SAINT OLGA

SAINT OLGA
MY GREAT GRANDMOTHER, SAINT OLGA, PATRON SAINT OF CONVERTS

Sunday, August 31, 2014

THE POLITICS OF OPTIONS IN AN INDIVIDUALISTIC CULTURE

If you look very carefully, you can see a rainbow
amid the trees.


Yesterday I finally decided that I would no longer attend the parish I had been attending for the last year or so.  The reason I had tried that parish at all was because of the efforts of an extremely devoted Catholic woman who belonged to that parish and has spent the last year (or more) carting me back and forth so that I could sit through mass without excruciating pain.  God bless her.

Finally, however,  I had reached the point where the mental pain of sitting through a happy clappy liturgy; a condescending nationalistic homily that rarely gave God a mention; hand holding (ugh); and loud, gimmicky announcements given before the mass had ended (among other irregular practices) was greater than my physical pain.  I am quick to add that those people had been nice to me.  They gave me a comfortable chair in which to sit during the liturgy, dragging it right into the church and positioning it at the end of the handicapped row.  They gave me a sense of belonging by giving me a little responsibility at the welcome table.  The question is this: to what did I belong?

I am not going to spray all the defects all over my blog.  My point is not to bash the priest or saddle a struggling congregation with public excoriation, but to illustrate a problem common to many disabled persons, and that is the question of OPTIONS.  Our disabilities force us to make choices we would never otherwise make, were it not for the limitations of our condition(s).

Obviously, everyone's disabilities are not the same, and some disabled persons do quite well, with the help of mechanical aids, but mostly because of family, spouse or other supportive community that facilitates their access.  Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of us who are alone, and this is where the lack of community is most keenly felt.

The rarest sight in a church parking lot:
an empty handicapped parking space


I have a lovely Facebook friend who lives off the grid here in New Mexico, and just yesterday she posted a plaintiff wish for community of the faithful.  Now, she is Orthodox, but the situation for the Orthodox church in America with regard to community is the same, because we are all dealing with an individualistic American culture.  We can barely stand our own families, what to speak of the larger community of faith.

Yesterday, I posted about my experiences with the Vedanta Society in Southern California.  Something we could learn from them is their community focus.  Granted, it has been truncated somewhat due to a dwindling devotee base and changes in the economy, but I have to admit that I really miss that little community on the hill.  In the early days, we're talking 1930's, the Vedanta Society was given a bit of property in the Hollywood Hills - long before the Hollywood Freeway was even considered.  Some of the land may also have been purchased, but in any case, they had about two city blocks of property, some of it given over to a massive garden from which they got the flowers that were used in the daily worship.  There were also little houses stuffed together in a charming rabbit warren of residences, as well as an apartment complex.  The main property housed the temple, the monastery, the book store and the catalog buildings.  It was really charming.




I lived in the neighborhood for about 8 years, 3 of it in the convent, and I used to love to attend morning, noon and evening meditation hours.  There were many elderly ladies that lived in the smaller houses and apartments who were likewise able to attend.  They just had to walk across the small street and into the temple, which was a hushed and holy place.  No chatter allowed!




In this way, all people got to partake of a monastic style of contemplative life, without having to meet the criteria that is customarily required of a religious.  Good physical and mental health is the first hurdle to being accepted into a religious order.  This quasi 'ashram' style of living accommodated people of all types.

To be fair, we were dealing with individualistic Americans and there were many instances in which community members were not supported or helped during times of crisis.  I remember asking the cook at the convent for a plate of food for an elderly, long-time devotee who was flattened with a dangerous flu, only to be told there was not enough food, which was not true.  I said that was fine and that I would give her my portion of lunch.  Begrudgingly, this nun allowed me to take a plate to the sick old lady.  Now, that old lady had been very active in her youth.  She was a founding member of the group that originally moved onto the property, or she came very soon thereafter.  She had spent many years devoting a great deal of time to the maintenance of the place and the massive cooking projects that were required during the East Indian celebrations.  (There was always lots of great Indian food, and everyone in the world was invited.)  She had to gradually cease her efforts as she became too old to do them.  All of that support was forgotten, discounted, and taken for granted by some of the members, such as that one nun.


Lunch at the Hollywood Convent in the 1980's
(Swami visiting)

Another non-Christian group that does a much better job of forming supportive communities is the Mormons.  (Ignore, for the moment, their insistence that they are Christian.  Their theology and cosmology is completely different than accepted Christian doctrine from the earliest Christian age until the present.  That is a topic for another day.)  If you are a disabled Mormon, you are likely getting visits from eager young Mormons, with offers of help of all kinds.  If you want to attend a Mormon function, someone WILL take you.  If you are elderly, likewise.  If you've just had a baby, a score of young women will be helping with house-cleaning, baby clothes, baby this, baby that.  You won't go hungry or homeless or lonely if you are a Mormon in good standing.  I could never make myself believe in their theology, no matter how hard I might try, no matter how much I admire their community cohesiveness.  It's too bad, really.  I have several family members who are Mormon.

What is the point of all this?  I have a dream that one day Catholics will become more like the original Christian community that held all things in common and no one's needs went unanswered.  I have a dream that our "community" will be more cohesive, less individualistic and more helpful to one another.  I dream that the contemplative life will become more available to Catholic communities.  I suppose I dream of Catholic "ashrams," though I wouldn't want to use that term.  I long for loving communities.

"All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed
that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared
everything they had."
~ Acts 4:32

If I ever won the lottery, the money would be gone in a minute because I would build a community with plenty of room for the elderly and disabled, complete with little cottages outfitted for the handicapped, smooth walkways that lead to the kitchen and the chapel, and meditation gardens.  I imagine a library stocked with all the Catholic classics, as well as religious DVDs.  Big dreams for a little person of no resources!

In the meantime, while praying for the big picture, I have to find a way to get my own needs met with regard to getting to a church on Sunday.  Mind you, I am a sick, elderly lady and I am actually not required to go to mass any more.  I want to go to mass, though, and I would like to be able to attend mass at a parish of my choosing and not be forced to attend a place that violates all my sensibilities.

Wish me luck, and help me in my prayers, won't you?

God bless you all

Silver Rose Parnell

Saturday, August 30, 2014

DIVE DEEP INTO YOUR FAITH



I love the contemplative life; the peace, the silence, the stillness.  It was the emphasis on the contemplative life that initially drew me to the Vedanta Society, a Hindu-based organization initiated in America at the turn of the last century when Swami Vivekananda came to our country to attend the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago of 1893.


"None can teach you.  None can make you spiritual.
There is no other teacher but your own soul."
Swami Vivekananda

I did not have the advantage of having anything with which to compare this Eastern religious philosophy.  My parents hated religion and spoke against it frequently.  They were exceedingly immoral and pleasure-driven.  The tenets of Christianity were not ever discussed, much less taught.  All I knew was that I longed for peace and that I wanted God in my life.  Thus began an association with the Vedanta Society that included a few years in its convent in Hollywood as a nun.  Later, although I had left the convent, my teacher allowed me to take the final vows of sanyas, which is similar to being a Hindu Swami and involves renunciation of the world in favor of living a contemplative life completely devoted to God.




When I first stumbled onto the Vedanta Society in about 1980, there was a big movement toward ecumenism in Christian circles.  Hindus, Buddhists, Sufis and Christians were gathering together.  Pope John Paul II came to America and participated in an inter-religious dialogue with my teacher [Swami Swahananda], a Buddhist teacher and a Jewish Rabbi.  I was lucky enough to be in the middle of that small audience of about 500 people that had gathered at the Japanese Cultural Center in Los Angeles.  The idea that all religions lead to God was percolating throughout society, especially in California, where the cosmic poo-poo has a particularly enthusiastic reception.  Ramakrishna, the Hindu saint that devotees claimed was "an incarnation of God" had said that all religions lead to God, and he was particularly worshipful toward Christ.  One of his followers promoted the idea that Christ spent years in India before his public ministry.




Instead of simply respecting all religions, however, some religious people began to mix the religions together, creating an amalgam that sometimes results in the deterioration of one or both faiths.  Catholic priests were mixing Zen meditation practice with Catholicism.  Father Hand of the Mercy Center's "East-West Community" began teaching Zen Meditation in 1984 in Burlingame, California, after spending 30 years in Japan.

Here is a blurb from that ersatz Catholic institution with regard to their new teacher, with barely a whisper of a mention of his being a Catholic priest:

"RESIDENT TEACHER
In 2005, the community welcomed a new resident teacher, Fr. Gregory Mayers, C.Ss.R., a Redemptorist priest. Fr. Greg began Zen koan studies in the late 1970s and completed them in 1996. He is an Associate Roshi of the Sanbô-Kyôdan Religious Foundation in Kamakura, Japan. He was given the teaching name of Ryûun-ken (Flowing Cloud) by Yamada Ryôun Roshi, the 4th Abbot of Sanbô-Kyôdan.
On November 11, 2010 Fr. Greg received full transmission as an Authentic Zen Master with the honorific title of Roshi from his teacher, Willigis Jaeger, who is the founder of the Empty Cloud Zen Lineage at Benediktushof, Holtzkirchen, Germany. He is the 46th successor to Master Lin Chin and has been teaching both Zen and Christian Mystical prayer in retreats around the United States.
Fr. Greg is the author of Listen to the Desert: The Secrets of Spiritual Maturity in the Desert Fathers and Mothers. He directs the East-West Meditation Program at Mercy Center and is its resident teacher."

This man has picked up where Father Hand left off, evidently.  It was Father Hand who (supposedly) told one woman that she had his permission to receive the Catholic Eucharist at any Catholic Church she chose, despite the fact that the woman was neither Catholic nor even Christian, really.  She believes that God has come to earth in many "incarnations," such as Buddha, Krishna and Christ.  She has a particular love for Christ but is not Christian and, in fact, speaks against the theology of the Catholic Church, but tells me that she continues to take communion during Catholic mass.  I have tried to explain to her how wrong this is, but my pleas fall on deaf ears.  She knows better.  She knows that the Catholic church, with all its "rules," is wrong, and she is right.

My readers who are not Catholic may not understand what a shockingly irreverent and strictly forbidden thing it is for a non-Catholic to receive the body and blood of Jesus.  Reception of the Eucharist is called "communion."   Receiving the Eucharist means that one is in communion with Christ and his church.  Even Catholics who are not in a "state of grace" are not allowed to receive the Eucharist because they are not in communion.  Grave sins must be repented, confessed and forgiven.  For instance, in the case of Catholics who are living together, unmarried, they are never allowed to receive the Eucharist while living in that condition.  Many saints have commented that receiving Jesus unworthily can make a person very ill and cause untold damage to their soul.

Even Ramakrishna, the "avatar" that Vedantists follow, who said that all faiths lead to God, told his followers to "dive deep" into one faith alone.


"To get the real gem, you must dive deep"
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa


Western devotees are particularly prone to scatter our allegiances over many faith traditions in a cafeteria fashion.  This is the way that we can avoid those pesky sacrificial aspects that are key to most religious traditions.  We can take all the stuff that tastes good to us, bypass the cashier at the end of the line, and skip out when it's time to do the dishes.  Because of our American democratic tradition, we also think that every rule and precept is up for discussion and should be voted upon.  We value our opinions much higher than the saints and sages who have come before us.  Some of us value it more than the words of Jesus.  Humility is not our strong suit.

When I finally found Catholicism, I read hundreds of books of the saints.  I realized that my value system was already in line with Catholic Truth and that, whenever I had a problem with Hindu philosophy, it was at those points where its teachings disagreed with Catholic theology.  Still, I struggled with my faith for a few years, tempted to return to the familiar contemplative orientation of the Vedanta Society and its habits, drawn to a type of monastic life and contemplative atmosphere that is not easily accessed in the Catholic Church, at least on the parish level.  On the other hand, I am too old, too decrepit and too divorced to be accepted into any religious order.  If I could, I would be one of the pink sisters.




Catholic parishes are often noisy and boisterous places.  Many of the churches don't have much reverential atmosphere.  The music stinks in many of them here in New Mexico, sounding like a combination of Broadway show tunes and Mexican mariachi music.  The Eastern Catholic churches, however, such as the Byzantine Catholic Church, represent the earlier Christian traditions which, because they ARE Eastern, I suppose, are familiar to me. The gorgeous liturgy is sung a capella by the entire congregation, without the aid of any musical instruments.  It sounds divine.  When I can, I will return to Our Lady of Perpetual Help here in Albuquerque.  Somehow, I will manage to sit through the service, despite my pain.




I don't need to go to the Hindus to find a FORM of Catholicism that resonates with me.  There really is something for everyone in this vast religion that accommodates under its generous umbrella a multitude of different rites and orientations.  What is crucial, however, is the theology, and it is our theology that is damaged when we mix it up with other religions or think that we can be the arbiters of the faith.

All of this came to me as I sat praying in front of my home altar this morning, the smoke of frankincense and myrrh rising in front of my San Damiano cross and my icon of the Holy Trinity.  I sat silently, wrapped in the orange chaddar (East Indian Shawl) that reminds me of my commitment to leading a contemplative life for God alone, a commitment that I maintain as a Catholic, rather than a Hindu, contemplative.  I have realized that, although I have no visible support or recognition for my solitary monastic vocation, I have the rock of faith on which to lean.  Because I have surrendered myself to the will of God and the direction of His Holy Church, I have nothing to worry about and very few decisions to make.  The blueprint, our theology, is my guide.

God bless you all.

Silver Rose Parnell

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

JANE DE CHANTAL

Saint Jane Frances de Chantal


If you are like me, and you are disabled, poor and trying to lead a holy life in the midst of your sufferings and pains in a world that discounts you because you do not appear to be productive, you need some inspiring words to keep you going on the contemplative path.  In the case of today's saint, Jane de Chantal, you may find a lot to bolster your prayer life and your resolve.  The letters between her and her spiritual director, Saint Francis de Sales, would be helpful to you, and there are several other books, as I remember, about these two saints.  It has been a while since I read them.  I was in a Hindu convent at the time, but I recall feeling strengthened by this saint's attitude toward spiritual life.

Here is a great quote about her:

“She was full of faith, yet all her life had been tormented by thoughts against it. While apparently enjoying the peace and easiness of mind of souls who have reached a high state of virtue, she suffered such interior trials that she often told me her mind was so filled with all sorts of temptations and abominations that she had to strive not to look within herself...But for all that suffering her face never lost its serenity, nor did she once relax in the fidelity God asked of her. And so I regard her as one of the holiest souls I have ever met on this earth” ~ St. Vincent de Paul.

Just google her name or look her up on Amazon.com, and you will find many books about her and St. Francis de Sales.  The library may also have some things.

It seems to me that most saints suffered greatly, in one fashion or another.  A few were sickly or disabled, like Blessed Margaret of Castello, and some were depressed, like Mother Teresa of Calcutta who had a dark night of the soul for 30 years.  Others were tormented by demons.  Most were afflicted with doubts and other temptations.  If anyone can relate to them in their sufferings, it is the disabled and frail elderly, many of whom endure chronic pain that does not leave them for a minute.  Depression and mental illnesses like post traumatic stress disorder are very common these days because the world has become a mean and violent place.  All of these things can interfere in a person's spiritual life if we let it get to us or if we imagine for a moment that we cannot possibly become saints if we are so messed up.

It is precisely BECAUSE we are messed up that we have a chance of becoming saints if we use our sufferings and humiliations to our advantage, offering it all up to God while maintaining a joyous visage.  We needn't pretend the suffering doesn't exist.  We aren't stoics or automatons!  We wrestle with our struggles, whatever they are, and we will notice them and occasionally give voice to the frustration, and we will certainly feel the pain, but our primary focus is on God and the beauty and joy of Him.  But never let anyone tell you that you "shouldn't feel" this or that emotion.  The saints feel plenty.  That is how they have a heart for the poor and suffering, and a heart for Jesus, Mary and the other saints.

Don't forget that God is great and has no problem using broken instruments such as ourselves.  Ignore what the worldly have to say about you and, whatever you do, don't let it get you down.  God will use us in the way he wishes to use us in the time in which he wishes to use us, and all we have to do is be open to him in our hearts.

I have been getting down on myself because of my inability to keep a strict schedule.  That was stupid.  One of the reasons I am disabled is because my illnesses prevent me from maintaining a schedule.  Somehow I had internalized the criticisms of the world.  I am learning to ignore the critical lady who frequently tells me, "I don't understand why you're not working.  You should be working.  Surely there is SOMETHING you can do.  You're so INTELLIGENT."  (As if one can only be disabled if one is a moron!)  Then there is the nosy neighbor who quizzes my apartment manager and asks her for a list of my disabilities because I do not "look" disabled. (Most illnesses, no matter how grave, cannot be detected by simply looking at someone.)

Quite a few people ask me how much money I get in Social Security.  I have made the mistake, in the past, of actually telling them the amount, only to be told that I am not really poor because some other able-bodied person with a temporary financial problem has a lower income than I do.  People do not understand that being disabled is MUCH more expensive than being able-bodied and, while an able-bodied person can actually do something to alleviate their situation, like taking a second job, a disabled person is pretty much stuck.  Occasionally, some of us can find a little something we can do to increase our income, but it is very difficult.  The solution for any financial privation is usually tightening our belts and doing without.  I will write a blog about that one day.

None of these people have the right to the information they ask about income or health conditions, and, these days, when pressed, I simply say that I have a collection of illness which, put together, make it impossible for me to work.  It does not satisfy them, but if I say it enough times, they stop asking.  Hostility and criticism toward the disabled and the poor are rampant in our society today, and we can fall into the trap of trying to defend ourselves at every turn.  Don't do it!  If someone is quizzing you about your disabilities or your income, it is not out of concern for you.  They want to judge for themselves whether you are poor or sick and your word is not good enough.  If you give in to this type of interrogation, you will lose your dignity like I did, and no amount of explanation will change a person's mind about you and all the other "lowlife" poor people who are faking disability (supposedly.)

Don't make the mistake I made and internalize the world's garbage until you are so down on yourself your spiritual life goes down the tubes.  There are plenty of people in the world for whom all the explanations and information in the world would not be enough to gift them with a sense of compassion and understanding for your trials or appreciation for your contemplative strivings.  In fact, most people won't "get you" in any real way.  If you're lucky, like me, there are a few dear friends who respect you and trust you.  Ignore the rest of the nattering world and hold onto the Lord.  Think of the rest of us who are in your same position (and there are quite a lot of us!)  We are your community.  We get you.  We support you.  We pray for you.  Don't give up.

Silver Rose Parnell

THE DISABLED CONTEMPLATIVE

My Prayer Corner
August, 2014


A few years ago I started this blog, thinking that I would educate the public about what it was like to be disabled and, consequently, struggling, if not downright poor.  There were so many nasty rumors being circulated about poor people, in general, and such a lot of misunderstanding about disabled people and their needs, that I thought I would be doing a good service by disseminating factual information to counteract the meanness.

What I did not realize is that my target audience was not the slightest bit interested in having the real information or in learning anything.  There are many people with strong opinions in this world for whom their opinion is God.  Their opinions arise out of a few anecdotal stories, or a feeling or a philosophy, but they are rarely based on hard facts or statistics.  The harsher the opinion, the less likely that the person has done any real research into the area of his or her strong opinion.

Because I am disabled and poor, people with harsh opinions about the poor and disabled are not the slightest bit interested in what I have to say.  After all, they think all the disabled people are just faking it and that the poor people are somehow cheating the system.  How could they possibly learn anything from me?

The people who ARE interested are those who are in the same position in which I find myself.  I have been hearing from them that my blog has, on occasion, helped them.  I have been asked to start again, and I think I will...this time with a different focus, a different audience, and a different perspective.  I want to be a supporter and encourager of other disabled and poor people.

We can commiserate with one another and find a way to take the frustrations and limitations of our lives and transform them into a vehicle of holiness.  We can be a community for one another.  To this end, I am thinking of establishing a Facebook page or group for the disabled contemplative.  I will try to focus on inspiring saints, such as blessed Margaret of Castello, who was terribly disabled but still managed to become a third order Dominican renowned for her saintliness and devotion to other poor people.  I will post encouraging articles on the Facebook page, along with notices of the occasional posts I make to this blog.

I still plan to spend more time praying and meditating, so I will not be putting lots of time into perfecting the blog posts, as I used to do.  The posts will be shorter.  The pictures will be fewer.  I might miss a grammatical error or a misspelling.

If you are disabled and you wish to follow the contemplative life, or if you are already following that life and would like some encouragement and inspiration, please join us.  There are a lot of disabled folks and retired elderly folks, for that matter, who are naturally turning toward contemplation as their life has slowed.  We can help one another on our spiritual path.

God bless you all.

Silver Rose Parnell