It’s about Loving Me

heart in Ink

Today is Valentine’s and I awoke to find a voicemail telling me that I am a very loving person. I’m seldom acknowledged as such and struggle to take it in.

As a  proper former nun, I should be allowed to consider myself nice, considerate, respectful, deferential, and even thoughtful. But loving? I’m not sure why it moves me so to take it in.

My tears flow like rain after a long drought, moistening and loosening what feels tightly bound within. Perhaps it’s the space I’d so long ago begun to reserve for what I had hoped would be filled by God.

Maybe I’ve finally begun to fill it with me.

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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.

The Next Chapter

Nun with Ruler dreamstime_12895823

It’s unbelieveable. At last count, I’ve sold over a hundred copies of my book since publishing it on Amazon in July. I’d never thought much about getting my book out there, simply wanted to finish it. Now, I’ve begun the next one, which will be a continuation of the first–a peek at how it is for a longtime nun to transition from one world to another.

Initially, I hesitated to write another book about me, me, me. The well established convent voices in my head, shook their accusing fingers at me and scolded,

Concentrate on others, dear Sister, and upon God.  Don’t let yourself succumb to your feelings and your own selfish, sinful desires

In spite of the fact that I no longer believe such nonsense, the voices have continued to wheedle at me over the years. At times, when I think I’ve nearly conquered their debilitating words, they return. Or I have my recurring convent nightmare. However, within or without my convent mind, I’ve begun to write again. About what it has been like, to try and leave the convent behind.

Stay tuned.

A Good Story

grass valley church

While tooting my own horn, I decided to share a review by my much-respected and dearly beloved writer friend. She posted the following on Amazon about my book, Once Upon a Time: The Memoirs of a Lesbian Nun. . . 

“The soul of this book is what most of us look for in a story—direct talk, honesty, good descriptions, explanations, and an appealing connection to the reader. Every ex-nun story describes overlapping events, but this author’s deeper level of sharing everything adds to the reader’s understanding and experiential reactions–sometimes surprisingly, sometimes with just enough extra depth to make one say, “Oh, that’s why she was concerned–that angle of background wouldn’t have occurred to me.
If you’re looking for a titillating book about young women, you may be confusing it with last night’s television programs. This story begins with why the author went to the convent. 20th century vocations were complicated. Priest, nuns, and others in authority sometimes urged parents to give up their child (it used to be “one from each family for the Church”). Teenage girls who looked for ways to save the world and get to “be somebody” at the same time, had no clue what lay ahead of them in the ubiquitous silence, hours of prayer and physical work, constant permissions and planned humiliations, and lack of autonomous power. They were shocked at how few days a year they would be allowed to speak to their nun teachers/friends. Add the discovery of one’s Lesbianism, and the Candidate was out in the middle of the sea without a guidelines boat. At least until Vatican II.
You may be surprised at turns in this true account, or not. Regardless, you will be touched by the author’s narrative. Once Upon A Convent is a great story and well worth reading.”

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.

Emptied

Recie August 2014

Since I sent off my manuscript, I feel emptied–perhaps peaceful. Even aimless. For four years, I hammered away at my memories. A difficult task—certainly no labor of love. I had lunch with four other writers on Saturday, and was envious of their enthusiasm—their lust for writing. Each was years younger than I and working on futuristic novels. I wondered that something might be wrong with me as I struggle with every word. Every sentence. Every thought, my critic working overtime. Even as I write this, she smirks and points a finger at my computer from over my shoulder.

You scramble for words and can’t get out of your own way. What makes you think you are a writer, when you stumble over every thought that enters your head? You think anyone is going to read this? You should have taken at least another year to mold your manuscript into something more interesting—more uplifting—more worthy of being shared. 

I feel humbled. Beat up. Taken to task. As if I should kneel at the feet of my confessor and ask for a penance. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I dared reveal things about the convent that most former nuns would never dare.”

As I await my penance from behind the other side of the confessional screen, I hear a kinder voice from within, rather than my imagined pious response from a priest. It is the less familiar voice of my Inner Wisdom, and it silences even my Inner Critic.

Hey, dear one. You have shared YOUR truth. Your version of nineteen years in the convent. Whether anyone else cares or understands, doesn’t matter. You began writing years ago to relieve yourself of memories that burdened you for too long. Applaud yourself and move on. A whole new chapter awaits you.