that which is old and that which is new

I’m trying to think of an opening line.
This morning I woke up in a strange convent.
But that’s not right.  The convent isn’t strange or odd, it’s just a different convent than I’m used to.  Also, this post has no point or punchline.  It’s just rambling.

I’m with the sisters of the Community of Saint John the Baptist for their long retreat.  I woke in a gabled room with white walls and dark furniture and multi-paned windows with dramatic iron fasteners, and reddish tile floors – in sandals you can move noiselessly down the hall and up the stairs.  I got lost yesterday and ended up in the enclosure having taken the wrong staircase.

“Of course a convent isn’t quiet to those who live in them,” commented my old friend and new sister-in-charge, when I cooed appreciatively of the quiet this morning.  I’m happy I’m here.  As gold light threaded through the ancient fir trees before dawn outside my window I thought, I can’t believe that people don’t beat down convent doors wanting to come in.

“There’s obviously a real hunger,” my friend emphasised when I asked about the success of their guest house.  In turn, she’s interested in how our situation works for Bill and I and the other companions at the farm and for the Community of the Holy Spirit.

“People seem to want to live in community, but not necessarily…” she looked down at her habit and laughed, “as …well, NUNS.”  I think she is right.  But I think more people would actually like to try their vocations as religious – if they knew such a thing were possible.

Sister showed me “treasures” in the library last night: a medieval graduale, illuminated manuscripts by a sister painting back in the 1920’s.  Volumes and volumes of 19th century Oxford Movement memorabilia including Tracts for the Times and vicious cartoons satirizing Anglo-Catholic piety.  And today she showed me their elaborate golden monstrance. “We’ve only used it once in the twelve years I’ve been here and the priest that led us in Benediction that time has since gone over to Roman Catholicism.

“We have these treasures because we’ve been here so long,” said the sister. “We have gorgeous vestments!  And I almost dread now when people bequeath their libraries to us – we don’t have room for more books.”  I said I’d be happy to take some vestments off their hands.

Meanwhile I’m thinking of our city sisters as they prepare to move to their new convent – culling their 60-year-old library, clearing out three brownstone houses full of convent stuff as they trim down to the essentials they’ll bring to 150th Street and Convent Avenue in Harlem.  And I think of our monthly “clearing out” days at the farm, the sister’s unending quest to simplify simplify simplify, getting rid of the kind of debris that accumulates in old farmhouses.

But I’m happily enjoying these treasures and this extraordinary and complex building and the sisters themselves – hearing them sing and laugh and (hopefully) enjoy their retreat. 

Every scribe who is fit for the kingdom of heaven knows how to take out of his storehouse that which is old and that which is new.  I love that saying of Jesus.  I was thinking just before I left of the stuff I need to clear out of St. Aidan’s – mostly papers left over from parochial ministry I feel needs sorting before disposing but I dread doing. January presents itself as a cleaning out, white, clean, spare month – maybe because of putting away Christmas decorations and the contrast of emptiness in recently busy spaces.  Maybe because I like white flowers on my birthday.  Maybe because of the new year and the perennial wish for life to unfold in less complicated ways.

In prayer you constantly want to take from your storehouse that which is old and that which is new.  I love the old.  I love the new.  It’s creatively combining what comes before you every day that makes life intriguing.

2 Responses to “that which is old and that which is new”

  1. Blithe Spirit Says:

    ‘What we call the beginning is often the end
    And to make an end is to make a beginning.
    The end is where we start from.’ (TS Eliot)

  2. Su Murdock Says:

    I’m inspired to try to do some clearing out of my own, and to simplify. Thanks.

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