Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Come in from the Cold

I think the best thing that could happen for the Occupy Wall Street movement at this time is to come inside. This first phase of the movement has been a total success-- with encampments in cities throughout the country, a developing and more and more clearly defined message, supporters from many segments of the population and a growing student movement. It has been felt internationally and, according to the New York Times, "We are the 99 percent" has officially entered the lexicon.

It is time to use the winter to focus efforts, build programs and platforms and prepare for summer. With the NATO and G8 meetings set in Chicago in May, the possibilities of a 1968 atmosphere of protests in the parks is quite possible. City officials have even said that they see dealing with the Occupy protesters as a "test run" for what they expect will happen this summer. Everyone would like to keep it peaceful, and I hope that is the case. In fact, government officials nationwide seem for the most part supportive of Occupy Wall Street, and seem to be going out of their way to be civil and negotiate. Hearing the mayor of Portland, Oregon on The News Hour along with a spokesperson from the Occupy movement there reflected well on both the protesters and the mayor-- especially on the mayor.

But now, it's cold. And no good can come of protesting 24/7 in the cold parks of the U.S. I have felt that way for a while, but especially when I heard some kind of audio diary produced by a woman who occupied the capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, during the legislature/Scott Walker standoff several months ago. In her diary, she talks about being exhausted, becoming increasingly unfocused and unable to concentrate even on what was going on around her in the halls of the capitol.

There is a very good reason to occupy-- it gets attention, and it provides a forum not just for expressing outrage and solidarity but also talking through issues and hearing a variety of opinions and of bonding. But in the end, people who lead really good chants become the leadership when you're outside for months in the cold. And ultimately, there's no future in it. So I'm not unhappy to see the parks getting cleared. I think regular monthly one-day actions throughout the winter like the one in New York on October 21 should be organized. But also, groups should continue to meet, identify leaders and continue to clarify both positions and programs for change.

I have a specific hope for the students who have begun protesting increases in tuition. When I look around at the colleges in this country, I see a system that promotes privilege and greed and that is unsustainable. Building LEED-certified facilities that cost millions of dollars is not the answer to what college students need. What is at the core of a college education? What do the students value? And how can they demand the universities and colleges provide them with an education-- without frills and perks that have become standard expectations-- at a reasonable cost? Is that something the students are even willing to do? 

There is so much good going on in this country right now-- people growing their own food; living simply; moving their money to small, local banks; making good choices about how they will participate (or not) in credit and debt and even purchasing. People are going "back to the land" literally and figuratively, building community and volunteering. I truly hope that Occupy Wall Street will be able to grow as a movement and consider real solutions-- solutions that involve changes made by all of us, not just the "1 percent" (though I believe nothing good will happen if the banks aren't held accountable for their actions against the public interest and until those entities too big to fail are dismantled). I hope the movement will have integrity and reflect the values it espouses. I am looking forward to summer and the election season and the possibility of continued dialogue and a commitment to the common good. 

The news tonight featured a story on decreases in the amount of money going to provide heat to low income families. The administration has requested even less for this program than most political leaders are willing to approve (or maybe just in northern states like Minnesota!). I'm not sure what that means, but I do know it's one more way in which the "safety net" is being stripped away to cover our nation's debts because we won't/can't raise taxes. I look forward to a time that "safety net" is not pejorative, and when we care for everyone in our society.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

New Translation of the Mass

Dante Gabriel Rossetti:
The Damsel of the Sanct Grael
I arrived in Central Minnesota and began interacting with the monks of Saint John's Abbey back in 2005-06. In the spring of 2006, Bishop Donald Trautman gave a lecture on the proposed new English translation of the Roman Missal, a translation that changed again here and there as it made its way to approval in 2009 and was implemented in its final form for the first time today.

Bishop Trautman, and most of the monks at St. John's, as strong advocates of the Vatican II Church, have been greatly dismayed by the new translation. (For a good article on Bishop Trautman's critique, click here.) It is an attempt to translate the Latin text more literally, and one of the arguments for this is that it unifies the text with other translations throughout the world. They all begin in Latin and, if they are faithful to the Latin, should have more in common with each other. It is a great aspiration of the Mass that one can worship anywhere in the world with the same prayers and texts.

The English translation that was done in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (and never meant to be permanent), was done according to the prinicple of "dynamic equivalents." In other words, it used language that people in the pews would be familiar with rather than obscure Latin terms. So we get in the Creed the phrase "one in being with the father" rather than "consubstantial with the father." Since full participation of the people in the pews was the objective of having Mass in the vernacular, the translators went for clarity and, perhaps, simplicity. Father Godfrey Diekmann of Saint John's Abbey was an important part of the original International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) working on that translation.

In the decades that followed, ICEL worked further on the texts and submitted a "final" translation. There are various opinions about what this group came up with (finished in 2000 and published in 2002), but in the end (although approved by the bishops) it was rejected by Rome. Among other things, there was an attempt in this translation to use more gender inclusive language. Given the Roman Catholic Church's fear of anything that might lead to women's ordination, including removing some of the male pronouns for God in favor of gender neutral pronouns in the Mass, these suggestions were resisted. In the end, ICEL was directed to prepare a translation not by "dynamic equivalency" but as literally as possible, even preserving where possible the word order from Latin.

Today was the first day we used the new prayers and responses in Mass. From my perspective, the "people's parts" don't seem terribly changed. It is not difficult or onerous to respond when the priest says, "The Lord be with you" with the words "and with your spirit" instead of "and also with you." There are a few more "holy"s here and there. The prayer used for the Penitential Act, much like the former Act of Contrition prayer, now includes beating one's breast as we say "my fault, my fault, my  most grievous fault." But there are two alternatives to this prayer and I don't see us continuing with the current one for very long. (It will become, I predict, an occasional occurence, much like the prayer I knew as the Act of Contrition was at Mass before today.)

In all, the only thing that bugged me was the word "chalice" instead of "cup" in the Eucharistic Prayer. As we reenact the Lord's Supper, we hear that Jesus first took the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, "Do this in memory of me." Then Jesus took "a chalice," and repeated the direction. Hmmm. This part of the prayer comes directly from Scripture, and I know of no translation of the New Testament that says Jesus took a chalice at the Last Supper. For me, it changes the scene-- from a vision of Jesus in the upper room with his disciples celebrating that fateful meal, to King Arthur in search of the holy grail, that most famous of chalices thought to be the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper possessed of magic powers. We certainly don't want to go there, do we? I will say that I felt very conscious, for the first time in a long time, on that gold cup in the priest's hands, and the fact that it was gold and a chalice.

The words are not very different, but there was a big fight and many years of argument before we got here. For many, it is a question of the direction of the church. Do we want to go in the holy grail direction? Or do we want to go in the ceramic cup of wine and a single loaf of bread direction? I don't in the end understand the primacy of Latin. In scholarship and in liturgy, it seems to me healthy that the imaginative moment of the liturgy has gone to the early church (as in the 1st-3rd century church) more than the Middle Ages church. I don't think it's merely a matter of aesthetics, but I'm also not going to protest the changes.

NOTE: One of the more striking protests about the new language, though more about the integrity of the process than the actual end product, came from Father Anthony Ruff, OSB, a monk at Saint John's Abbey. Click here to read his open letter to the bishops published in America Magazine last February.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Two Good Books about Nuns

In my search for contemporary novels about American nuns, I've found only two. Both of them are fantastic books I'd recommend to anyone. They both share a strong message about religious life, as well as some other key similarities. The two novels are Mariette in Ecstacy by Ron Hansen and Lying Awake by Mark Salzman(Hansen also wrote Exiles, a novel based on the story of the Wreck of the Deutschland and drowning of eight nuns and the poem Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote about the incident, but it's a different, much more historical and in many ways less accomplished, book.)

Both books have a mystic at their center, and both of these women live in cloistered communities. Mariette, though published in the 1990s, is set in the first decade of the 20th century, when all Sisters who were not on active missions were cloistered. Lying Awake, published in 2000 and covering the years 1969 to 1997, deals with a Carmelite Sister living in an enclosure in Southern California.

By building in these restraints on the Sisters' lives (habited, cloistered), the authors are able to deal with the central issues of a nun's life: community living with other Sisters and the quality of the spiritual life. What is clear immediately is that mystics, who seem both closer to God and richer in spiritual experience, are disruptive to religious communities. In Mariette, set in 1904, the mystic has the experience of stigmata and her experience, though doubted as self-inflicted, is treated seriously as a phenomenon recorded throughout history. Her wounds come and go and don't act as normal wounds or cause the permanent damage one would expect. The priest and Sisters experience other inexplicable signs of S. Mariette's special status. The experiences of Sister John in Lying Awake result in visions and writings which find popularity in the world outside the cloister walls. Both Sister Mariette and Sister John gain noteriety for their spirituality outside the convent.

But by the time Sister John is having her mystic experiences, there is a diagnosis and a cure for her particular troubles. She is recommended to receive surgery for epilepsy and has to decide whether or not to have it, knowing it will mean and end to her visions and possibly a return to a spiritual dryness that plagued her earlier in life. What makes up her mind is an experience with her community. It is not good to stand out in a convent. The idea is not to be special but to seek God together in daily life and prayer and work. That is the life, and the life, both books seem to decide, doesn't work without the Sisters subverting their own desires to the life and needs of the community. It is ultimately a much more "big picture" view than most of us can take. It's a big-picture view of time (aren't all spirtiual experiences by nature fleeting, if we continue to grow?) as well as one's place in a community.

As in MarietteLying Awake handles this action without diminishing the veracity of Sister John's spiritual experience. In the end, a holy, older Sister, helps S. John to understand the meaning of the experience. "God showed you what heaven could be like, and you shared it with others. ... God must think you did enough with that gift. Now he wants you to do something else."

Sister John is also helped by the glimpse she gets of her surgeon's vocation and its challenges. He also faced a period of disillusionment, realizing he went into medicine "for the wrong reasons." But he remained a doctor when he realized "everybody gets into medicine for the wrong reasons. It seems to come with the territory."

Quite a bit comes with the territory of being a nun. Struggling with the large questions all the time, and with the limitations of the church. For the Sisters who entered in the 1940s and have lived this life in its changing forms until today, there are myriads of questions, challenges, and also, I believe, joys. And each one is special and "stands out," even as they do what it takes to live together.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

To the Chicken Soup Factory

Chickens from the same flock who didn't even make it to the laying stage at the scene of an earlier slaughter...
Tim and Annie's seven chickens, who have entertained us for several seasons and lived peaceably and productively on the farm, are nearing their end. There's been a sudden decline in egg production, from six eggs a day to three, and so they've been deemed unworthy of winter care.

We're chicken-sitting this weekend while Tim and Annie are out East for the holiday, and today Steve brought in the three eggs. One is puny, another is thin-shelled, and the third is quite large. It's too bad you can't tell which one is still laying the large eggs! Their fates are inextricably joined, in the same way they move together in a small flock throughout the day.

It's actually pretty good timing on their part. It saves Tim a winter of feeding them and keeping their water from freezing, and they don't have to be cooped up all winter in the barn. Not that the barn is a bad place-- they'll miss the full renovation to a furniture-making shop. And Tim did build them a glassed-in porch for sunny winter days.

Of course, since they've been freely ranging for three years now, they are no longer worth eating. Once killed, all they will be good for is chicken broth or soup. I was offered the chickens for this purpose, but I'm not really willing to prepare them. Too many feathers!

I'm glad at times like these for civilization: cartons of organic chicken broth and the Kuebelbecks' eggs at the local co-op market. Next spring, along with all the other new stuff, we'll have another batch of chicks on the farm, and with them, an abundance of fresh eggs again.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Big Projects

Last year, it was the kitchen rehab. But this year, Steve could barely contain himself in finishing the last of the landscape projects before he got to his Big Project-- renovating one of the hog barns into a furniture-making shop. The day after his last job (Saturday) he began by putting a big hole in the roof. Sunday he rented a masonry saw and took out a large chunk of the wall. All this was in preparation for today, when his "consultant," Dwayne, who built our house, and his brother Tim joined him in raising the roof enough to make room for the glass garage door that will go in the opening.

He's been thinking and talking about that glass garage door for about a year. I remember when we saw one at the restaurant Joe's Garage in Minneapolis. It will be a lovely thing, sort of like a greenhouse wall, and will bring good light into the working space. Good light is the opposite of what this place currently has.

The custom wood stove is ordered, as is the garage door. The insulation guy has been out to look at the place and is working up some bids. What started out as buying a few tools on Craig's List has become a truly awesome endeavor.

I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't rather use the money for a trip to Italy or Paris... but it is inspiring to see someone dig into something so ambitious. A place to spend the Minnesota winters making mid-century modern style furniture. The plywood will be bent. The metal will be soldered. Other local furniture makers and woodworkers will be consulted. A sectional couch the likes of which have not been seen before will be installed in our living room.

And me? I'm working on small pieces, daily, writing out bits of what I know, imagining myself into worlds I want to explore, in the hopes of making a whole book out of it, at least a draft, over the winter.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Garden to Bed

4 new beds make a total of 12, and the dock for my pump out of the water

The newly landscaped garden includes a long
plowed bed  for potatoes, beans and onions.
I am officially a garden addict, something I never thought would happen to me. On Saturday afternoon while Steve bought some useful stuff at Menards for building his furniture shop, I found myself wandering the aisles of the empty garden center and bought three bags of cedar mulch. I ran into a friend who was buying Christmas lights, which in that moment seemed more rational (though much too early!). In my defense, I was going to put the mulch over the newly transplanted perennials, but when I gave it further consideration, it does seem obvious that leaf mulch is about as heavy as I should apply this late in the fall. All those wood chips will only make it more difficult to plant things in spring if I spread it now.

Just like this time last year, I'm really ready to begin again, to the point where I'm thinking-- If only I lived in a warmer climate, like Southern California. Yeah, if only I had a few acres in Southern California, I could just plant more seeds now! Then I realize that I have what I have because it is where it is, and that I'm glad about that.

garlic bed covered in grass
I spent my "extra hour" from falling back to daylight savings time on Sunday out in the garden, turning over the last of the weeds, cutting back the asparagus and trying to get the weeds out from around their stalks, and heaping on the last of the cut grass over them. I also heaped more grass onto the garlic beds, where the late freeze has meant the bulbs are sending up shoots through the 4-5 inches I already put down. "Go to bed!" I feel like yelling at them. "You aren't supposed to come up until April!" It's good for them to get going a little bit, so they can develop a root system under the snow during the winter. Or so I understand from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is still my favorite bedtime reading.

I can't wait to receive my first "yearbook" as a member of Seed Savers. This is the master book for ordering from individual farmers who save heirloom seeds. I am very happy with the Seed Savers stock I bought, as well as the seeds I bought locally at Woods Farm and Nursery, but I can't help but want to buy a few seeds from the big book o' seeds! Mostly, I just need more reading material.

All this reminds me of the movie Into the Great Silence about a Cistercian community in France. One ancient monk walks around in the middle of winter looking at his raised beds covered with snow, then stands in a shed looking through seed packets. He seems quite out of his mind. The poignancy, of course, is wondering if he will live to see another planting season, and the nonverbal way he demonstrates he is thinking about spring, new life, there in the winter. But for me, that's where I turned off the movie. I was starting to doze already, but the crazy old seed monk just seemed like kind of an indictment of a life of total silence, although that's not what was meant at all. I found myself wondering, "Is anyone watching out for this old guy?"

So I will have to find other things to occupy my mind. The forecast is for snow tonight in some areas of the state, although not here until maybe the 18th. But once we hit Thanksgiving, there's no turning back. And certainly the beds are done until after the snows. Then again, maybe tomorrow I'll drive out for a few more bags of mushroom compost and dig them into the beds...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Saints Sans Priest

The All Saints Day Vigil Prayer Service at the Sisters' cemetery on 10/31/11
Yesterday, the Feast of All Saints, was a holy day of obligation according to the Roman Catholic Church. For me, it was a good excuse to go to the 5 p.m. Mass with the Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict. Mass was a bit more well-attended than usual. Although "day of obligation" is basically a guarantee that college students will not come to Mass, there were still a good number, and a large number of the Sunday crowd. We started in the Gathering Place. The worship aids were printed and well prepared, the schola was in its best finery and also well prepared. The one thing we were lacking was a priest.

The priest, who had e-mailed earlier in the day to confirm he was on the schedule, never arrived. After frantic phone calls and some shifting of readers, one of the Sisters put on a simple white robe to preside over the Liturgy of the Word. We began our procession with the Litany of the Saints. The music was lovely. The readings were also wonderful-- that great cloud of witnesses in Revelation, the Beatitudes during which we reflected on those who have gone to their rest after so much service to the world.

There was a lot to reflect on this year. Yesterday afternoon Sister Giovanni Bieniek died at the age of 101. She was the 19th Sister to die from that community this year. Last week there were two funerals. One of my reasons for attending was to have some time to reflect on Sisters Suzanne and Rosemary, who I have been missing. Looking around, many of the Sisters looked tired. Some of them looked sad, strained, annoyed about the priest situation. The Sister who was presiding was very gracious and asked us to reflect on our solidarity with the many communities that, because of an increasing priest shortage, are not able to have daily Mass or even weekly Mass.

One man attending got up and went to complain when the presider read the Gospel. "Only a priest can read the gospel!" he told the Sister in the Gathering Place. "What are we supposed to do? We don't have a priest or a deacon," she answered. I would like to answer: Are we to be denied the Word as well? Sister Helene had already prepared a reflection on the Beatitudes, which she gave. Were we to have the reflection without the reading? He stormed out before the closing hymn, which is a shame, because the hymn, by Sister Delores Dufner, was a beauty, as was the organ postlude she had prepared.

I did not hear any criticism of the priest. One Sister said, "I'm worried about him. He did confirm, so maybe something happened to him. Maybe he fell or got in an accident."

There is also, however, always the spectre of a day when there will not be priests to come over from Saint John's Abbey for daily Mass. Last year, the College of Saint Benedict, a Catholic women's college that shares the campus with the Sisters of Saint Benedict's Monastery and has joint classes with the men of Saint John's University (SJU) five miles away, lost its regular priest for the campus Mass. This is a diocesan appointment, and the bishop said he would not appoint anyone. He said the college students have ample opportunities: the two Saint Joseph parish Masses (and one Saturday) less than a block from campus, the Sisters' Sunday Mass, the SJU student Mass at 9 p.m. He has a point, but it's a Catholic college. There was talk of trying to recruit a retired priest from another region. Having been at a Mass last Spring at the far end of the diocese, where a retired priest had driven the two hours to preside at morning Mass for a cluster of churches, I had a suspicion those retired priests are otherwise fully engaged.

The obvious solution is to ordain women and married men. I wrote a blog entry about a year ago about attending the Roman Catholic Women Priest Mass at St. John's Episcopal Church in St. Cloud. The congregation, The Church of the First Apostle Mary Magdalene, meets at 1:30 p.m. every second Sunday of the month. I removed that post when it was co-opted by the conservative author of another website in an effort to discredit the Sisters (for whom I was working then as communications director). It didn't work, removing the post, because he just found a cached version to link to his site. It did point out to me the "third rail' nature of this issue.

That someone could be offended by a woman acting as "gospeler" truly shocks me. I really would have liked for us to share some unconsecrated bread, passing it to each other through the pews, as an alternative. Instead, the students who had processed in with the bread and wine in the hope that the priest would arrive, simply carried it back to the sacristy afterward, untouched.

It was a lovely liturgy, and liturgy is something the Sisters do very well. And we were all prepared. We were all present. God and the Holy Spirit were in our midst, and we, the assembly, were the Body of Christ. The only thing we were missing was a priest.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Five Months of Fresh Produce

Last year was my first real attempt at growing food. This year, with more garden space and an obsession with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, I set out to eat from the garden longer and preserve more for the winter.

We began eating produce from the garden June 1, with the first regular harvests of lettuce and radishes. And here it is November 1 and I have this lovely salad for lunch! the lettuce is "Tennis Ball Lettuce," a variety grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. The idea of seeds passed on and saved for 300 years makes me very happy. It's mixed here with radish greens, radishes and carrots, and topped with an egg from the farm.

I continue to have kale and spinach in the garden. For at least one more week of fresh greens. Having somewhat made my peace with butternut squash (thank you Vidalia Chop Wizard for making dicing so much fun!), I have a good supply of soups in our future. And I've been spending Sundays the past few weeks chopping vegetables and doing a big 2-pan roasting. During the week we scoop out the roasted veggies and add to whole wheat pasta and parmesan for a tasty dinner. Which is to say, November finds us still well within the fresh veggie zone.

To prepare for next year, Steve did some real landscaping of the garden area, including isntalling FOUR MORE raised beds (I now have a dozen) and plowing up a bed for onions, potatoes and beans. Grass was planted in the rest of the area to help control the weeds. Everything looks much more defined and ready to go! Now I just wait for the seed catalogues to arrive, as we eat down our store of food.