In a recent blog I spoke about finding my way to taking a vacation in a convent in Toronto. In this blog I want to write about a learning that came up as that unfolded.
What happened at the convent is part of the story, the rest happened earlier this spring. The earlier part happened when I was talking with someone I love alot and I don’t get to talk to in a personal way very often at all. My go to approach when I want to bond with someone is to ask them questions and try and listen well. As this conversation unfolded I became very curious about how a particular part of their life story unfolded. I asked questions. Unfortunately my questions were not received as they were meant, an invitation to share. I was given the feedback that my questions were received as implying that this person was not qualified to be where they are, and it felt to them like I was judging them. I was kind’ve shocked. I back pedalled, explained, and apologized for the impression given. We parted ways for a bit, a half hour where my own brain kicked in and said, “wait a minute, I am the one that should be offended, you think that I am sitting here, a person who loves you, and my whole agenda is judgment?!?!?!” It was tough. When we reunited a little later words of apology and a hug set things straight. For me, a big piece of this, besides sadness at how confusing things can get with human relationships, the big piece was me having that “wait a minute!” moment. The moment where I claimed back a little space for myself. Where I said, “hey, just cause someone is upset doesn’t mean I am the problem.”
Fast forward to Friday night and the tables were turned. It was me expecting judgment from someone, when I had no real reason to and I suddenly understood a bunch of the subtle layers of this earlier encounter better.
I arrived in Toronto before lunch on Friday. My cousin Doug picked me up at the airport and we joined my cousin Lori, my Uncle Ted and his love Susan at their condo. It was so nice to see my family again, it had been a long while.
Our visit was cut short by the reality that I needed to check in at the convent between 2-4 pm. I couldn’t really imagine that anything in Toronto could be more than an hour away on the subway but Doug knew full well. With his insight the visit with my family ended in time, hopefully, to get me to the convent door by 4pm. It was a rushed ending and I felt badly about that. As Doug was braving the Friday afternoon Toronto traffic getting me to the closest subway station he got a phone call. It was Lori, I had forgotten my laptop. With the traffic and the deadline we opted not to turn back. Something else would have to get figured out.
It did….Doug drove it all the way to the convent the next day. I took this picture because I told him I needed a record of my knight in shining armor. He downplayed it.
Back to Friday afternoon….with a little help I figured out the ticket situation and got myself and my luggage onto a subway train. Got off that one and successfully transfered to the next before an ominous announcement happened. There was a fire up the tracks somewhere and it meant the whole thing was coming to a halt and everyone had to evacuate. I made my way to the surface. As I remember it I kind’ve stumbled into the sunlight on Yonge street absolutely unclear as to what I should do next. I had already called the convent and gotten permission to arrive a bit late. How late could I push that? After discovering that due to increased demand an Uber would cost 72$ I opted for a bus. But a call to the convent to check in had the guest house coordinator checking TTC for me and telling me the good news that the line was up and running again. It felt like a miracle. I went back down below and with little extra drama arrived at the spot where I could transfer to a bus for the last leg of my journey and make my way to the convent. I was 50 minutes late. I got checked in and had a half hour before the next thing. Not evening prayer or supper with the sisters, but getting back on the bus to meet friends a little ways down Yonge St. I really really overscheduled this travel day but one of my friends was leaving town the next day, this was it if we were to see each other. At this point I was feeling really badly because I didn’t want the sisters to think that I was treating their convent like a hotel. But I was flitting in late and rushing out again to go to a bar. They didn’t know that but I did.
The time with my friends was superb. These women and I travelled many miles together in 1991 as our Up With People cast made its way to many places in North America and Europe. Our organization’s goal was to improve understanding between cultures. Kindv’e intense stuff and it meant our cast became close. On Friday night I got to see 2 of my closest friends from the cast. It was fantastic to see each other. It was not one of those quick 1.5 hour get to-gethers. It took the whole evening to get ourselves caught up.
So it was that at 10:45pm I was spilling out of an Uber in front of the convent and finding myself in a pickle. The outside door was locked. It was my first night at the convent, I thought I knew all I needed to know about security because I had the keycode. As I was to discover that code reader was behind a locked door. I was not without options. I sent a text to the number I had. Waited. No answer. I sat on the bench outside and pondered….”could I sleep the whole night on this bench?” After rising at 2:45am in Regina to catch my flight I was a bit tired and I almost thought I could actually sleep there. But would I be safe? There was a door bell. Should I ring it? I was going to disturb someone. For my safety I had to do it. I rang it. A couple minutes passed. Then two things happened at the same time. I got a text back. “Your passcode will get you in at the guest door entry” (as opposed to this main entry I was standing at) and two women came to the door I was standing at. One in a nursing uniform and the other in a housecoat. I can’t begin to describe how mortified I was by the thought that not only had I got this rather older nun from her bed but that I was putting them in this situation of having to come to a stranger at a door in the dark.
Can we break for a cut scene? A little diversion…… Last week when I was preparing to get away Russell and I were both fairly intrigued by the thought that I was coming to a convent. I handled my intrigue by pondering the books I should pack. Russell handled his with humor, singing to me a phrase from the musical The Sound of Music, “how do you solve a problem like Kaklika?” (One of my nicknames as a kid, it’s Hawaiian for Kathy, it is also the right number of syllables to match the original song “How do you solve a problem like Maria.”)
Darn that man, that is exactly what unfolded. Like a scene out of the Sound of Music Kathy/Maria stands flustered at the door, a doorbell gets rung, an elderly nun comes from a distance and encounters this woman who can’t contain her own heart or get her act together. That is exactly how I felt in that moment. It was probably 20 seconds or less of sorting out what was going on and then Sister Beryl, I guess sensing that everything was on the up and up, offered to show me to my room on the 2nd floor. I only let her walk me to the stairs, (she was using a cane), I could figure the rest out, but in those moments I was overcome with relief about the grace I was receiving.
As I pondered this grace I was very struck by my assumption that I deserved to be judged or assessed first, versus simply received. Where did that come from? Nuns have a mixed reputation, so maybe that. However, given the sister’s identity as followers of Jesus, which implies lives shaped by love and grace, with hospitality as part of their mission, my expectation that I would be judged for my lack of perfection, was really quite an insult to those nuns.
The next morning at breakfast, as I gathered with the sisters in the “refectory”, drinking some of the best coffee I had ever had, and eating a piece of toast from bread so good that God might have made it, I realized that I had done to Sister Beryl what I was so offended about being done to me earlier in the spring. I assumed that she came to me with assessment on the mind. Of course she did, from a safety point of view, but after I passed that test, I was pretty certain she might be pondering that I was inconsiderate and if not that, well, surely she would need to assess me in some way. As it was we mostly quietly walked together down the long hallway. Mostly quietly. There were the moments where I apologized, and then apologized again, feeling so inept. Here is what I noted in my journal about Sister Beryl the next morning, she had gentle eyes and it felt like an understanding, companion instinct. Her words were few but somehow they assured me it was not the end of the world. Thinking about this at breakfast, at chapel, in my journal and again now as I write I can’t help but have tears in my eyes. It just means so much. It means so much to bring all that we bring and be received with grace. To bring all that we bring….. for me, that day, it was layers and layers of needing favors arising from being inexperienced, naive, forgetful, and optimistic.
It go’s further. I think I treat God like this too. At least part of the time. Expecting that if God were to come to the door and see me there, ill prepared for the moment I would hear, “what the hell Kathy?!? Did you not read the manual and see about the guest door? Did you really need to push this day to the absolute limit and in the process ask many people to bend and flex for you? How many times are you going to need to be bailed out?”
But that’s not the God who said, “you who are without sin can throw the first stone.” In other words, no-one is perfect.
That’s not the God who told his followers to respond with generosity to hunger, loneliness, thirst and nakedness…in other words to see and actively care, no mention of assessment and judging.
If there was a competition regarding what is the most transformative force in the world I think grace maybe runs neck and neck with love. Then again, maybe I am splitting hairs, maybe love is grace and grace is love. I can’t quite tease it out but I know that I need grace and when I receive it it’s everything. It allows me to love myself. It makes it possible to extend understanding and love to others.
I think my late night encounter with Sister Beryl and the learnings in it for me will be something I revisit may times as life unfolds. To call forth another song title from Maria’s repertoire…..that memory will be one of “My Favorite Things.”