denounce psychics, tarot-card readers, mediums. He said they were false prophets who claimed to be able to tell the future. As Roman Catholics, we had to resist the lure of exploring our life beyond the present. In fact, he said, to do so was to commit a mortal sin. (According to the catechism I’d begun to study in first-grade, a mortal sin sent an unrepentant person to hell.) Father Francis then explained what might happen to a person who self-indulgently explored the “dark side” of life.

While I let go of the idea of hell and mortal sin in the next three decades, I still remembered his caution about psychics and never sought a session with one. Then in 1990, following a loss, I visited a psychic and came away with my intuitions shored up by what she had said.

In my next posting, I’ll share my experience with psychics, especially the one I spoke with last March. His words tunneled into my mind and left me bereft. 

PS: This posting’s first story is detailed in my convent memoir: Prayer Wasn’t Enough.

Photo from Wikipedia.