Come to my garden – I

Mid- September: restless geese, full deep green leaves, ripening concord grapes

1. Prologue: A Modest Love Story

I am come into my garden, my spouse, my sister:
I have gathered my myrrh with my spices.

Veni in hortum, Antiphon on Psalter
Celebrations of our Mother Earth

I live with my husband Bill on the grounds of a convent in Brewster, New York, near the Connecticut border. On a mostly wooded twenty-three acres, there’s a private school,a beautiful but un-heatable Federal style farm house built in 1743 (the convent),a tall, square chapel built to compliment the style of the house,a wing of rooms for guests behind the school the sisters call “The Long House,” a “fire circle” down in the meadow for drumming and outdoor gatherings,a duck shed and seven Muscovy ducks, and an acre of organic garden vegetables.

One thing Bill and I agreed about our life together: we wanted to live in monastic Christian Community. Through a series of mishaps, coincidences and failures, with a dash of prevenient grace, we live with the sisters of The Community of the Holy Spirit at their Melrose convent, where they founded a school in 1972 and now dedicate themselves to celebrating the Universe as the primary revelation of the Divine, and the Earth as a model for Eucharistic living: ecology, environmentalism, organic farming, learning and teaching on environmental issues. For an idea of their charism, look at their websites:

Bluestone Farm
The Community of the Holy Spirit
Or read Sarah MacFarland Taylor’s Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology

Bill and I met in 1989 at Holy Cross Monastery (a house of the Order of Holy Cross, an Episcopal Benedictine community of men). I worked there as the guesthouse secretary while I was reeling from a divorce. Bill, also newly divorced, lived and worked at a nature sanctuary nearby. With small children, I stored the idea of trying a monastic life myself in the back of a closet shelf in my head as if for use later, like the Christmas ornaments. With a son in high school, Bill’s own sense of vocation and the opportunity to try it, was imminent. I found Bill’s desire for community life utterly charming and attractive. I suppose he found me attractive, too. We dated for two years and then Bill did in fact enter a religious community (not Holy Cross). Four years after that, rather impulsively, we got married in my dining room, the local justice of the peace presiding.

Friendship with the monks kept us worshipping at Holy Cross Monastery. We lived near Holy Cross, attending mass and vespers and social functions, our daily life nurtured by the proximity to monastic values and balance, thought and rhythm, and humor, of course. I wrote a book about the influence of monastic life on my daily routine. See Praying the Hours (Cowley Publications).

I’d also known the sisters of the Community of the Holy Spirit (CHS) since the late 1980’s and in that time drew very close to these women. For a period of time I commuted once a week to the city to help with a novice class in their convent in New York City. My long time spiritual director is one of the founding sisters. When CHS embraced the charism of “Earth Ministry” and organic gardening at their Melrose convent in Brewster, Bill volunteered for handy-man projects, heavy work and problem solving. After moving to Ithaca in 2003, we’d rush to the convent as soon as possible on holidays and days off and vacations. Bill came often on his own to help at maple sugaring time, for plowing, rock removal, fence building, and other projects.

When we talked about our future during the dozen years of our marriage, that one constant grounded the discussion: our mutual desire to live alongside religious community, helping, praying, singing, worshipping. At mid-summer 2007 events conspired to make our dream possible. At the beginning of September we came to Melrose and Bluestone Farm.

Sometimes, during the middle of the Psalter, I notice Bill’s gentle voice next to mine, his breathing between phrases, and I thrill to this new dimension of our modest love story.

 

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