Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I am having a great time lately working on an horarium. That's Latin for schedule ... I could just say it in English, but then it wouldn't have that monastic flavor! I'm not just developing a schedule, I'm developing an horarium, a tool for ordering my day so that everything I do tends towards God.

I downloaded a sweet monastery bell ringtone, and plugged the Liturgy of the Hours into my cellphone. I rise at the first bell, 5:30 A.M., usually having been awake a bit earlier to quietly order my thoughts and ask God to direct my day. I get up, shower and dress and make the bed, then pray the Office of Readings. Throughout the day the bell ringing calls me back on track, to the Office and then to some productive work, from whatever I've gotten distracted with (usually something involving the computer!).

OK, so that's about as far as I've gotten. Trying to work out the best times for house and garden work, walking to the lake (which covers exercise + contemplation), errands, reading & writing, etc. But it's interesting and feels fruitful, like my life will actually be better the more I get this structure worked out.

Regina Terrae

Friday, September 19, 2008

Memories, or 4th stepping

I woke up this morning from a bad dream. I never remember my dreams, and this one left me with just one parting image: a young woman exposed in a public place, defenseless, degraded and vulnerable to rape. And sort of oblivious, on the surface, numb, like I was as a teenager.

I stayed in bed another half hour or so to reflect on the emotions the dream had stirred up, to place my heart in God's hands and His healing. Then I got up, washed and dressed, and went to the chapel for the Office of Readings. Ezekiel, Chapter 16. The image of Israel, the bride of God, turned harlot. My bible's footnotes pointed out that ritual prostitution was one of the features of the pagan religion the Israelites had strayed into -- along with child sacrifice. So the graphic imagery was not only figurative, but literal. Coming after that dream image, it was disturbing.

It's time to delve into my past. The rape, the twisted, painful, fearful sexual and emotional interactions with men, starting with adolescence, focusing there, perhaps, but not ending there. Of course, I will not be dredging up these memories on the blog!! Anonymous or not, this stuff doesn't go online.

I developed some effective defense mechanisms to keep me safe from the kind of violation I suffered back then, but evidently I am not healed. It's been a long time. This has implications for my religious vocation, of course. I know it's not normal to have next to no sex drive, but I've just taken it at face value, appreciating it as a grace God has given me to embrace chastity easily, at least, even if poverty is a lot harder and obedience just seems totally beyond me. One out of three's not bad, I think.

It's been almost 20 years since I realized that the fear was gone, the acute sexual fear I had carried around since ... I don't know, exactly, when, or what incident started it, or if it was cumulative. I thought I had healed -- and of course, I had healed, just not all. T tells me I have crazy barriers, not just nice healthy boundaries, but lead-lined walls that suddenly come slamming up out of nowhere. I guess I didn't totally resolve the sources of the fear -- I did, in part, but I guess it was too much, partly I just built some high massive defenses to be safe behind.

This is the time to dig ... I am safe, I have time and solitude and silence, I don't have to show up and be professional and cheerful and responsible to anyone. My relationship with God is relatively good, compared to past years, I feel fairly secure with Him. But then T won't let me alone so much to let me slip into depression, either. He is the most gentle, loving friend I've ever known, and I can trust him like nobody. I might even do the 5th step with him. Maybe. I will let God show me the right person when that time comes. I can melt down, now, rock and re-mother my poor inner child, my poor traumatized inner teenager. Whatever it takes me to get through this. One of those concepts I remember from some 12-step group from way back when: the only way to heal is to go through the pain, you can't go around it, over it or under it, and you can't turn back or go another way. The pain won't stop controlling your life until you go through it to the other side. Pain, or fear or any other negative emotion, suppressed still wreaks its havoc. This has been pretty deeply suppressed -- I resolved a lot, too, 20 years ago, but obviously not 100% -- I never think about the old, painful memories, but they are affecting my life in ways that I suspect will surprise me before it's over and done with.

For one thing ... it's not just trauma, not just what happened to me. Just like PTSD in a soldier, who has to come to terms with the psychology and emotion of killing, as well as of being targeted for killing. I was complicit in my own abuse, and I have violated myself, and others, too. Yeah, I know, that "blaming the victim" line raises red flags for me, too -- don't worry, my complicity doesn't let the rapist off the hook. But Al-Anon taught me to clean up my side of the street, and really, there's enough here to focus on.

Again, I won't be journalling these old memories here, on the blog. This goes in the paper journal. But please, hold me in your prayers.

Regina Terrae

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


In the last couple of days I have run into two people from my old job. I left the job a year ago, and until now I'd never met anyone from there by chance, there are just a couple of people I've kept in touch with deliberately. Talking with these two has reminded me how incredibly blessed I am to have been lifted out of that environment. One man came in late to church on Sunday and sat next to me. He had come to the Abbey because the newest postulant is a friend of his. He didn't recognize me -- we worked in different departments. We talked ... he told me things are awful there, extremely stressful, people feel as if upper management does not have any strategic vision or direction for the organization, they are expected to work much longer hours than they used to, supervisory relationships are poorly defined causing stress to both managers and line staff. Ugh ... the atmosphere when I left was terribly stressful. The restructuring was very badly managed, announced and then drawn out and studied for too long with everyone waiting for that shoe to drop, and then suddenly implemented all in a rush, no sequencing of the changes, no change management.

Yesterday as I walked around the lake I met another ex colleague, a guy who works in building facilities. His job hasn't been affected so much by the reorganization, other than the short-term crisis when everyone in the place had to move to new offices on the same day. But he told me that a dear colleague had been on a medical leave of absence since shortly after I left ... something stress-related, he thought. That's a shock -- she's a young woman, always seemed healthy -- well, certainly no more immune to the stress of the place than anyone else, but that's a long time to be on leave. I am going to look her up and try to get in touch.

I'd hated that job for years and years, long before the new president took over. I hated that job. But I felt so trapped. Stress does terrible things to a person. It paralyzed me, made me incapable of taking the steps I needed to take to clear my debts, save money, reduce expenses, and step out of the golden cage. That's what we called it, a golden cage. Generous pay and benefits, generous retirement, and ... somehow more than that. It was insulated, somehow. Jobs were very secure, it was very hard to be fired. Of course, for the international employees here at HQ, there was also the visa issue ... they couldn't just leave and take a job anywhere else, the visa was only valid to work in international organizations, and meanwhile they had houses, and spouses with jobs here, and kids in school. I could not even imagine leaving the corporate lifestyle, the conventional urban-office-slave way of life ... one of the reasons I never tried to leave is because I didn't know where to go. I had an e-mail subscription to Dilbert, to remind me that any other job would be just as bad. And it would have been just as bad in any other job of that kind.

I was so unhappy in that job, for so many years, yet I couldn't take the step to leave it. It was purely a gift from God ... the buyout offer that gave me the financial cushion, and at the same time discovering the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a secure and attractive goal that gave me the courage to leave the secure cage. I paid my debts with the buyout payment, all except for the mortgage on my house, and I am still (for one more year) depending partly on the residual income. I will have a small pension and, more importantly, health insurance starting at age 55. But still, a year ago, the prospect of making it on my own until 55 was terrifying. But once I was out of that miserable environment, it was only a matter of months before I found the peace and faith to let go of the security of a future in the convent.

Everything has changed since I left! I am so peaceful.... I know that my income is less than my expenses, today, and I am gradually depleting the last of the lump-sum payment I received from my contract. I'm not stressed out about it, though. This is all a process. I have given myself, my life, to God. I have invited God to transform me however He will. He is changing me, sure enough, and life just keeps getting better and better. The money, balancing books, will come in time. I am sure that learning to manage my income and expenses, peacefully and confidently, is one of the lessons to come. For now, I am learning to make my bed every morning, and gradually keep a cleaner and neater home; to spend time every day praying and contemplating; to spend less by wasting less (food!); the importance of walking by the lake as often as possible; and how to play the piano...... I am discovering my self, and my God, and the world around me that I was too stressed to see before. Life is amazingly good now. I am humbled, because I didn't make this happen, not in any way. I did not set myself a goal and take steps to get free of that miserable lifestyle. God just lifted me up, all of a sudden one day, at no particular time, just ... the right time, I guess, in His scheme of things. Just lifted me up and set me down in a new, sweet place. I will never, ever go back -- God willing!!

Monday, September 8, 2008

More on Poverty: the 7th Tradition

I just picked up the 12 & 12 (AA's 12 Steps & 12 Traditions), and opened it to a random page. The 7th Tradition: "Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions." I read it. The tradition itself, the one-liner, is read at AA (and other 12-step) meetings when a basket is passed for contributions to the group's support. But I don't remember ever reading the chapter in the 12 & 12.

It says that "A.A. must always stay poor", and that "at that moment ..., the principle of corporate poverty was firmly and finally embedded in A.A. traditions." At what moment? At the moment when they declined a gift of $10,000 that had been left in someone's will. Wow. There's a big difference between that and the way religious congregations (maybe not all, but as far as I know) practice corporate poverty. "Fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions." Convents live on contributions! Maybe not 100%, but it's like public radio, "listener support is our most important source of revenue." (some of them, anyway ... and I don't know of any that on principle "decline all outside contributions".) And as I discern my future, possibly as a consecrated hermit, this is very relevant to the question of my own vow of poverty.

Should I be "fully self-supporting"? Or should I accept help? On the one hand, I recognize a danger in being too hard-headedly independent -- I have a very hard time asking anyone for help, and that is not necessarily a good thing. I NEED help sometimes, I am no superwoman! On the other hand, just because I call myself a woman of prayer, people ought to give me money? What for, so I'll pray for them? No, I don't believe in buying indulgences, and I don't believe in buying prayers. I am choosing not to go back out and get a regular job. A lot of people would like to give up their jobs. So they should spend some of their hard-earned money supporting my life of prayer? No. I'm a Benedictine monastic (in spirit), and they at least originally were self-supporting through their own labor; not a Franciscan mendicant (the word literally means "beggar"), that's a charism that has never appealed to me. But corporate poverty is also a Franciscan innovation. St. Benedict allowed new entering monks the choice of either turning over their property to the monastery community, or donating it to the poor, and they certainly have always accepted bequests. Maybe that was a big mistake! Surely the relative wealth of the monasteries, later on, became an anti-evangelical witness?

The desert fathers wove baskets from palm leaves. The work itself did them good (I understand that), and they sold the product to support themselves. Understand: the desert fathers went to market to sell these baskets, they didn't refuse to support themselves because it would interfere with their self-imposed solitude.

I worked my entire adult life as a bureaucrat, all but the first year or so for one single employer. I don't know how I am going to support myself once the residual dries up in a year. I am hoping goat's milk, goat cheese, goat's-milk soap, eggs, and maybe some garden produce will net enough to pay the bills. The difference between this and my old salaried life is embracing the uncertainty: God will provide. That doesn't mean someone will die and leave me $10,000 in their will. He will provide by my own efforts, my frugality, and I guess a good dose of serendipity. I guess. I don't know how it will work! But oddly enough ... I do have faith that it will work out.

So what to do if I need help? And what to do if help comes, unasked for? How do I square that with poverty, understood as being "fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions"? Why do I ask this, why do I prefer A.A.'s definition to the way of my beloved Benedictines? Well, because for me, a great part of the attraction I felt to entering Regina Laudis was explicitly, the security. I am NOT an organized person, I do not regularly balance my checkbook, but I had a regular, predictable income for 19 years, and the thought of having to pay the bills without ever knowing what would be coming in was terrifying to me a year ago. I thought entering a convent, where there are other women who are good at the things I am not good at -- like being organized and detail-oriented -- was not a bad thing. Like the body of Christ, each one of us different, each one good, each one only a part of the whole. But it's not -- for me, for MY conversatio morum -- anything like 'consider the lilies of the field.' I think for me, this kind of more radical poverty will be more transformative.

So again: how should I handle needing help, or receiving unasked help? Should I refuse gifts? Donate them to the (involuntarily) poor? Should I accept help, but pay it back when I can? Or "pay it forward", giving to someone else the help that was given to me? What about non-monetary help? How to even account for it, if I think I ought to be paying it back, or forward? Should I, or should I just be grateful for it? What if I CAN'T do something alone (like pin up the hem of the skirt I started making MONTHS ago and got stuck on)? Where's the line between friends helping friends, and accepting "outside contributions"? Because as a hermit, the "corporate" is the same as the "individual", whereas both A.A. and the Rule of Benedict distinguish between the two in their rules on poverty.

Hmm. Food for thought, food for prayer!

Blessings to all who happen on this blog.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sarah Palin

John McCain says that Sarah Palin will be a great "partner" for reforming the corrupt ways of Washington. I think he's right about that, and I greatly admire her crusade to clean up Alaska's government and its relationship with big oil. But I don't think that that is the core role of the Vice President.

The most important role of a Vice President is one most of them never have to rise to. It is to guarantee security and stability in an emergency, and competent continuity of governance thereafter. The most important thing a Vice President has to be able to do is to come on TV in the middle of a crisis, in the middle of chaos, and convince U.S. citizens, troops, allies, and most importantly, enemies, that there is no power vacuum. VP does not have to be inspiring, does not have to have a grand vision or far-reaching plan for the future of the country, as a President does. She or he needs to be a partner in governance, but that is in order to maintain readiness to take over at a moment's notice. There is a Cabinet full of partners in governance who should all be passionate reformers; the VP is not primarily that.

Sarah Palin is a strong woman, and I do not doubt that she has the nerve to take charge in an emergency. What I doubt is that she has the relevant knowledge to take charge effectively. I think she could make that TV appearance and show the necessary resolve and strength and coolness. But I, for one, would not be convinced. I do not believe she will be ready on day one.

She has a lot of experience with some aspects of one of the major issues facing our country, i.e. energy. Alaska is a major oil & gas producing state. I admire her independence in holding the oil companies to account, while still encouraging their activity in Alaska. But she does not seem to grasp the dynamics of supply and demand, in the sense that U.S. demand FAR outstrips any increase in supply that drilling in ANWR could provide. She does not seem to know about "peak oil", and scoffs at the long-term outlook that drives the need to diversify into renewable energy sources starting NOW.

Science, in general, seems not to be her strong suit. She does not believe that climate change is caused by human activity. She sued the federal government to try to stop it from designating the polar bear as an endangered species. She favors teaching "intelligent design" (creationism) in schools, and opposes any mention of contraception in sex education classes.

More worrisome, to me, is her complete lack of exposure to the world outside the United States. She first applied for a passport a year ago, in order to visit Alaska National Guard troops in Kuwait. Unlike Cindy McCain and John Bolton, I do not think that Alaska's geographic proximity to Russia means that she has a grasp of foreign policy issues (yes, they both actually said that ... go Google if you don't believe me).

My grandfather served in the Foreign Service, and now one of my brothers is a foreign service officer. Another of my brothers spent 20 years as a Navy SEAL; my stepfather was also a Navy SEAL, in Vietnam. I worked for 19 years in an international development organization. Obviously, international relations matter to me. Sarah Palin didn't have a passport a year ago.

Barack Obama has an American mother from Kansas, an African father, an Asian stepfather; he grew up partly overseas and partly in multicultural Hawaii. Of course that doesn't give him an in-depth knowledge of history, political and economic relations around the world, but it is important nonetheless. He understands how other people see things differently than Americans do. He understands that cultures are different, values are different, circumstances are different. It makes him a great politician, and it will make him a great President.

Joe Biden has the chops to take over in an emergency, and to run the country, if need be, even for four years if (God forbid!) Obama should drop dead on inauguration day. Sarah Palin as VP scares me, in this sense. Of course, McCain kinda scares me, too, but not for the same reasons .... at least he has exposure and experience!

another pro-life woman for OBAMA

Now I'm just pissed! The news just came out that her 17-year-old, unmarried daughter Bristol, still in high school, is 5 months pregnant. Sarah Palin knew, and according to the news reports, so did John McCain. Bristol, on the other hand, did NOT know that her mother was going to be running for Vice President, until it was a done deal. How dare she! How dare she drag her daughter through this! Wasn't it bad enough accepting this job with a "special needs" four-month-old baby? Naked Ambition. I hadn't written anything about her disregard for the needs of her new baby, not having children myself, with special needs or not. But I do remember being a teenager in crisis, and I Thank God my mother was there for me! I guess her husband was serious when he said she's "not wrapped right." What a nasty individual.