What a joy it is to announce the availability of my newest novel, THE FARNEAR JOURNALS. You now can buy it from Amazon.com either as an ebook or paperback.
Not long ago I blogged about the book itself New Novel on the Way. You can check it out there.
And here is the first chapter to whet your appetite:
Is not the whole point of life to live it fully?
To stretch myself from one end of it to the other,
Pulled taut by the tension of love
Tantalized by life’s beauty
Being both star and seed, planted
In ether and in earth?
Sophie Marie Loire
Journal Volume I
MOTHER MADALAINA CAPPED her fountain pen. The last of the three letters would need to wait. She picked up her Book of Hours, turned off her desk lamp then stood a moment, gazing out at the moon. Her sandals flapped against the stones of the empty hallway as she made her way through the cloister towards the chapel. She opened the carved wooden doors and closed them quietly behind her. The six elder nuns, all but ancient Sister Hilda, knelt awaiting their prioress, like so many pillars set against the coming night.
The letters would go out with the morning mail. “Please come.” She had signed them "Laina," the intimate name all of them had called her once. She hoped the intimacy didn't make her sound desperate or as though she were pleading. “And bring your journals—if you still keep journals. Remember how Sister Joseph Marie insisted that we do that?” To be truthful, she was pleading, but she didn’t want the three x-nuns to realize, until the four were standing face to face, how much she needed them. Teresa Moore, “Tess.” Janet Nash. Clara Fox. Hopefully all three of her former sisters would come. True, their lives had taken different turns since they'd left the convent during the massive exodus of the late Sixties and early Seventies, but surely some remnant of their bond remained. The mutual love, they must still feel it, or at the very least, remember it.
In August Lake Superior can be complex as a woman of many moods. If human bonds couldn’t draw these former nuns to return to this place, perhaps their bonds with nature could. Surely they hadn’t forgotten how the four of them used to stand on the granite rock that jutted into the lake, and cry into the wind. If Sister Joseph Marie had seen them! It made Laina chuckle, just remembering. But she hadn’t. The novice mistress never caught them at it. They joined hands and leaned against the wind, the powerful surf absorbing their voices as though they cried into the open mouth of God. The cry was wordless. A scream, really, a dissonance of tones that couldn’t blend, and yet that cry thrilled her with its raucous insistence, never to be duplicated.
August fifteenth would mark the thirtieth anniversary of their acceptance as aspirants into the cloister. Laina had invited them to return for nine days, a reunion, a vacation in this spectacular place. They each would be aware of the date’s significance. They would arrive for Vespers on August 6th, the Transfiguration of the Lord, and stay through August 15th, the Assumption of Our Lady. But just in case the religious significance were not sufficient, she had attempted to tantalize them with promises of renewed friendship, of shared memories, of present day revelations, of solitary walks along the beach below the convent and on the rocks above. Each could have her private room. Laina could waive the cloister rules for these women who once had lived here anyway. Many rooms in the cloister were empty. Only seven other nuns remained at Our Lady Star of the Sea, and all but Laina had grown old. Thirty additional years separated her from the youngest of the others. All those in-between had returned to the world.
After the prayers of Compline, the other nuns retired to their modest rooms. They removed their simple habits, post-Vatican-II habits, inelegant smoke-blue dresses reaching mid-calf, with white polyester detachable collars, and lighter blue veils without flow, like the veils of army nurses during World War I. Most still wore long seersucker nightgowns and all slept on the hard, narrow beds that had been in their rooms, or cells, since the convent was founded at the turn of the century by the American mystic, Sophie Marie Loire. Hopefully, soon to be Blessed Sophie Marie Loire, as the sisters had presented her case for beatification and eventual canonization by the Holy Father in Rome. The old nuns prayed each night for miracles in her name. All of them had known her personally, and each of them testified daily to their founder’s sanctity.
“And you are her successor!” they fondly reminded Laina during recreation several times a week. “We are depending on you, Mother, to make her known. Once she’s beatified, girls will begin to join us again.”
That would take a miracle of the first degree, and Laina knew it. Few Catholics receive the call to contemplative monasteries in any era, and right now Rome was drifting, attempting to regain a foothold in doctrine. The rock of Peter, green with mysticism such as Sophie Marie's, might feel slippery under the new pope's feet.
Laina didn’t retire to her cell but returned to her office. The moon rode high over the lake, its reflection giving the darkness an eerie iridescent quality. Light without color. Moon shadows, like in the Cat Stevens song. She smiled. The world wouldn’t think she could know about Cat Stevens, cloistered nun as she was and had been all these thirty years. She took off her veil, shook her hair loose and lifted her habit off over her head. From the bottom drawer of her desk, she took the caftan that Stephen had brought from India. It was the green-gold of her hair, and she had wondered, when she lifted it from its wrappings, at the coincidence. He was Father Stephen Harris, the convent chaplain, devotee of Sri Aurobindo of Pondicherry, and former pastor of St. Rose of
in Lima . He’d
spent the summer of 1983 traveling from ashram to ashram, gleaning what he
could of the teachings of Aurobindo and Sweet Mother from those who had
actually known them and once sat at their feet. Duluth
Laina let the caftan float down over her head and stood in the window feeling, herself, like a reflection of the moon.
The phone rang. She reached for it quickly, before it could ring again.
“Convent of Our Lady, Star of the Sea. Mother Madalaina speaking.”
“Laina, it’s Philip.”
“Bishop! How good to hear your voice.”
“Do you have time to see me this evening?”
“Is something wrong?”
“I'd like to get your perspective on something that's come up. I'll explain when I arrive. Can you make time?”
A warm breeze entered through the open window of her office and stirred the silk.
“You know I can, Philip.”
“Good, I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”
“It would be best not to disturb the other sisters. Meet me on the promontory above the convent. I’ll wait on the bench there, overlooking the lake.”
“Good plan. I’ll see you there.”
Laina set the receiver back on its cradle. Philip. She hadn’t seen him in several weeks. Such a difficult time for him, caught as he was between the Vatican and his instincts concerning the often raw needs of his brother-priests. They also were caught between their consciences and the rigid laws they were sworn to uphold despite the moral agony of so many of their parishioners. Nor were they exempt from sin themselves. Many of them lived ahead of church renewal, fumbling, with little real guidance from Rome, to embody the theological visions of the Second Vatican Council. How much of the renewal was simply doomed to disappear—a mutant experiment in the church's evolution?
When Philip came to her for advice, or Stephen looked at her with his deep questioning eyes, she wondered about her own destiny. Called to monastic solitude, could she also be destined to love these men? When she was with them she absorbed their anger, their competition, their lust to fulfill their dreams, their despair and the violence of spirit it spawned in them, tearing at their minds and hearts. She held their hands. She allowed them access through eyes that she never turned away. She let them rest their weariness against her. Sometimes they wept.
Stephen came to her each week just to sit with her in stillness, gazing into her eyes as though they were water and he swam through them, through her, and into God. The Divine Gaze was a practice he'd learned in India from his guru. He left her presence trembling. “You give me hope,” he would whisper, kneeling for her blessing. “Without you I would be lost.” And his words tore at her heart. “I’m not the one you're seeking,” she would tell him over and over, and he would agree but also insist that her ability to sit in silence across from him, purely accepting him--all of this could be found nowhere else in the church, in no one else, and without her he would be bereft of life itself. Bereft of the Holy Spirit of God. She would bless him in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier, and he would gasp as the blessing shot straight to his heart.
The bishop, in contrast, sat beside her, talking, not looking at her, both of them gazing out towards the lake. Often they met at the promontory. He admitted his failings, though she had no power to absolve him. “You make it possible for me to speak the truth, to say to God the words that must be said."
No one is perfect, she thought as he confessed in her presence to his God.
She changed back into her habit. It wouldn’t do to meet the bishop in a silk caftan. She slipped her bare feet into her sandals and lifted her profession cross from the desk where she had laid it moments before, letting it fall over her head where it rested, simple and wooden, above her breasts. Then she left the convent by way of a back door through the sun porch. She walked slowly up the path to the promontory. She went all the way to the end, to stand on the white tip the novices once named "Aphrodite’s Arm." From there it seemed that she stood upon the moon’s path and she began to wonder, watching the moon’s slow progression, where that path might lead. Her lightweight veil drifted on the currents of night. She prayed in her silent way, imagining herself as love itself, flowing in moonlight through the world of suffering humanity. She went out of herself as water to the thirsty, as food to the hungry, as comfort to the sorrowing, as mercy to the afflicted. “As You will,” she whispered to whatever God might be.