Friday, August 15, 2008

"Mary Days"...

I love "Mary days' – December 8th, August 15th, Annunciation, Visitation, etc. Although I can’t say I had a real relationship with the Blessed Mother much before I turned 30, she was an ever-present “person” in my childhood. In my Mother’s bedroom, (a mysterious and wonderful place in and of itself,) there was a heavy, glass statue of the Madonna and Child. It was so heavy, in fact, that I didn’t dare try to pick it up. (OK, I tried and thought better of it.) I wondered about this beautiful, translucent figurine and the hold it clearly had on my Mother.

The creche we set up every Christmas was already old – passed down from another generation, I think. But, my parents let us set it up and play “gently” with the Holy Family. The three kings were very exotic and endured so much “gentle” play that Balthazar lost his head. (Thank GOD for Elmer’s Glue!) While the shepherds and barn animals were kind of fun, I was much more interested in Mary and her baby. I remember laying on my tummy on the rug under the Christmas tree and just staring at their little world. I knew they were just wooden figures, but I also knew that Mary and her baby were real – still alive in some way and able to watch over us.

The next “Mary” came into my life when I was six. Our parish school was called “Our Lady of the Magnificat.” I had no clue about the “magnificat” part, but I figured out early on that the “Lady” was Mary. We had a “May Crowning” every year and once, my big sister got to do the honors. As a child in the 70’s, our education didn’t really cover the Rosary or the various titles and feasts of Mary. But, she was there…mysteriously…as our Mother.

Things got much clearer when I was 7. My little sister, Maggie, was born. She was so small…so helpless…so perfect! I watched my Mother with her and, after surviving the first wave of jealousy and the fear of being replaced, I was drawn into the miracle of a mother’s love. JESUS came as Maggie did – naked, cold, hungry and afraid. And Mary did what every mother does. She wrapped him in something warm, kept him dry and safe, and stopped his tears with milk and kisses. The glass statue in my Mother’s room made sense to me then. My Mom wanted to be just like Mary because my Mother knew that my sister was just like JESUS.

Blessings and happy feast…

- Sister Vicki

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Dorm...

It’s real name is St. Maurus Hall, but for nearly 45 years it’s been called, “the Dorm.” The Dorm is a spaced dedicated to monastic formation. It’s where we live when we begin our journey at Bristow. Many years ago it was an open space with cots surrounded by curtains for privacy. Later, the men who worked with us on the plantation, created eight rooms and a suite for the Novice Mistress. Now, we have eight private rooms for women in discernment or initial formation and a guest suite that is used for special monastic guests.

We have been renovating these rooms over the past few years – two at a time for budget concerns – so that the women who come to live in them will find what they need to try on our life: a bed, desk, comfortable chair, a chest of drawers, a small bookcase and adequate lighting. The new furnishings came from my favorite store, IKEA. I love IKEA because the furniture there is affordable, simple and ready to go. Our pick-up truck can haul two rooms worth of furniture with ease. (I really love driving the pick-up, but that’s another blog!) True, most of the furnishings have to be put together and the directions are not always so clear, but it’s worth the effort to save on delivery time and the charges that go with that service. The men have assembled the furniture for the first six rooms, but the last two were assembled by two women in our “Live-In” Program. They went at those directions and baggies of bolts with good zeal and did a marvelous job. I wish I could show you the Dorm, but it is considered part of our cloister.

Now that all eight rooms are done, Sister Denise and I can take a deep breath and be grateful. The last two had to be finished because two women are beginning the “Live-In” Program – one in November and the other arrives tomorrow!!! Readying the rooms is work, to be sure, but joyful work. Furniture is moved out so the new can come in. Our wonderful staff in Housekeeping strip and wax the floors. Sister Denise hems the curtains and sees to the small details that make such a difference. I get to buy and haul the furniture. (After four trips to IKEA, I know our list by heart!) All of this takes time and energy. The women living in the Dorm get excited as the prospect of new neighbors becomes a reality. For me, it’s all about the tasks until I make the beds. That’s when it usually hits me. As I open the packages of fresh new linens, stretch them out, tuck and fold the corners, and fight with the down comforter as I struggle to get the top edges in the duvet, I remember what this is really all about. We are being visited. CHRIST is coming in the woman who will live in this space. Whether she remains a year or a lifetime, this woman brings us a new version of the "good news." We will be blessed in some way by the gift of her presence. And we will be a blessing to her if we open our hearts to the One who dwells uniquely within her.

I thank GOD for those eight rooms and for all the women who have lived in them and will live in them yet. This is part of the wonder of this ministry – seeing GOD’s love for this community in the faces of women who might one day be my sister.

Blessings and love to you all…

- Sister Vicki

Monday, August 11, 2008

Welcome back, Sister Gisella...

Sister Gisella Chinguile arrived at Dulles International late Tuesday evening. After a two- month visit with her monastic community and family in Tanzania, the time had come to return to America and to her four-year scholarship at Marymount University. Although I missed Sister Gisella while she was home, I knew that this time was precious. I can't imagine leaving my monastery to study in another country. OK, maybe I can imagine two months in Rome, but a total of seven years? I don't think so. Or, I pray not!

When Sister Gisella came to live with us just before Christmas of 2005, her English was pretty good and her heart was wide open. In the time since her English has become excellent and we have come to love her as our own. When I got to know Gisella better and we began to form a friendship, I had the fantasy of absconding with her Passport so she could stay with us forever. Further along in my own monastic journey, I understand the ties that bind a woman to her sisters and to the place that has become her touchstone - her "school of the Lord's service." I am in awe of Sister Gisella's willingness to go where her prioress sends her and her ability to exude the peace of Christ wherever she goes.

My friend is coming to Richmond today. She will remain with us until Thursday for rest, prayer time and a taste of Richmond hospitality. I am grateful for this time, for the sharing of our stories and for the laughter I'm anticipating. Though I rarely fantasize about her Passport anymore, I do know that our time, as a community, with Gisella is precious. May GOD bless her sisters in Tanzania for sharing this holy woman with us and teaching us the beauty of Africa.

Blessings and love...

- Sister Vicki