At 7 a.m. we gather one last time to pray in our circle around the candle, the vase of fresh flowers, the painting of Mary and the baby Jesus. Retreat leader Mary Anne Best anoints our hands and foreheads with frankincense and myrrh. Remember, she says, “Whether you live or die, you are in the presence of God.” Then she “sends us forth.”
Of course, when I arrived here a week ago, I couldn’t wait to be “sent forth.” Now, “sending me forth” sounds like a terrible idea. I don’t want to go. I’m not ready yet. The women here, unlike most of my friends and family, are drawn to the unknown, yearning, like me, for those “glimpses of God.” They are searching, as Hebrews puts it in the Old Testament, for “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”
A book by Buddhist Jack Kornfield, “After the Ecstasy, The Laundry,” aptly captures our dilemma. Sixteen hours of meditating. Twelve hours of Death and Dying, Life and Living. And now it’s back to kids, spouses, jobs, bills — and laundry. It’s hard to take the ecstasy home. It’s harder still to explain it all.
In the parking lot, standing beside her small rollaway suitcase, Sister Jeannine is waiting for her ride to the ferry, back to Long Island, where she still cooks and cleans for priests, living a life of obedience, chastity, and poverty that I cannot even begin to understand. She smiles at me. I kiss her goodbye. She totally thrills me when she says she sees joy in me. I see in this 88-year-old nun what a lifetime of seeking and receiving has created. She is, simply, radiant.
End of series.