A pair of ducks, man and lady, have come to roost and make a home in the Convent cloister. There is a defunct pool in the center of the cloister, periodically replenished by rainwater. It rains often enough in Belgium, so the ducks seem satisfied with their personal pool. They do need to avoid the occasional floating coke can discarded by the gardener. Mom and Dad are up early every morning and if I am up as early, I see them taking their shower and then preening on the cement edges of the pool, flapping and shaking their wings, doing whatever ducks do to make their ‘toilette’ as the French say. Then they are off in search of breakfast and do not return until later in the morning when sunbathing is in order for Mr. Duck. Mrs. Duck seems to have other more important things to which to attend. There are corners of the cloister with roses and bushes and little hedges perfect for nest making. I watched for several days, trying to see if I could spy the nest.
During the morning, while I sit at the window making lace, the couple returns and the Papa Duck sits alone at pool’s edge, sunning and napping. Mama Duck is brooding on her eggs somewhere; the question is where? This morning, over in one corner of the cloister, I glimpsed the hydrangea and the rose bush rustling back and forth, and there was no wind! Something, perhaps Mama Duck, was in there making those branches move. I plan to go later in the day to that spot and investigate; have I, at last, discovered the nest? There is another resident of the Cloister, a large turtle, Pelegrina by name, who also strolls in the sun. But I am sure he is willing to share the protected and well-loved space with the Couple who have taken up residence in the Cloister. God’s world has space for all His creatures.
Here come the ducks! (Upper right corner of the cloister yard)
As my time at the Begijnhof is closing at the end of the summer, every activity, every service, every Eucharist seems in high relief. I think, “Oh this is the last Ascension celebration, the last Pentecost!” When I arrived in 2015, three years seemed forever and a long, long way away, and now here it is 2018 and the last months are pressing in on me. Depression, nostalgia and sadness come to knock at my door…work is needed to remain grateful and know like the old campground hymn says, “I know who holds the future and life is worth the living, just because He lives!” Ascension was beautiful on the altar, white everywhere, and of course there was the new altar cloth edging done by our own lace making sister. The lace edging is a special bonding with my home community, as the lace pattern on this Begijnhof altar cloth is the same lace edging pattern as the one made for my home convent altar in America. God has bonded my community in America and my community here in a special way.
The Trinity is the mystical bonding of three persons in one and that Sunday is just passed. The flower sister arranged three flowers in each of the vases on the altar celebrating the Three in One, the bonding of the three persons of the Trinity. I will soon go to another convent in Europe and begin again a new life. God is continually creating and recreating and we must follow and move on with him, but signs of the bonding in Christ are always left behind.
Upon my return from Italy, I gratefully followed my steady routine at the Begijnhof, which includes morning prayer in the warm and inviting monastery chapel. Each moment is special to me as my time here at the Begijnhof slowly and relentlessly winds to a close at the end of the summer. God has other plans and other directions for me. He reminded me just this morning that I was on a journey and did not know the destination and did not have a map. Good thing God does know. Lace shall always be a part of my journey. My return to the Begijnhof is bitter sweet for a number of reasons, both personal and spiritual. Is this not the way of life if we are honest? My prayer plant (of which I have written so often in this blog) has had a trim/a prune. Shock! The long new sprout which had tentatively grown and wrapped itself firmly around the main stalk, beginning three years ago upon my arrival, was gone /pruned! That ubiquitous flower sister had no doubt pruned this branch and delivered it to another pot for tending and future growth. The branch was long enough in this pot and was ready for a move. With any luck it was not thrown into the fire and burned!! What are you telling me God…..having so often identified myself with this branch supported by, supporting and intertwined with the main branch. The original stalk stands straight and tall, even a new leaf sprouted at the top. The message is clear….No longer am I intertwined with the main stalk, at least not in the same way. God speaks, sends messages to us, his creatures on earth, through His world, His nature. “This is my Father’s world. I rest me in the thought of lakes and trees of skies and seas. His hands the wonders wrought.” He truly has the wonders wrought….Not the least of which is His care and thought to speak to us, His creatures.
Goodness and God are the same thing as are Love and God or at least so the scriptures and the Saints tell us. Only human minds cannot get it so easily or at least this sister’s mind; however, some encounters during the day help to bring this concept home.
A few things needed sorting on my return from Italy, “God giveth and God taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” I had never lost anyone close to me except parents whose loss seems to be in the natural order of things. My home community has seen four deaths in a short period of time and for me also two close friends from my youth died, as well as a friend lost his son. Grasping these changes emotionally was a bit of a challenge to me. “Where is the goodness of God? “ Goodness must be somewhere I do not see; I guess that is where faith and trust kick in. This sister wants quickly to fill the void with something or someone else. Today, my Beloved sent me a love tap. It was the day of the Holy Blood Procession in Brugge, Brugges’ Most Beautiful day as the banners for the 900 year old procession say. The procession celebrates the relic of the holy blood arriving in Brugges. Now if you doubt, read the archives which quite substantiate this account. Anyway, I really thought I would stay at home in the monastery. I had seen the procession before and frankly I felt a bit down but…. the sisters were going and had a chair for me, so I trundled along behind not wanting to disappoint on this The Most Beautiful Day in Brugges! So….arriving and unfolding our chairs behind the roped section of assigned seats, we wondered if we would in fact have to stand to see the two hour procession celebrating the life of Christ on the street. The procession of over 1000 persons and 500 camels, sheep, horses and dogs is well worth the trip – a note for your bucket list. Anyway, I spy a man agiley climbing to his seat in the assigned section directly in front of me. I stand and wave to him…I know him!! Now I do not know too many people so well in Brugges but there …in an immense crowd is one I do know; he has an extra seat and beckons me forward. I clamber over and around the fence, thread the crowd and there I am in the second row. I could have touched the horses and I was enthralled with the costumes, rich, colorful and varied marvels. The chances of this must be a million to one except when you have a Heavenly Father. God is Good!
Well, mysteries seem to be abounding at the monastery this spring. Not only was a cat hiding in the monastery, but now we have another mystery! One of our chickens has laid her eggs where no one can find them. This ‘white’ chicken has been an anomaly since her arrival as a gift to the chicken sister last year. The sister’s daughter, as a very caring gift, bought and brought a white chicken for our flock. Now all the other chickens are brown, and White Chicken was not easily welcomed into the clutch. One cause for jealousy was White Chicken could fly! This created problems, as she would fly over the fence and be found delightedly foraging in the grass and garden. This caused much distress for the gardener, who was afraid of running over her with the lawnmower. He was decidedly unhappy about having to be aware of a ‘white’ chicken possibly in his path. So…solution found…we would simply clip White Chicken’s wings! This solution worked wonderfully for a while, but just like hair, feathers grow back. So, White Chicken must visit the hair salon periodically for a feather clip. Serious searches for her nest have been made, but with singular lack of success. One suggestion involved a prayer to St. Anthony, the finder and Patron Saint of lost items. A sister at my home community is gifted in this regard. Perhaps I shall have to phone home (as ET says) and request prayer concerning the whereabouts of the chicken nest and 10 eggs which presumably are still there. Today I stopped by the chicken house on a nudge from God, just in time to watch the feather trim. The chicken sisters’s grandson was visiting and he wielded the scissors as grandmother knowledgeably and securely held the chicken (this chicken sister knows her chickens!) The white wing feathers fell to the ground and White Chicken is actually and quite literally grounded for a while so we will have her eggs to eat!
About 5 days have passed and the sisters’ interest in ‘cat catching’ has decreased. The cat catching cage has been dismantled and put away and most of us have forgotten about ‘the cat’ assuming somehow ‘the cat’ had escaped outside when none of us were looking. There had been no ‘cat’ sightings for at least 4-5 days. Not so……. Kitty was still inside!!! Today, was the annual tea for the residents of homes within the Begijnhof walls and the sisters. It is a lovely affair with sandwiches, tea, dessert and pleasant conversation with ladies whom we see always at a distance crossing the courtyard or in a service but not to chat. So…. a good time was had by all. The flower sister offered a tour of the monastery, always a treat for those not living within monastery walls that we sisters simply call home. Cloisters, pools and prayer chapels hold a certain allure and curiosity when you are not a nun! ‘What do we do all day anyway in the monastery?’ On this tour, the chapter room was opened. Every monastery has a room known as a chapter room where important decisions and prayer are taken; it is also used for teaching times and retreats. Normally sisters would only be in this room one time a week and this week, the normal conference had been cancelled. Lo and behold when the door was opened……..there was KITTY in the Chapter room!! Who knows exactly how long kitty had been there, no food, no toilet facilities and chances of a sister hearing a meow were very slim. Perhaps kitty prayed. The flower sister who was giving the tour swiftly closed all doors in the corridor outside the chapter room and left open only the exit to the garden. Then the chapter room door was opened and zoom kitty flew out the garden door and into the freedom of the orchard and garden. It will be a long time before kitty’s curiosity brings her back inside the monastery walls or she may need more of her 9 lives! Mystery Solved!
One cat has found refuge within the convent walls — or perhaps she just got closed in and does not know how to escape to the pleasant open-air of the monastery orchard and garden. Normally, three semi-wild cats make the convent garden their home; they can be seen from the kitchen door waiting for part of the kitchen meals, or prowling the large orchard, the overgrown raspberry bushes, hiding along the canal, or basking in the sun on the high walls. Perched, they are safe and can peruse the comings and goings of animals, guests, and sisters alike. But…make no mistake, these cats are skittish and wary; they disappear and keep their distance at the slightest human approach.
NOW….one cat is IN the convent and apparently has been here for a week! Perhaps she has chosen her own cell. Kitty was first sighted by the Prioress. (That does seem appropriate for a prospective novice cat.) The Prioress began to doubt her sanity, until sightings were confirmed by other sisters, the handyman, and one of our personnel. The cat is definitely inside! What must she be eating, where is she hiding? Telltale droppings have been spotted. Surely kitty is here but where? She is mysteriously invisible during the day. Sightings mostly occur at night on bathroom treks. Truly, doors are closed in the convent, and no one is sure where kitty can be. The searches have been intensive, but with notable lack of success. So…a cage has been devised at the end of the sisters’ corridor on the second floor, with meat inside which presumably will lure kitty in, and then the door will close and she will be inside — awaiting carriage to parts unknown. But so far, kitty has eaten the meat and managed to exit the cage unscathed!! Two of the semi-wild cats are pictured here. No sign of the ‘mystery kitty’. To be continued…