Monday, January 11, 2010


I sat by the fireplace this weekend, sipping hot tea out of an earthenware mug. I stared at the roaring fire, and then looked at the mug. Can a mug make you feel happy and secure? This one was brown with a shiny glaze, and with a slightly curvy shape, wider on the bottom to fit more coffee, tea, or whatever. I was reminded of the mugs that used to be standard in all night-diners—the diner-car diners, not the pseudo-diners with their flashy entrances and too-bright d├ęcor (usually some variety of hot pink or turquoise). The diner cars always feel more authentic, more home-like. The regulars seem to know each other, the food is comforting, and the coffee is good.

I open my purse to look for something, and come across a gas station receipt that says “Jutland Shell”. I recall where the station is—is that Jutland? Why is there a Jutland in Northern New Jersey? It sounds like it should be in Western Pennsylvania, or maybe on the Canadian coast. I see it on the exit signs on Route 78, but it doesn’t seem like a real place. I’m still not convinced it is a real place.

The roaring fire is starting to dwindle, and the Sisters come along to re-stoke it. I am sitting in a retreat house in the Watchung area. No one speaks, as it is a weekend of silence, save for spiritual direction appointments. Every now and again I sign on for one of these weekends, as I will never be silent if left to my own devices. This particular place, Mount St. Mary’s House of Prayer, is my favorite place to go as the Sisters are hospitable and have an infectious kindness, the house is comfortable, and the spiritual direction is excellent. Usually when one comes for spiritual direction, they are working on some specific thing. While no one is there to solve anything for you (how is that possible?), they usually offer very good advice, or at least very good things to think about.

This weekend I am full of questions about boundaries. What is the difference between unconsciousness and ignorance? What is the difference between control and discipline? How do you open yourself up to others in friendliness without sending the wrong messages, especially to the opposite sex? Can a woman live alone and go out alone without that state of aloneness being treated like something that needs to be fixed? How does a perfectionist forgive themselves?

Sister Eileen and I share many words on these subjects, and she is a patient listener, good at helping connect the dots on the picture. I have found a book in the library there, a Jungian interpretation of Jesus’s sayings, a fortuitous synchronicity, given my love of all things Jung. What I take away from the book is that “sin” has less to do with disobedience or “sins of the flesh” than it does with unconsciousness. Errant behavior occurs when we lack awareness. Which leads to my question about unconsciousness versus ignorance. How can someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing be held responsible? But it goes beyond “right and wrong” to the idea of suffering. You can only learn to love through suffering and making mistakes. I thought Luke 7 was quite striking—“He who is forgiven little loves little.”

Home again. After an initial outburst of frustration, I find that I am feeling more centered. Simple tasks are the most enjoyable—putting away laundry, washing floors, doing the weekly grocery shop. There is something deeply meaningful about all those activities, though I couldn’t express to you what it is. But it has something to do with awareness. I just wonder how long it will be before I lapse into unawareness yet again. Awareness is a gift.

Morning. I take a deep breath and prepare to go into the business of my job as I fight a sinus headache—reports, questions, budgets, digital files. Then I let go of the idea of being prepared. I drive to work as a sliver of the moon still hangs in the sky, with the deep blue that just precedes sunrise.

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