I had never looked, or never really taken in the trees at my home convent. In the courtyard at the Begijnhof we have excellent, ancient, tall and solid trees shadowing us like a protective umbrella. Who knows how long these trees been there or how many nuns, Beguines, priests, and devoted they have seen over the years? The Cape Cod landscape is known for its scrub pine trees more than for its tall majestic trees, being near the ocean, wind and water swept. The trees both in Belgium and in America, however bend decidedly with the winds of their creator responding to His Almighty presence in the weather doing His bidding. Being autumn when I left Belgium, only the first trees had lost their leaves and here at home near Boston it is the same. Every year, it is the same trees which are the first to turn brilliant, vibrant colors and shed their cloak. As I sit on the stone wall, waiting my ride to the numerous doctor and dentist appointments filling my month of home leave, I muse over the tallest of our trees standing here since the founding of our community. The Community of Jesus is not very old, founded in the 1970s — a new expression of Benedictine life compared to the 800 years of Beguine and Benedictine life at the Begijnhof. I actually remember these trees from the early years. Buildings and stone walls and gardens have grown up around them but they remain steady, sure, permanent, trusting, bending in the wind, overarching and protective as is Our God.
Politics was from my thoughts this day as I scooted out the side Begijnhof door to meet my 18-year-old Muslim friend. We were going for coffee, an outing we periodically made every few months since we met two years ago in our very first Nederlands class Level one. We studied the first four levels together then she whizzed onward being bright and young, searching a completed level of Nederlands necessary to continue her education in pursuit of her dream of becoming an architect. She was good; I saw some of her drawings. My educational pace slowed to allow for other activities, but we had bonded; she wearing her headscarf and me my veil. On this day, she was free from studies and we were off to a nearby tearoom for a catch up chat and coffee. We found a table and settled in to animated conversation not thinking at all of the tables around. Well…we were a political statement, living harmony, Christian and Muslim. The tearoom was full of Flemish people having coffee and pannekoken or waffles. One lady got up, came over to our table and in excellent English told us how much seeing us together having such a wonderful time blessed her. We were quite surprised and taken aback; we were just friends having coffee. But as we glanced around, all the people at the other tables were smiling and nodding. It was a bit overwhelming to both of us…we had made a political statement and gathered attention of which we were totally unaware. We both smiled (we hoped) graciously. We were just being us and God made a divine statement to the hearts of others.
Dishes are ubiquitous, waiting to be attended, whether in Belgium or America, for 8 or 60, a sisterhood or a guesthouse. Of course in your homes, my readers, dishes await you. My primary help at the Begijnhof is dishes. I anchor the dish line for both us sisters and our guests at the guesthouse from as few as 8 to as many as 30 depending on the day and the meal, which possibly includes soup dishes, plates, dessert dishes, cups and saucers and glasses, and an assortment of serving dishes, pots, and pans. Dishes in America of course consist of the same assortment of items and are for 60 sisters. The machines are the same, the one in the US a bit heavier commensurate with its larger regular loads but basically the same. I was allowed to name the new dish machine in Belgium when our old one went to ‘dish machine heaven’. Julianna is her name I hope she misses me…all of us like to have a little nest to call our own and the dish line was my nest! It is very busy in America at the moment, all preparing for the opera Pilgrim’s Progress so there is no assigned dish crew and anyone and everyone is welcome. I gravitate to the dish machine either catching the clean dishes or pushing the dirty ones. I have found my nest again. Hopefully God is pleased.
Adoration is once a month at the Begijnhof, instead of Compline. We and whomever would like to join us, adore the host in quiet and silence with a hymn to begin and end. For me, it is one of the most centering things I do, since I do not have to pay attention to my Nederlands pronunciation or try to sing on key. I only have to fight stray thoughts and ideas from entering upon my quiet and contemplation. now that can be a hefty job but….I can just sit and adore and be with God. At the Sacre Coeur guesthouse in Paris, I discovered there is a whole community of sisters called to perpetual adoration 24/7, the calling of the sisters there. Sacre Coeur on Montmartre is a monumental and colossal sized church, nearly everyone has seen a photograph. I remember from my early days as a young student in Paris that Sacre Coeur was what you first saw from the airplane window, coming in for a landing in Paris, on those ooh so slow early propeller flights. The host is also monumental in a glorious silver and gold monstrance, displayed continually except during mass. A sister is always adoring and of course a gazillion pilgrims come and go. The tourists go around on the outside aisle. The night adoration is done by young people or some of the time. The Protestants also have a form of adoration or centering, Quakerism is an example and of course the meditation of the Buddhists all attest to the healthful blessing of centering. I always walk more softly and more peacefully after adoration as I cross the courtyard and climb to bed. I look forward to adoration each month.
The time has come as it does every year for home leave. I will leave the Begijnhof for 6 weeks in America at my home convent and return again in time for Advent and Christmas. Mornings are dark now as we slip out to Lauds and cross the very darkened and quiet courtyard. Even the birds and doves are not up yet poking in the grass. Every night we cross again to church and Compline also now under darkened sky and we return by night. The glowing spire of Onze Lieve Vrouw, the grand Bruges church of Our Lady, is alight arching over us. Onze Lieve Vrouw is not quite completely visible as the autumn leaves cling tenaciously to the trees but we know she is there, her silhouette glowing behind the tangle of leaves. Yes, there are things I will miss on Home Leave, the quiet, the contemplation, the time for reflection and thought, important at my age in life. I return to a convent in the prime of its life, filled with energy, life and outreach by young and old alike. The Reformation Symposium has moved to America for two very busy weeks, welcoming the French and Italians, hosting European theologians and artists, just one of the many outreaches of my home community. The swirl of the community life will both enliven and tire me, again a symptom of my age in life. God is Good.
The subtext here is I do not know how many blogs I will get written in the next 6 weeks! The muse as poets and writers will testify, visits capriciously and then I must write. For those of you who read these blogs faithfully and there are some of you, more than I would have thought from stray revealing comments, thank you and God bless you until we meet again.
“Study in Black and White” is a lace design that caught my interest in a Bruges Flower Lace book. As an aside, this book was the first lace book I bought; I had not the slightest idea how to do the lace. I simply liked the designs! The book stayed many years on my shelf until I came to Bruges. When asked to mount a small display of lace (for which of course varieties of lace must be made) I choose one design from this book. It pleased me making it, as all lace does. If you look closely, the patterns as well as the colors are inverted. Continuing my study in Black and White, I turn to pussy cats. Now, it seems the newly elected White Arch cat of the courtyard has a twin in contrast, a Black cat. A recent misty Sunday morning, I stopped before heading determinedly for my coffee to take in the wonderful quiet and the bucolic view from our monastery courtyard door. Silence reigned and the giant trees were covered with autumn leaves wet with dew from the early morning rain. It was early and there I spied one of the ladies in the courtyard calling among the bushes what I thought would be the white cat, but No…. an all black cat appeared! Apparently, one White cat and one Black cat live in this courtyard home. Now the black one had a mind of his own wanting to sniff wonderful flowers and bushes in the tiny Banneux (a chapel to honor the apparitions of Mary in Banneux Belgium) garden next to his or her home. Who knows what bugs and small insects and even a mouse or two might have been straying there, only a cat would know for sure. Maybe even an early morning bird, but our birds are too big for cat catching. The bird might eat the cat! At last the cat was coaxed into his home garden for hopefully a safer breakfast and his mistress also as she was out in her bathrobe cat chasing. A wonderful homey start to the morning and I was off for coffee.
Exploring and becoming acquainted with my roots and family was my main reason for visiting Ireland. However, I am always on the prowl for lace. Lace was done in Ireland but I knew precious little about it. Carrickmacross lace greeted me on the wall by the elevator at the Sisters of Mercy guest house in Dublin. I was directed to take no pictures inside the house, none of the chapel or of the garden of memory in the courtyard or anything else for that matter. But…I confess I could not resist and upon coming in one quiet evening, snapped a photo of the lace on the wall Carrickmacross done by long ago sisters. Do not worry I confessed and repented of my disobedience. Most Irish lace is needle lace or embroidery with lace stitches, much of it is done and appliquéd on netting—very different from the Belgium laces. Small museums exist in out of the way villages visited at obscure hours or by a knock at a house number. Ireland is a small country land and population wise.
A Vermeer touring exhibition was in Dublin at the National gallery for 2 months and lucky me, during the time I would be in Dublin. Tickets were available on the Internet but without bank credit cards that is not an option for this sister. I trotted over to the ticket counter the day after I arrived in Dublin, to discover the exhibition was completely sold out!! Hmmm, a miracle was needed! The kindly ticket taker (they like their nuns in Ireland, a long history of the faith, thank you, St. Patrick) said sometimes people come and will sell their unneeded tickets, stay around a bit. I wandered over to the wall to lean, no chairs in sight. After 5 minutes, I decided OK 10 more minutes and then off we go. Lo and behold…a beautifully dressed white-haired lady heads right for me waving a ticket. “Here, this is for you! My 96-year-old, art-loving sister, Marguerite, fell, nothing serious, but going through an exhibition was not wise.” My Miracle, right on schedule! Of course, Marguerite is getting lots of prayers for a speedy recovery and Marion assured me her sister would love the tale of her ticket going to an American lace-making nun. The very famous Vermeer ‘Lacemaker’ was in the exhibition and as we all know standing in front of the painting is ‘way better’ than the posters or reproductions. I lingered in front of her, praising God for His goodness to me for all things, my Begijnhof, my Ireland, my home convent, my guesthouse, my lacemaking and my miracle of the Lacemaker.