Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Virtual Pie

On my brother's website is a link to a text-based role-playing game. In "Legend of the Green Dragon" I created character and I've had a lot of fun slaying dragons and generally being a smart-aleck with other players of similar sense of humor. Text-based computer games have very limited appeal in this day and age, but all I can say is, folks who insist on graphics are missing out. In this virtual little kingdom, we have snowball fights, pie fights, chocolate fights, and end the day with a few rounds of ale at ye olde inn. And we slay dragons, too.

Last year I finally accumulated enough gold to build a castle. I named the castle Trinita. I gave out keys to those players I considered my allies, and it became a little enclave where we would hang out and plot, plan, scheme, and eat all the virtual food we wanted. Sort of like home. I became renowned for baking all manner of pies, using them as weapons when necessary. (Think Three Stooges.) When I was a student I had more time to check in, but since I have a real job now I have had to cut back on visits to the kingdom.

Art imitates life, they say. But sometimes, art imitates life, and then life goes and imitates art imitating life. I knew Trinita as a place many people from many places have been able to call home over the years, so it was natural for me to name my castle that. And then look what happened--I got missioned here! Last year I created a virtual, medieval Trinita. Now I am at the real one.

But about the pie. I actually have not baked that many pies in real life. But in the game, I am constantly baking pies. And often throwing them. As it happens, in real life I actually did throw a pie at someone once. And where was I when I threw this pie? Here at Trinita, on the stage in the Lodge one night at Fiesta. Poor Blanche never saw it coming. I think she forgave me though. Yesterday, I was preparing an apple pie because we had invited several guests for dinner. In real life, making a pie is not so easy. Making gumbo or red beans and rice is a lot less complicated. Peeling apples takes a lot of time, and I am really not skilled at getting the pie crust onto the pan neatly. It tastes ok, but it looks all cracked and assymetrical.

My virtual pies always come out perfectly. And I can bake as many of them as I want. But until I came to Trinita, I was pretty rusty at baking real pies. But occasions for making a nice dessert have come up several times since I have been here, and because of my great success with virtual pies I have been trying to hone my real-pie-baking skills. They do not come out perfectly. But I have to admit, they are very much more satisfying.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It only takes a spark...

There's an old song, "It only takes a spark, to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing; that's how it is with God's love...." and so on.

I am just back from four days at our Motherhouse in Philadelphia, where I attended an assembly of every sister in my congregation. The total congregation does not gather like this very often, only once every few years. It's always a great occasion, and it was livelier than usual this time because the theme was "Be Fire!"

We had a big fire bowl set up which was lit at various times when we gathered for prayer. On one occasion, we began prayer by singing "It only takes a spark..." while one sister solemnly approached the bowl, struck a match dramatically, and lit up the fire... well, she tried to anyway. We kept singing while she struck another match, and another, and another.... finally someone ran up and handed her a bottle of rubbing alcohol which she applied liberally. We finally got a fire going but by then we were not very solemn. Of course afterwards, the big joke was, "It only takes a spark, five matches, and a bottle of alcohol to get a fire going...."

We have this idea that someone will come along with the right solution to our problems, whatever they may be. Just light a match, i.e. some brilliant vision or master plan, and within moments, we'll have a big blazing fire. Not. It actually does take more than a spark. It takes a bunch of matches and some fuel. And persistence. Oh yeah, and cooperation. That may not be how it is with God's love, but it's how it is with most everything else. How did Trinita become... Trinita? The format for the summer program as we know it did not leap fully formed from the brow of Sisters Margaret and Marion Agnes 30 years ago, like Athena leaping from the brow of Zeus with spear in hand. Lots of different folks have thrown logs on this fire over the years, that's for sure. And I would venture to say we are always in need of a few more logs on the bonfire, because there's always demand for s'more s'mores.

How did I become a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity? Certainly not all at once. Lots of false starts and questioning and backtracking. But somehow, gradually, I went from thinking about it, to trying it, to resisting it, to hanging in there, and finally to dancing with my sisters at a post-assembly birthday party and thinking that nothing could be better than this. So, all those matches did not die in vain, I guess. Eventually, we do get a fire going.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Closet

Last year I was still in school. All I did was read and read and then write and rewrite. I watched a lot of TV too, or at least I had it on a lot. Here at Trinita, not so much.

I learned a new weather condition today. We've had snow on the ground for weeks now, and very cold weather. Now it's been getting above freezing, and last night it rained for a while. Though we had blue skies this morning, when I went out for 8 AM mass, I found a thin sheen of ice on the car, and puddles freezing over. The road looked only wet, as if with dew, but apparently it was ice. Lucky for me, there was a car ahead of me going very slowly, so I was forced to slow. I could feel the car slip a bit, but I have no doubt I would have slid right off the road had I been going at normal speed down that hill to mass. The sun was out and the road merely looked wet. Tricky, very tricky.

I disassembled the old office computer after I got back from the MCA meeting this afternoon, and attempted to store it in the little closet under the stairs in the cenacle. The sisters' cenacle is a remodelled basement under a remodelled farmhouse. Storage space is minimal, yet somehow we keep encountering artifacts from previous eras tucked away in odd places. That closet is even smaller than Harry Potter's original bedroom at the Dursley's. Yet inside were three computer units, a monitor, a box of computer accessories and cables, and.... a cardboard box labelled "Sister Mary Clare, for Camp T."

I do not know who Sr. Mary Clare was, and this place has not been called "Camp" in a really long time, so I sort of figured it would be old stuff in the box. It was. There were about eight large vinyl albums of cassette sets. For example, a 12-cassette series of presentations on religious life. An 8-set by George Maloney SJ for making a private retreat. The entire New Testament on tape, two different versions. One version actually looked well-preserved, so I saved it to donate to the local dump thrift shop. The rest were circa 1972 or thereabouts, and looked it.

I waded out to the dumpster and tossed the stuff in. Have I mentioned the snow is melting? Mud and flowing water everywhere. Then I put the computers back, except that I discovered the monitor from the former office computer was too big to fit through the closet door. Monitor=17.75 inches, door=17.5 inches. I am not kidding, I measured. Ultimately, I had to trudge like a troll into the nether regions of our dungeon until I found space to deposit the monitor. This was complicated by the fact that the monitor weighs a fair amount, the "flooring" is uneven to put it mildly, and I could not stand up straight. Clearance in the dungeon=5 feet 8 inches more or less, Me in bare feet=6 feet 2 inches. I am not kidding, I measured!

Then, Olivia made homemade pizza, and there was great rejoicing. And that, today, was life at Trinita.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Praying the Psalms

Yesterday, we received some unsettling news. The news itself is not relevant here, but the upshot was that all four of us sisters were surprised and upset. We went on about our business as usual yesterday, and were certainly subdued at evening prayer but carried on normally.

This morning at morning prayer, Joan was leading. She gave us the pages in our Christian Prayer books (the "Office") but before we began said, "Since I couldn't sleep last night, I got up and came here to the chapel and looked for a good reading to use this morning...." but as she said this we all looked at one another and soon we all confessed that we had not slept well and had been up doing various chores in the wee hours. And so we settled into the psalms of the day.

If you have a copy of Christian Prayer, look up Wednesday morning Week II. It starts with Psalm 77. Within two lines we all felt deeply connected to what we were reciting. By the third stanza, we actually had to stop because we had all started laughing at "You withheld sleep from my eyes...." It is good that we could laugh, and I doubt we could have done this except that we were in shared grief, shared distress. We did compose ourselves and carry on, but I knew that here was a clear example of the difference between saying the Psalms and praying the Psalms.

I used to wonder if I would keep up the practice of praying the Office if I ever lived alone, being someone to whom self-discipline is an eternal ideal to strive for. Turns out I did in fact stick to it. I lived alone in a small graduate apartment on the campus of the University of Dayton. In September of 2005 I watched in horror as my ancestral hometown of New Orleans was laid waste by Katrina. The levees had clearly giving way by Tuesday morning and the City was slowly filling up. But life in Dayton went on more or less the same until about Friday, when the national disaster finally breached the national consiousness. I felt so alone, and of course I could not even call my family, many of whom did in fact lose their homes.

On Friday morning of Week III, I found myself praying the Canticle of Jeremiah. I recommend it to your reading, and as you read it, imagine your own home town devastated overnight. But the thing is, I had imagined this before when I had reflected on this Psalm. But that day, I prayed the Canticle, and I wept my way through the lament the same way as did the one who wrote those words in the face of very real disaster, so long ago.

Saturday, March 3, 2007


Tonight as I was carrying a box of mass supplies up the hill to the main house I had sort of a flashback. The snow is crunchy, and the air is cold and heavy and humid, and the moon is full. (There actually was a lunar eclipse earlier tonight but we had clouds then.) I had closed up the lodge and was trudging up the hill in plain old gym shoes, not recommended for crunchy snow, ice, and mud.

And suddenly I had this flashback. Years ago, I served here as a Missionary Cenacle Volunteer. My second summer I was drafted to be the volunteer coordinator, and I soon developed a major sleep deficit. I stayed every night until the lodge closed, then I would go up the same path I was going up tonight, only without the snow. One night I was sort of loopy from lack of sleep, and my friends convinced me to actually go to bed before the lodge closed. What a concept. That particular night it was rather chilly, and a fog had come up. The spotlights shining across the grounds created this kind of eerie effect not unlike a horror movie. As my friends escorted me to the main house, from the fog emerged another volunteer, Jackie. Jackie was carrying a rake. She passed us by without a word. A minute later it sank in, and I said, "Did I just see Jackie with a rake? Is she going to rake leaves at eleven o'clock at night, in the fog?" It was, like, totally surreal, man. I started giggling and could not stop. Really, I think I was still laughing ten minutes later. I learned a valuable lesson. Sleep deprivation makes you silly, really silly.

In a few months the summer will be here, and now I will be the volunteer coordinator again. My big plan is to get more sleep. I expect it won't be too hard. We have more help these days than we did back then, plus I have learned to take better care of myself in the intervening years. That's not to say, of course, that I won't ever get silly....

Friday, March 2, 2007

There is snow and ice on the ground now. It's quite late, and the two busloads of teenagers who arrived for the weekend are beginning to settle down. I'm not sure what they are up to at the moment--something reflective in the Meeting Room, I figure. Another confirmation retreat off to a good start.

By now, two of the other sisters have picked up the Dunkin Donuts donated to us every Friday and have set up for breakfast. I had a migraine today, spent the afternoon in bed, so I wimped out going down the hill in the freezing weather to get the donuts. This is one of the great things about community life--we cover for each other in times like this!

I still don't feel very good, and I am going to go to bed soon. But I have been meaning to start a blog since the day I got here. Life at Trinita is an incredible adventure. I find myself laughing out loud sometimes when I try to imagine what I would say to someone who wants to know what I do for a living! I think every day has some moment that might tell a little part of the story of life here. Today, that moment would be when Father Tim dropped by to visit this morning. We all ended up sitting around one of the tables in the dining room talking about future possibilities, stuff we can do to encourage growth both of the parish down the hill and our mission here at Trinita. It was inspiring--when we get together and believe together, stuff happens. I mean good stuff. It's actually more fun than slaying dragons.