What time is it?

CHS Sisters, "Green" Convent Groundbreaking

CHS Sisters, "Green" Convent Groundbreaking

Two events drew us from the farm this past week.  The groundbreaking ceremony for the new (“green”) convent up on 150th and Convent Avenue in Manhattan took place on June 3 and we piled into the car to play music for the event and to be with “the city sisters” .  The plans of the convent are lovely, and so is the neighborhood in Harlem.  Sister Faith Margaret noted in her comments that Mother Ruth, the founder of the Community of the Holy Spirit, came from Harlem, and the sisters feel a sense of  “homecoming.”   We felt welcomed by the parishioners and priest of the Church of the Crucifixion which is next door, and from various neighbors who dropped in and watched the ceremony.  It is also a thrill to talk to the archetects, who share their delight and pride in this project.  All but one of the oldest sisters were able to come, and hearing Sister Mary Christebel’s still deep dramatic voice while she read the lesson about Jacob discovering the sacredness of the place where he dreamed of the ladder to heaven, and watching Sister Elise, the last of the “founding sisters” take a shovelful of earth from the empty lot, as she had with the founding and building of both schools  of the order, imparted a sense of history, continuity, sacredness to me. 

Thomas BerrySunday, six of us (four sisters, a guest, myself) drove up to Vermont to play and sing for the Burial Mass of Thomas Berry.  I never met him, but I was unspeakably moved by the love, devotion, sense of purpose, and depth of the people attending the mass.  I felt I was among “rock stars” of the ecology movement: people whose books I read currently in my work of trying to catch up with the groundwork for what Thomas Berry termed, The Great Work, to which our sisters dedicate their lives.

Sister Gail tied Thomas’s childhood epiphany ( “geophany,” she said) an experience in a meadow full of lilies which began his life work, to the meadow at Green Mountain Monastery where he was buried.  A bowl of red earth from Thomas’s home in Greensboro North Carolina was mingled with the black earth of the Vermont meadow at his grave. 

Berry wrote of the moment when he was 11 years old: “The field was covered with white lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment, this experience gave to my life something that seems to explain my thinking at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember. … This early experience has remained with me ever since as the basic determinant of my sense of reality and values. Whatever fosters this meadow is good. What does harm to this meadow is not good.  … a good economic, or political, or educational system is one that would preserve that meadow and a good religion would reveal the deeper experience of that meadow and how it came into being. .. It was a wonder world that I have carried in my unconscious and that has evolved all my thinking.”

I think of Thomas Berry as a kind of grandfather to the sister’s mission.  And if he is grandfather, Sister Miriam McGillis is mother; inspiration, faithful nurturer to the vision of Bluestone Farm where we toil and learn and grow and worship and fumble and pick ourselves up again every day.  To see Sister Miriam, and all those profoundly generous men and women, immersed in mingled emotions of gratitude with grief, opened some kind of door or threshold in me this weekend.  I have no idea what portal this is, or what I might carry with me through it, if I choose to enter. 

But I hear in my mind Thomas Berry’s persistant, provacative question, “What time is it?”

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