Friday, May 9, 2014


Look at these crazy Ukranian Easter eggs.

Pysanky is the name of the art and at Madonna House, where I've been getting the grand tour the last few days, they do this sort of thing in their sleep. That would be in between making cheese, painting icons, shearing sheep, growing 52 varieties of apples, dipping candles, throwing pots, stirring compost, planting blueberry bushes, refurbishing old motors, religious statuary, cars, toys, and clothing, publishing books, putting up jam, sorting clothes, cutting down trees, chopping wood, brewing beer, wine, and maple sherry, keeping bees, baking bread, dyeing, carding and spinning wool, sewing clothes, framing pictures, painting oils, hanging out laundry, running a gift shop, a bookstore, and a kind of giant flea market, forming applicants, and welcoming the stranger. And I haven't even been to "the farm" yet.

Catherine Doherty preached the simple life so I hope it's okay I don't know how to do any of the above except hang laundry, bake bread, and occasionally welcome the stranger. I'm also a good gawker at other people's handiwork and have been bowled over at the incredible knack the folks here have for resurrecting old things; making do; and ingeniously devising among other things, outdoor toilets, braces for Mary statues, patches for pants, brick bread ovens, individualized clothing labels, felt creches, and re-purposed birdhouses.


For that is just a tiny fraction of the activities that go on here. All the grounds and all the buildings, some of them huge, are neat as a pin. In the auditorium I rounded a corner and came upon shelves of boxes, neatly labelled, e.g.: "Spats,Chaps and Gaiters"; "Pith Helmets, Berets, and Cloches"; "Religious Vestments"; "Fichus, Dickies and Cravats"; "Clogs, Ghillies, and Brogans." (I'm improvising a bit from memory but that's the general gist).

"What's all THAT for!" I asked. "Oh we put on plays from time to time. For example, there's the 'Ash Bash' that kicks off Lent"...

They grow or raise their own food (in a climate with brutal winters). Everything else is donated. People come from all over to drop off things; people send things; people donate money. Which the community then sorts, cleans, fixes up and gives away; or sells and gives the money away. Members of the community take promises of chastity, poverty and obedience; hold property in common; have no money or personal cell phones; and adhere to a pretty darn tight schedule of prayer and work. Many of the folks have been here for decades so someone is doing something right. They couldn't have welcomed me more warmly and learrning bits and pieces about how they live, attending 5:15 Mass, and eating supper together has been a blast.

But back to the pysanky. I can't even PEEL a hard-boiled egg without making a mess, never mind etch a complete work of art on one that entails many steps of wax, dye, and I don't know what else. There are BOWLS of these things, wherever you look, any one of which (one egg, that is; not one bowl) belongs in a museum and would take me at least 68 years to make. They're special, for the Easter season, and go back to their resting places after Pentecost.

And they are a beautiful emblem of the prayer and heart and patience and love that make this marvel of a place run.



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