Poverty

double crossed

I just had a heated discussion over the phone with one of my former nun friends. We each left the community during the massive exodus of the 1960’s and ‘70s. Unlike me, she has remained a practicing Catholic until recently. Over the yeasr we have shared a growing disappointment and disgust toward the stuanch patriarchal attitude of the boys in Rome toward women. I left the convent the day I left the convent, but my friend has persisted until now. The fundamentalist, anti-women attitude of her new young pastor has finally pushed her away.

I told her about the book I’d recently discovered: Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns, bKenneth Briggs. We were reminded of how much  our services had been taken for granted and how little we nun has been paid for our dedicated work in the Parochial schools.  The amount were were given did not even constitute a living wage. For years, my friend faithfully served as both principal and full time classroom teacher with a salary of $75 a month. An entire staff of nuns received an average total of $200 a month. As a result, the schools flourished and the nuns were left with paltry retirement funds for our future.

At the time, money mattered little to us. We never dealt with money. Financial matters were handled between parish priests and the Motherhouse Superior and her staff. Each mission received a budgeted amount for its basic household needs directly from the Motherhouse. Never allowed to question anything at all, we nuns were expected to put our trust in God. It wasn’t until we were rudely awakened in the aftermath of Vatican II when we were forced to deal with the world of finances again. The day would come when would see how shortchanged we would be for retirement. Whether we remained in the convent or not, we would be forced to live deal with the consequences of our current/former Vow of Poverty.

Bear

Dont’ know about other self-proclaimed “Extroverts,” but my outgoingness turns contemplative this time of year. Like Bear, I yield to winter’s encroaching darkness. I resist engagement and hunker down. I meditate, read, craft, write.

Or disappear into the Void.

At the moment however, I’m attempting another book. I presumed I’d dumped all baggage of having previously been a nun with my first book.

NOT.
The memories continue downloading with a vengeance.

So I write.

Rule of Silence

During my early years as a nun, I resented the Rule of Silence that was forced upon us.

Now I often crave the quiet.

I bask in the stillness and seek it out in order to make sense of it all.

From the Parabola magazine:

“As my prayer become more attentive and inward
I had less and less to say.
I finally became completely silent.
I started to listen
– which is even further removed from speaking.
I first thought that praying entailed speaking.
I then learnt that praying is hearing,
not merely being silent.
This is how it is.
To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking,
Prayer involves becoming silent,
And being silent,
And waiting until God is heard.”

–Søren Kierkegaard, quoted by Joachim Berendt in “The Third Ear,” translated by Tim Nevill (Shaftsbury, England: Element Books, 1988).

Where’s It Gone?

Where’s it gone?  My self-esteem. Don’t know if it’s because I spent so many years in the habit, humbling myself or if it’s simply because I’m human, but my sense of self-worth fluctuates downward a bit too often. I recently called a halt to my floundering three-year relationship with my significant other and I’ve been scraping bottom more than usual since. Funny thing how I measure my worth through someone else’s eyes–that someone who has rejected me.

Though I tap, use affirmations, read uplifting messages, and meditate daily, I spiral downhill. I rely on the steady encouragement of close friends, and yet still struggle. The face in the mirror looks back at me with sadness, even though I smile. “Oh well”, as Mom used to say “This too shall pass”.

I can only hope.

Today’s thought from the Sedona Journal of Enlightenment provides me with hope:  “Bring your hands to your heart and feel within every cell of your body, ‘I am divine love.’ Can you feel that? Allow every cell in your body to recognize this. From this divine, compassionate action of receiving you already comprehend and trust the gift of you. You are divine love. You are divine. You have always been and will always be.”

Chewing My Nails

Yes, I’ve submitted my Once Upon a Convent manuscript to several publishing agents, and just received a request for a detailed proposal . I’ve put off an immediate response because of the amount of work this kind of document entails. I’ve finally begun though, and am determined that one way or another, my book will be published. My story is a unique revelation of the guts of what went on behind convent walls in the mid-twentieth century, and deserves to be shared.

Stand by. You won’t be disappointed.

Falling

The rain has arrived and so has fall. Along with the leaves,  I’m falling ever so gradually into a new and unfamiliar lifestyle. Living alone. Bit by bit, I’m falling out of loneliness and into being okay by myself. My two cats keep me company and my home is small enough that I don’t feel lost.

Many years ago, I joined a communal life after having lived in a large family with seven other siblings. Then I  lived shoulder-to-shoulder and elbow-to-elbow within a community of nuns for nineteen years. After that, I continued to live with others–in and out of relationships–until now. I only lived alone for a brief time in between two of my relationships.

So it doesn’t feel right.

Friends tell me I should enjoy it, but I don’t.

Of course, being with someone doesn’t mean I was never lonely. I mostly felt alone in the convent, even though surrounded by others. I go into detail about this in my book. Which I’m still presenting to potential publishers. Eventually. By then, maybe I’ll be happy living by myself.

Until then, I continue to sometimes stumble

and fall.

The Void

unnamed (2)Crow signifies the Void, which is where I am lately. Waiting for word from a publisher. Waiting to see what’s around the corner. I have come to a crossroads and don’t really know where I’m headed. This being “lost-ness” comes and goes. The path is not as red or obvious as it seems in the photo, and even if it were, Crow stays put. She looks as lost as I am. Waiting a signal for WHAT’S NEXT.

Invisible

sept writing

It’s no wonder I struggle with issues of self-esteem. Until only recently, it had not entered my mind to consider myself a victim. In fact, I pride myself in being strong and resilient at my age. However, I recently stumbled upon some information on the topic of cults and mind control, and saw how applicable it was to my early convent years. During my first five, pre-Vatican II years in the convent, my companions and I were deliberately subjected to a gradual erasure of our individuality. Much like the military, we were broken down and then systematically reformed into more acceptable products.

In short, we were brainwashed.

According to Rick Ross, the founder and executive director of the Rick A. Ross Institute—an expert on cults, controversial groups and movements—there are warning signs of groups and individuals who use such mind control techniques. I recognized each of those listed in an article quoting Rick by Dr. Phil:

  1. 1.Cults enforce a controlled environment: Loved ones are cut off from family,

no communication.

 

In my story, Once Upon a Convent, you will read about how the convent enforced this rule and how it affected me.

  1. In cults, there is a necessity to break down the sense of self—the self-esteem–to literally attack them as individuals on the basis that they are wrong

and that the group is right.

Knowing this has begun to help me “put myself back together” again. My book gives evidence of the erasure of my personal identity.

  1. Instill a new sense of identity: a group identity

that reinforces and outlines the right behavior and the right way of being.

Wearing the habit and following the rules took away who I was as an individual—even as a teen-ager and blossoming young woman. To this day, I feel somewhat lost when I don’t belong to some kind of other-ness—marriage, partnership, or communal endeavor.


  1. Isolate: Cut off from outside world. Fear keeps them trapped

inside the environment of the group.

 

Even without fences, guards, or chains, we were trapped within the remote confines of a rural community, far from old friends, family, and the rest of the world.

The process of writing my story has unearthed the similarity between cults and my convent experience. I understand now, why I sometimes feel invisible. Like I wouldn’t be noticed unless I was gone. In the convent, I remained unseen, unless I allowed the dust in my assigned hallway to accumulate to any measurable degree. I was important in my performance of duty. Had there been no one to dry the pots and pans during my nightly dish duty, someone would have come looking for me. Or had my assigned spot in chapel been unoccupied during prayer, my absence would have been noted. As long as I fit into my prescribed slot in the communal machine, no one gave me a second thought.

Except my parents, who regularly wrote me about how much they missed me. Otherwise, I felt erased. Unimportant. We were taught that invisibility was a noble way for nun to feel. It was an indication that we were advancing toward the state of being without ego—of becoming humble. I quickly mastered the art of melding into the crowd within days of my entrance.

Had our differing attributes been highlighted, we would all have been enriched. Instead, we were individually erased. Expected to regard everyone equally; melt into the background, and act as one.

I still know how to disappear, but it no longer feels right. I remain marginally unsure of myself, and find it difficult to fade out. I still work on accepting myself as a unique individual. On some level, I’m still overcoming a deeply instilled sense of unworthiness.

Though my head definitely knows otherwise.

Oh Lord, I am not worthy

Mountain Love

Somehow, I presumed the sending off of my memoirs would flush me of some of those pesky habits I carried from the convent so long ago. But it hasn’t. My sense of unworthiness prevails.

Not feeling okay.

Or good enough.

Like a sudden gathering of clouds, a darkening overshadows me when I least expect it.

I blame the convent, where I developed the habit of gazing inward each day, and examined my sinful self for every possible imperfection. It wasn’t enough to skim through the Ten Commandments in search of sins—impure thoughts or feelings of jealousy. I was also taught to look for slight infraction against the rules. Talking too much, running in the hallway, and gawking around during prayer were inadmissible faults, and needed to be publicly admitted on a daily basis. Like a monkey, diligently hunting for and picking at its body for fleas, I daily searched for—found—and developed a long list of—my daily failings. Had I not discovered at least a few faults, I would have been guilty of the more serious sin of pride.

Years later, my spirit has learned to expand and soften, but I still I work at accepting my imperfect and fault-ridden self.

It had not come easy. . .

this letting go,

this allowing.

Even today, I hesitate at being proud of,

or thinking myself good enough.

It has taken a lifetime.