Sunday, October 7, 2012


I have been in kind of a larval state, going about slowly, not making any sudden moves, simply quietly but firmly shutting my eyes when things trigger, annoy, or upset me (which is not a good idea, however,  folks, if you're driving). I talked to my spiritual director this morning and reported that my major emotion upon my mother's death has been extreme irritability. As she said, "Well, death is a major reminder of our powerlessness"...

Anyway, so last week was a good week to be out in the desert with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration at Our Lady of Solitude Monastery. These gals are amazing. They live six-plus miles down a dirt road, up against the mountains in a hardscrabble town called Tonopah, and here they have somehow managed to build a sort of gigantic church. It's quite stunning, and a bit like a mirage, very beautifully appointed with stained glass, splendidly snowy altar cloths, and a remarkable collection of vestments that one of the sisters apparently sews...

The nuns number only four, and they are young or youngish, and at least some of them started out with Sr. Angelica in Alabama and then they made their way here. They wear the full-on habit, with wimple, veil, and many layers that I shuddered to imagine in the 110-plus-degree height-of-summer desert heat.

Liturgically, the first week of October is stellar: Therese of Lisieux, the Guardian Angels, and St. Francis of Assisi. The Poor Clares of course have a special devotion to St. Francis and one of the highlights of my time there was the service they held the night of the 3rd, called the Transitus, to "ritually remember the passing of Francis from this life to God." A priest comes in from "town" every day to celebrate Mass, and one came out  this evening as well for the Transitus. There were candles, there were the four high sweet voices of the nuns raised in song, there was a relic of St. Francis, borne aloft, incensed, kissed.

I had what is usually the (5-bedroom) retreat house for priests all to myself and in many ways my days there were very much like my days at home. Coffee, greet the dawn, sit in silence, pray the Office, Mass, a long walk (miles of desert in all directions), nibble, read, write, a bit of a nap perhaps, Evening Prayer, honor the setting of the sun, all interspersed with alternating 1) self-centered obsession about my work, health, finances, and schedule and 2) actual thoughts, prayers, anguish over, and reflections on how to better love Christ my friends, family, and the world.  I had no Internet which was basically okay except that I have finally realized I have a business and it is kind of like having a farm: if you stay away too long, the cows don't get milked, the goats don't get watered, and you're going to be looking at a giant mess when you get home...

Every night one of the sisters would knock at my door and present me with a home-cooked dinner. We didn't talk much (which I totally appreciated)--though at my request the delightful Sr. Mary Fidelis, my main contact, took an hour out of her no doubt precious time to have a lovely conversation with me Thursday--but they always let me know when Mass was, and that day's Holy Hour, and I felt utterly welcomed, cared for, and respected.

I thought about them a lot. I thought about how hard it is to remain unseen, invisible; to wonder if your work is bearing fruit.

I'm deeply grateful for my time there. I feel like I have four more lovers of Christ to carry and treasure in my heart. And before I left, Sister Fidelis thoughtfully copied out an excerpt from an essay by Edith Stein entitled "Principles of Women's Education" that will serve me well, back in "normal" life:

"Woman succeeds if the other requirements are filled: if the soul is empty of self and is self-contained. Indeed, when the inherent agitated self is completely gone, then there is room and quiet to make oneself perceptible to others. But no one can render himself so by nature alone, neither man nor woman. "O Lord God, take me away from myself and give me completely to you alone," the ancient German prayer says. We can do nothing ourselves; God must do it. To speak to Him thus is easier by nature for woman than for man because a natural desire lives in her to give herself completely to someone. When she has once realized that no one other than God is capable of receiving her completely for Himself and that it is sinful theft toward God to give oneself completely to one other than Him, then the surrender is no longer difficult and she becomes free of herself. Then it is also self- evident to her to enclose herself in her castle, whereas, before, she was given to the storms which penetrated her from without again and again; and previously she had also gone into the world in order to seek something abroad which might be able to still her hunger. Now she has all that she needs; she reaches out when she is sent, and opens up only to that which may find admission to her. She is mistress of this castle as the handmaid of her Lord, and she is ready as handmaid for all whom the Lord desires her to serve."


  1. I thought about them a lot. I thought about how hard it is to remain unseen, invisible; to wonder if your work is bearing fruit.
    Yes, as I read St Therese's Story of a Soul, I wondered if she this way cloistered, hidden. And yet know today the many,many souls she touched and continues to touch.

    Bless you, Heather, as you grieve your mother.

  2. Thanks, Peter and in, day out, to live a life of prayer that is essentially unseen...usu. the sisters are cloistered and they want/plan to be, completely, in the future (the church already has the grille to the side), but they have had to "come out" (which, for them, is probably the real cross!) as they build and establish this monastery...they were joyous and wonderful...

  3. And they have Westies, which are reputed to be the sweetest of the terriers.

    Glad you're back in L.A.

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  5. So grateful for this chronicle of your retreat and for your thoughts. "The inherent agitated self"...probably some amazing six-syllable word in the original German, so well-said. Can one ever stop fighting this self and simply bear it as one's lifelong cross? Peace and love, Heather, as you pass through the stages of grief.

  6. Beautiful words and photos Heather. I've been reading you for awhile now but was moved by your recent posts to comment today. Two weeks ago I made a silent Ignatian retreat in eastern South Dakota for four days and when I read your thoughts of your time spent on your recent retreat I am able to more easily enter into that time and place. I've been blogging about my experiences there, mostly for my own clarity and perhaps for others, too. I wish everyone could make a retreat. There is healing there.

    God bless you.

  7. Thank you for this, Heather. And particularly for the Edith Stein passage.

  8. Heather, I am grateful for your hospitality- For that's how it seems to me, as you kindly offer words of wisdom, love, grace and truth- in the same way your sisters brought you a meal in the desert. Today I am especially blessed by the words of Edith Stein, both affirming and liberating. thank you.


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