Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The fashion obsession: learning from Benedictine sisters

My husband likes to shop for new clothing; it's just true. It isn't uncommon for me to see him emerge from the bedroom, dressed for the day, in something completely new, something I've not yet seen. Then with a, "When'd you get that?" he grins softly and proceeds to tell me when, where, and what a good sale it was. Or he'll tell me he's been looking for a shirt just like this one for so long... and I give him a hard time.

But as much grief as I give him, I, too, would love to buy new clothes all the time. I find myself lusting over the latest styles (especially this new hipster-phase we're currently in) and wanting to look put-together, good, fashionable.

Fashion changes frequently for a reason - because people buy into it, because we like to please each other. We'll take the newest fashions because we like them... or because the world tells us to like them. I'm not sure which is true.

Today, however, I'm learning something from the perspective of the many different Benedictine sisters (that's right, they're not all alike!) around the world. Apparently, there was a point in the past few decades when the sisters were "freed" from having to wear the cumbersome, long, black habit (think, tent-like dress), and you can imagine that many abandoned it with gladness. (*For more on this, read the chapter entitled "Women and the habit: a not-so-glorious dilemma" in Kathleen Norris', The Cloister Walk)

Yet, despite this freedom, this chapter highlights glimpses of the more pure reasons for the habit, at least some form of the habit, and the many good things it stands for, the things it helps the sisters reject. See this:

"...some sisters feel that to express themselves as women, they need to wear bright colors, make-up, and jewelry, but I have a hard time with this. Even if we're not spending much money, the fact that our nice clothes are hand-me-downs from the second-hand store isn't obvious to others. I wonder if we've bought too much into what society holds up to us as beautiful and acceptable in a women." (p.325)

Or consider this symbol of the habit, and beyond that, how it practically leads a sister (and this applies to monks, as well) in the choices she makes about fashion:

"I am most interested in monastic dress as a form of renunciation, a sign that one is not preoccupied with fashion and possessions." (p.327, emphasis mine)

And finally, something I'm keeping before me all day, these words from the perspective of the author, who isn't a lifelong sister, but has spent much time in short-term residences with the Benedictines:

"'Thank God for the things I do not own,' said Teresa of Avila.
I could suddently grasp that not ever having to think about what to wear was freedom, that a drastic stripping down to essentials in one's dress might also be a drastic enrichment of one's ability to focus on more important things." (p.328, emphasis mine)

Thank God for the voice of the Benedictines.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Paradox of the Psalms: an excerpt

An excerpt from Kathleen Norris', The Cloister Walk, the chapter entitled 'The Paradox of the Psalms:

"I learned that when you go to church several times a day, every day,
there is no way you can 'do it right.' You are not always going to sit up straight,
let alone think holy thoughts. You're not going to wear your best clothes, but whatever
isn't in the dirty clothes basket. You come to the Bible's great 'book of praises' through
all the moods and conditions of life, and while you may feel like hell, you sing anyway.
To your surprise, you find that the psalms do not deny your true feelings
but allow you to reflect on them, right in front of God and everyone." (emphasis mine)

Monday, November 1, 2010

clothespin liturgy

It takes three clothespins to hang up a bath towel; two for hand towels; one for a cloth napkin.

And of those six clothespins, there are many stories. One may have water spots (or mildew) on it from being left on the line in the rain. Another looks almost new, perhaps being left in the bottom of the bag most times, hardly even given the chance to see sunlight. All of them, though, were used for many years, clipped onto bedsheets, towels, and my grandpa's socks.

My Nana's hands used these clothespins for as long as I can remember, where sometimes my brother's or my hands helped pin the bedsheets onto the line. We all knew there was nothing like the fresh scent of sun-dried bedsheets. We'd sometimes send these same pins flying off the clothesline as we ran through the sheets, occasionally bringing them down on top of us.

On this day, as I take the towels and sheets down from the clothesline, I think, "Gosh, maybe I should supplement these clothespins with some new ones, some fresh ones." And they would get the job done.

But then I think of all the stories I'd miss out on remembering each time I walk outside with a hamper full of wet sheets. I think of how long it takes to carefully hang things up to dry, which in turn offers much time to feel the wind, to see the cat creeping after a critter in the back yard.

And it makes me think that it's a little like liturgy. We come up with new things - songs, responsive readings, and the like - and they "get the job done". But when I turn to page 12 in the United Methodist Hymnal; pray the Lord's prayer; recite the Apostles' Creed with a room full of people I may or may not know personally; I think of those who have gone before.

I remember the disciples asking Jesus, "teach us how to pray". And I pray with them.

When doubt is creeping in, I say the Apostles' Creed and remember the millions who believe this with (and for) me. And I say it with them.

Today, I "recited" the clothespin liturgy, remembering those who have gone before in my family, roads walked, stories told, children running through the fresh sheets as they blew in the wind. I need these stories just as I need the clothespins to keep my garments on the line.

This is my clothespin liturgy.