Sunday, September 28, 2014

CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE VERSUS MONASTIC LIFE

Saint Thekla, Hermitess


There are a bunch of monastic wannabes parading around the internet claiming to be "hermits."  One of them calls herself "The Anchoress," yet she is married and lives with husband and children.  Another has done herself up in a nun's habit of sorts and has published a "rule of life," yet she also is married and living at home.  I do not pretend to know why these people are doing this, but one thing is obvious:  They aspire to some state of life for which they do not possess even the basic requirements.  It confuses the uninitiated and gives the wrong idea about monastic life in general.

If you are married, marriage is your vocation, and being the best wife and mother is your holy occupation.  You've chosen that life and it is up to you to throw yourself into it with all your heart and soul, for the sake of the Lord and the kingdom.  Your family will work together for the salvation of all, and it is beautiful.  There is no higher status elsewhere.

What is a monastic?  "Monastic" comes from the word "mono" or singular, alone.  Monastics have chosen to remain unmarried and unattached (or it has chosen them) so that their lives are given completely to the Lord in a singular way.  Monastic life is generally centered around prayer at regular intervals throughout the day.  Sometimes it is contemplative and sometimes not.

Saint Paula and her daughter Eustochium,
with Saint Jerome

Whereas today, "monastic life" is typically understood to be part of a recognized religious order, the early days of Christianity saw a number of independent people relocating to the desert, mostly the Scetes desert of Egypt, but also in Syria and Palestine, where they lived ascetic lives of prayer and penance.  Palladius of Galatia tells us that there were almost 3,000 women living in the desert as religious hermitesses or as a part of a loosely organized community of believers by the year 419-420


Hermit caves in Syria


These were Christianity's first monastics and I guarantee you that the desert fathers and desert mothers did not haul spouses and children out to the desert to live with them en famille, with the exception of desert mothers such as Saint Paula, whose daughter Eustochium, ALSO took up the religious life.  (Saint Paula had been widowed prior to this.)  The monastic life is a vocation of single people, not married ladies living with husband and children, with a job in town, Wednesday pizza night and family vacations to the beach every year.

Sometimes a particularly holy hermit would attract followers. Very quickly, the cenobitic life, a life lived in common, became the norm.  Monastics still do not marry, but they are "together, alone."  The hermit's cave became the monastic "cell."


Saint Theresa of Avila's cell


There are many different monastic orders in the United States.  If you have leanings toward a monastic life that is contemplative in nature, rather than try to live as a monastic or hermit on your own, I highly recommend that, if you meet the criteria,you go directly to a cloistered convent, do not pass go and do not collect $200.  Nuns who have LEFT the convents, thinking they can maintain their contemplative life and schedule "on the outside" routinely complain that keeping anything close to the convent's prayer schedule is nearly impossible.  There are torments, hassles and disagreeable people in some convents, perhaps in most convents, but the trial of living with these is worth the rewards.  Go to a cloistered convent and try it out.  Some of them will take older people.

The active orders are something else.  They live for God, but their focus is outward and is more service oriented.  There are teaching orders, nursing orders, all kinds of orders. I don't recommend these for the quiet contemplative who years for mystical union with God.  In another post, I will write about some of the contemplative orders, such as my favorites, "the pink nuns" who maintain continual adoration before the Divine Eucharist 24 hours a day.




The primary obstacle is often the HEALTH of a person.  If you do not have good health, then you are in my boat, and I will go on to discuss how to manage a monastic life at home in later posts.  Convent life is a very physical life, with lots of hard work.  There is plenty of manual labor to go around.  Also, you are never "off the clock," in that you are a nun 24/7 and it can be a strain for some. If you have PTSD, as I do, or depression or some other mental problem, it can be particularly difficult.  Religious orders usually insist that prospective members be physically and mentally healthy.

A simplified type of monastic life can be lived at home, though it is very difficult to maintain a rigorous schedule for most of us who are elderly and/or physically compromised.  But we are the ones who have the time and the circumstances to live a version of monastic life at home, however, and it is a shame to waste our golden years playing computer games, when we can grow closer to God in an intentional and intense way.  I intend to help us all explore that and to provide information that will be helpful.

Saint Rose of Lima
A Third Order Dominican who lived at home
and served the poor


I will write a few more blogs addressing the needs and aspirations of the 11th hour monastics and offer some solutions at a later date.  I will also be researching avenues of emotional and spiritual support, such as third order possibilities, and I will report on that later.  I do know that individuals may be allowed to take some sort of personal vows, with the permission of the local bishop, but this may be reserved for perpetual virgins.  I will have to check my facts on that score and get back to you with that information as well.

In addition, I will be supplying lists of resources, blogs and books that are helpful to the contemplative life in general, so look for those in future blog posts.  I also plan to write some blog posts highlighting the lives of some of our saints who were mystics that gained great consolations from contemplative prayer or those who either lived at home, in hermitage, or as an independent third order monastic.  Anything that I feel will be helpful and supportive to contemplative life and to the independent monastic will be included.

Everyone can benefit from contemplative prayer.  The fact that you enjoy the mystical union that is the reward of such prayer does not mean you are a monastic, however, and I think that is where some of the pseudo-hermits have gone off the rails.  Contemplative prayer is a religious practice.  Monasticism is a religious vocation.  Often, the two will intersect, but they shouldn't be confused with one another.

The thing to remember, most of all, is that each person is born in the likeness and image of God and we are equally loved by the creator who made us, no matter what our vocation.  Remember, we are human BEINGS and not human DOINGS.  In the long run, it doesn't matter what vocation we choose, only that we turn it to God as much as possible and rely upon His guidance within our circumstances.

God bless you.  Please pray for me as I pray for you.

Silver Rose Parnell

Saturday, September 27, 2014

HATS FOR THE HOMELESS




For the last few weeks I have been crocheting baby blankets and baby hats for my baby blanket ministry and, now that I have a good supply, it is time to switch to my "HATS FOR THE HOMELESS" ministry.  Fall is already upon us, and I have to get busy.

Just as I did with the baby blankets, I will pray for the homeless people for whom I make the hats, as I am working the yarn with my crochet hook.  This type of ministry is perfect for an at-home contemplative because it is a type of manual labor that allows me to continue to pray while I work.

Many people think of New Mexico and they automatically think of hot weather.  Yes, during the summer it IS quite hot here, but we have a semblance of 4 seasons here, and winters can be VERY cold, sometimes dipping into the single digits for a week or two.  This is extremely hard on the homeless people who, generally speaking, are not allowed to be inside the homeless shelters from 5 a.m. until 5 p.m.  I am sure some exceptions must be made for those occasionally brutal cold snaps, but the homeless, like the rest of us, have business to do outside of the shelters, and they are on foot.  Waiting for a bus when the temperature is 5 degrees sounds like torture to me!

Anyway, I make the hats and distribute them to shelters and agencies here in town,  I love doing this ministry, but I need to work with donated yarn because I am poor myself and cannot afford to purchase the yarn.  Soooo...I am providing a link to my wishlist on Amazon that has the specific yarn I need for the patterns that I use.  (I make several sizes.)

Please do not substitute a different type of yarn, since my pattern will not be able to accommodate it, in all likelihood.

Amazon has my address and will mail the yarn to me directly.  If you have a connection for cheaper yarn of the same variety and color, then please email me at silvercottage@hotmail.com, and I will send you my mailing address.  In the alternative, if you just want to donate via my Pay Pal account, you can do that also, and I will purchase the yarn from there.  Please note, however, that Pay Pal does take a small fee from the donation as a service fee.

As I make the hats, I will post photographs so that everyone can see what has been made!  I think it is fun to participate in the creative process.

If you have any questions about this ministry, or if you would like to join me in making hats for the homeless here in Albuquerque, just let me know.  I have operated in concert with a church in San Diego, California during one winter.  San Diego is a relatively warm place and no one wanted their hats in Southern California, but the homeless here in Albuquerque were very grateful to get them.

By the way, a good percentage of the homeless are military veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses.  I realize that many people have a stereotypical picture of the homeless being drug addicts and ne'er do wells, but a compassionate investigation into the facts turns up a far different reality.  it is very easy to become homeless, with so many people living paycheck-to-paycheck and jobs being so scarce.  The homeless deserve a lot more, but all I can contribute are hats.  I appreciate your help in doing this.

Here is the link for the Amazon wish list: WISH LIST: YARN FOR HATS FOR THE HOMELESS

God bless you, and thank you for your generosity!

Silver Rose Parnell

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

GIVE YOUR BEST


"Love the Lord your God with all your Heart and with all
your soul and with all your mind and with all your
strength.  The second is this: Love your neighbor as
yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these."


Imagine this scenario:  One of your friends has given you a gift.  It is wrapped in lovely paper and has a nice little card attached.  Then you open the package and see the contents.  It is a box of half-eaten grain out of which moths fly into the air.  This isn't a realistic, is it?  You would never give something like that to someone you love, yet the poor are given these kinds of presents every day.

Tattered, threadbare, stained and torn clothing, expired food, and other unusable objects are pushed at poor people, often with the expectation that the poor should be grateful for these "gifts," ostensibly because that is all they deserve or "beggars can't be choosers."

Jesus did not invent the phrase "beggars can't be choosers."  That was someone else.  What he said was that we should love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.  When we go to the market, we pick out the freshest food.  We don't deliberately try to find old food that has maggots crawling out of it.  When we shop for clothing, we examine the articles to make sure they are made properly and there are no holes in them.

If you are a poor contemplative living at home, you may have already experienced this.  I recommend distancing yourself from people who try to push garbage on you in the name of charity.  They are not doing it to help you.  They wish to feel better about themselves for some reason, or they lack charity of heart and want to give the appearance that they possess it.  Their offerings do not come from the heart of Jesus.

When Jesus fed the multitudes with bread and fish, there is no mention of maggots.  He gave the best.  Notice, when I say "the best," I am not saying the daintiest, the most expensive or the fanciest.  He gave fresh, wholesome and simple things. When he changed the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, he didn't turn it into sour or moldy wine.  It was good wine.

Likewise, if you have a ministry in which you care for the poor, be mindful of Jesus' prescription.  Love your neighbor as yourself, and don't give them garbage.  Give them the best you have.

I am always throwing out and giving away things.  We tend to accumulate THINGS in our culture, and it is a job to stay on top of it.  If I have something that is in great shape and needs no repairs, I will give it away to someone who is poorer than me.  My criteria is that, if it is good enough to sell (and someone would actually buy it), it is a worthy present for my needy neighbor or friend.  If not, I take it to the dumpster where it belongs.

Let us remember to give one another the best of ourselves and our possessions because we love one another as much as we love ourselves.

Silver Rose Parnell

Sunday, September 21, 2014

THE CONTEMPLATIVE, MANUAL LABOR, AND PRAYER PROJECTS

Baby blankets and hats being prepared for donation
to the Gabriel Project at Project Defending Life
in Albuquerque, New Mexico


I just wanted to dash off a quick note for my other contemplative sisters and brothers with regard to the type of work one decides to do in the way of ministry or of making an income.

It is best to stick with what I call "manual labor," which doesn't have to mean you are out digging ditches.  As long as it is something that engages the body in rather routine tasks that do not involve much executive function of the brain, that will be suitable.

In the contemplative monasteries, they make candy and altar breads.  Some of them produce finely embroidered vestments.  I know one monastery that produces some awesome pumpkin bread.  Others make cheese and some even make wine.  Many grow a good deal of their own food.  We can take our example from the contemplative monasteries and convents and imitate their long-standing devotion to a simple life in which the hands are used for labor.

Something that occurs to me as being rather important is that most of these activities can be done in peace and silence.  I don't believe that a stock trader or a retail sales clerk would have an easy time of it, as far as developing a contemplative life.  Their jobs would pull them too far in another direction.  Anyway, I am mostly speaking to the home-bound in my blog....the disabled and elderly who have the time and the quiet home life on which to capitalize.

Baby blankets and hats are my chosen ministry.  The work is mostly repetitive, and with each stitch I can say a prayer for the welfare of the new baby being welcomed into the world.  Sometimes I listen to the rosary on EWTN and recite it along with Mother Angelica and her nuns.  Sometimes I wing it.  I also paint, but I am having trouble getting back to that endeavor.

Anyway, if you choose a physical task like this, it is far easier to "pray unceasingly" than if you choose a more active ministry that requires interaction with other people or a lot of writing, research, typing, and that sort of thing.  The more involved you become with outside activities, the less you will be operating as a contemplative.  If you have a tendency toward loneliness and must be with people to feel alright, then the contemplative life is not for you.  We are communing with God at every opportunity we can snatch out of the jaws of time.

I don't mean to say that everyone should be a hermit and shun the world entirely.  We don't have the kind of support that we would need for that extreme.  I do think we have to limit our interactions with the outside world and keep them within certain boundaries.  Each of you will have to decide what those are for yourself.

It is important to focus your prayer life also for, in addition to quietly spending time with the Lord in the practice of the presence of God and in strictly contemplative prayer, we are called to pray for the suffering world in many areas.  With so much going on in the world today, it is hard to know what to pray for.  It could be overwhelming.  I recommend having one primary prayer project that is a constant.  For me, it is the prayer that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches will resolve their longstanding rift and become one with each other again.  My prayer life is dedicated to that rather large request.  Not only does this give me a focus, but it gives me a PURPOSE as well.  This is important.

People will ask you to pray for them, and there will be transitory requests with which you can pepper the stew, so to speak.  Don't lose sight of your mission, however.  It will help you to stay more easily on the path.

I would be interested in hearing how you construct your contemplative life.  Feel free to comment and let me know.  Perhaps others will be interested also.

God bless you,

Silver Rose Parnell

Friday, September 19, 2014

GET BACK ON THE HAPPY HORSE





Every day when I wake up, I have to do my version of getting back on the horse.  The pains and disappointments of the previous day assault me and I have to throw them off and get back on the happy horse.  I grasp the wooden cross that lays on my chest while I sleep, and I remind myself of the promises of Jesus, the most excellent, happiest of news.  I smile and then I go to my shrine, cross myself and offer myself for the day, promising to do better, be better, incline myself better toward the Lord.  Then I turn on the altar lights and my day begins.  Directly after doing that this morning, I discovered a large, long piece of dog poop in my closet.

Even though I had walked that little dog at 6:00 in the morning, by the time I woke up at 10:00, he'd befouled my closet.  Clearly, the dog is not housebroken and, at 3 years old, it is doubtful I would be successful in training him.  If I lived in a house and had a doggie door, perhaps that would be the ticket, but I live in an apartment and I don't even have a fenced-in yard.  Anyway, he is the wrong dog for me.  I need a dog that will help me, not cause me extra anxiety.




After downing a strong mug of coffee, I took the little fellow back to the shelter.  I do my best not to dwell on the block of sadness at the bottom of my stomach.  Several people will be critical of my taking the pup back to the shelter.  They do not understand that the dog is not a pet for me.  It has a job.  It is a service animal.  Someone else WILL snatch him up.  Bringing him back was the right thing to do.

I was in a lot of pain today and downed two pain pills at once.  They barely made a dent in my pain level.  Some days are just like that.  The pain pills just don't work.  I settled into my crochet project; a baby blanket for the Gabriel Project at Project Defending Life, stopping now and then to load the washer and dryer, cleaning all the fabrics and pillows on which the dog had slept.  The cat was thrilled, and he flung himself across the freshly washed quilt that I arranged over the pink couch.

While I crochet, I say prayers for the baby that is going to use that blanket; prayers for a good life, a loving family, and a relationship with Jesus.  I ask the Lord to be kind to the little one.  While I am doing the laundry or eating my lunch, however, I am coming to grips with the very real possibility that I may never be able to get a service animal.  I have to adjust my expectations.  So MANY things are outside the realm of possibility for a poor person!  I am so tired of the dwindling collection of available options of my life, but I must get over it and resign myself to the reality of the situation.  It is important to me to learn to gracefully accept the will of God, and not to do so with bitterness or sour feeling.  Plenty of people in the world are in far worse shape.  Get back on the happy horse!





I enjoy the beauty of the baby blanket growing between my fingers and I thank the Lord for the skill and the ability.  My carpal tunnel kicks in now and then, and I have to stop for a while, but it doesn't matter.  I am not on a schedule and I can't get fired.

I feel the absence of the dog's energy in the house, and I deliberately displace the empty feeling with the satisfaction of creating a beautiful blanket.  Back on the happy horse.

Silver Rose Parnell

Thursday, September 18, 2014

THE HURRIEDER I GO, THE BEHINDER I GET

"SKIPPER"



Yesterday was stressful.  I had to let go of a toxic neighbor I had been helping for the last couple of years.  Some sort of mental illness makes this person hostile and aggressive, but oblivious to the effect of that behavior on other people.  After being exposed to it once too often this week, I had to put my foot down.  The whole episode was highly anxiety producing, especially since I was informed that my exertions on their behalf were not valued.  It can be frustrating when you try to minister to someone who doesn't notice the effort you are expending.  I wonder: if they don't notice the effort, do they actually receive the help you mean to give?

Last night, little Skipper slipped out of his collar and ran right into traffic on the main drag on which this apartment building sits.  Thanks be to God, he didn't get hit and then he ran back and circled around to the back door of my apartment.  I need to get him a proper harness.  I am thinking red plaid would be cute.  It will have to wait a couple weeks for the disability check.  (More about Skipper later.)

Last night, I heard from another friend that she had discussed getting a service dog for me with someone at the New Mexico service dog organization located in Santa Fe, about an hour and a half drive from me. They charge $6,150.00 for the dog and $75 for the application fee.  It generally takes about a year to a year and a half to get a trained animal.  There is no discount for low income clients.

It would cost me more than 4 months income to pay for a service dog myself.  Obviously, this is not going to happen.

Well meaning friends have lots of suggestions about who to call to try and wrangle a free dog or free training or both...or maybe a "deal" of some sort.  This is one of the reasons why my days are so full.  I spend a lot of time begging, searching, wrangling, researching: vainly trying to get my needs met.

I also need one of those scooters and a lift for my car, but Medicare will only pay for it if the doctor verifies that I need one for use IN my home.  Who can afford so much living space that they have room for one of those massive things?  Anyway, the scooters and car lifts are also thousands of dollars, evidently.

People often do not understand that being disabled is much more expensive than being able-bodied.  The able-bodied do not need service dogs, scooters, housekeepers, cleaning ladies, delivery fees, medical equipment, special food, over-the-counter medicines, blah, blah, blah.

So, it doesn't look like I will get a proper service dog.  I do have a very small terrier I recently adopted in a fit of "oh, isn't he the most adorable thing you have ever SEEN?"  (See his picture, above.)  He is completely wrong as a service dog, and my doctor has suggested that I trade him in for something more appropriate, like a large standard poodle or Portuguese water dog.

My veterinarian has recommended that a standard poodle will best serve my needs, and that I should get one as a puppy so that it can be trained young.  I have researched that avenue also.  Poodle puppies range from $1,200 to $3,000.  Can you believe it?

I have asthma and bad allergies, so I need a dog that is hypoallergenic.  According to the AKC, there are not a lot of dogs that qualify.

So, if you have money, you complain about the prices, but you pay it and you get your needs met.  Problem solved.  You might haggle, but you don't have to beg.

I am very tired of begging.  I am exhausted from the effort and the stress.  There comes a point when trying to get one's needs met does not appear to be worth the stress and exertion.  I wonder if this is why so many veterans with PTSD are homeless, on the streets?  At some point, you just give up trying.

Fortunately, I have a place to live and a comforting spiritual foundation.  I'm not on the street, so I am ahead of the game.  I have gotten used to going without a lot of things.  This is just another one.  Time to move on to something more satisfying than begging.  I started another baby blanket for charity tonight, and it is very pretty.

Silver Rose Parnell

Friday, September 5, 2014

BLESS THIS MESS



I keep this little box of doo-dads next to my recliner, where I do all my crochet projects and where I occasionally trim my nails (or the cat's nails!)  Inside the box, along with circular knitting hooks, nail trimmers, a row counter, and crochet hooks, is a pair of scissors that my son gave me, and every time I have to trim a piece of crochet, I use these scissors.  They're very sharp and fit perfectly in the decorative box.  Every time I use them, I think of my son and say a little prayer for him.





I last saw Jason in the Spring of 2013.  He and his daughter came to visit me, driving across the desert from Las Vegas, Nevada.  He was supposed to have arranged for dialysis here in Albuquerque, and I don't know if he actually did it.  He had talked about feeling that he didn't need it if he had a session right before he left.  He wasn't overly cautious about taking care of his health, which is what killed him, ultimately.

We had a really nice time for the first few days.  I enjoyed showing them around Old Town, which is very near my house.  We ate at various restaurants, which was a real treat for me, since I never do that.  Jason took a lot of pictures.  It was wonderful to have him here. A couple days before they were to leave, he ran out of money.  He had received some money in back pay from Social Security, but he had spent most of it on some guns he had planned to sell at the gun show when he returned to Vegas. It is ironic that my son was involved in selling guns when I am so anti-gun, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I made no comment.

My apartment is small.  I had only a few days' notice they were coming, it was the end of the month, and I had very little food in the house and no money.  In other words, the status quo.  My granddaughter was only interested in playing games on her dad's phone.  The trip exhausted him, and he kept falling asleep in the chair.  He was very ill.

One day, when I wasn't looking, he grabbed a special pair of sewing scissors from my desk and bent them by using them as if they were a screwdriver,  I got upset because they were given to me by a special friend.  He got testy and a little rude.  I had to straighten him out.  He apologized and later bought me that pair of scissors pictured above.  At first, I was disappointed, because they were completely different than the pair he had ruined, but I just thanked him, knowing that he was stressed and sick and I could always buy another pair that suited me better.  Later, I realized the scissors he gave me were perfect for my crochet projects.

I felt bad about our little spat.  When they were leaving, I hugged my son for the last time and told him I was sorry that the visit wasn't perfect.  He was very sweet and gave me a good hug.  I will never forget what he said.  "Next time I see you, it will be better."

A few months later, he drove himself to the hospital.  He had pneumonia.  Very quickly, it turned into a variety of issues.  He had an infection around his heart.  It went from bad to worse.  Soon, he was gone.

Jason's birthday is coming up in a few days, and in another 3 months, the first year anniversary of his death.  I have been thinking about him a lot, and especially his last words to me, "Next time I see you, it will be better."  From your lips to God's ears, my boy.  From your lips to God's ears.

Silver Rose Parnell