Skyline, Winter - 2004

By Diane Pendola

In Memory

(Dedicated to Sr. Jean Macy, May 12, 1917 - December 5, 2004,
and the Sisters of the Carmel of Reno)

December 8, 2004

Printer Friendly Version

Dark Night. I have nothing to say this season. I've run out of words. The words I do have ring falsely. This shell I put up to my ear, where I imagine the sea singing, is only the sound of my own wish for meaning. Religion lies amputated and bleeding in Baghdad streets. Yes, the magic is gone, when magic means denial of the evidence of our senses for the sake of a kingdom yet to come: denial that the polar ice caps are melting; denial that the planet is warming; paid scientists slipping like oil through the hands and coffers of Exxon-Mobile.

Dark Night, indeed: 2000 plus years of Christianity and there are Christians who await the second coming as the destruction of the planet, the White House and Congress complicit players in the end-game gamble.

Dark Night. 40 million people staring into AIDS. Death staring back. Orphaned children staring back. Starvation and destabilization and revolution staring back. Yes, terrorism staring back. Or stare at genocide in Sudan. Stare into dying rooms for abandoned girl babies in China. Stare into the eyes of women and children sold as sex-slaves in nearly every country. See their eyes stare back.

Dark Night. Darkness is at the door. Right outside the door the bomb has already dropped. The ravages of war, poverty, starvation, tyranny and greed have eaten up the land and the people. Now it is at our door: darkness, like black liquid, seeping beneath the threshold, around the cracks, through the keyhole. America thought it could keep it out. But it is not knocking, not asking. It is already in our homes and in our hearts. And no amount of magic or old time religion can chase it back.

December 9, 2004

Teresa and I drove to Reno for Sr. Jean's funeral Mass. I went with the heaviness of dark night in my soul. The magic of Christmas had evaporated out from the cauldron of a world boiling with religious fundamentalisms of every ilk, each with its own eye towards apocalypse. Who could believe anything anymore? Driving across Donner Pass, the peaks were newly white and the snowy slopes embroidered by the sweep of wind. But the fog was banked so heavy against my spirit I barely saw the cleanly washed world, the startle of crystal sky brushed with the lingering cloud of the now-passed storm.

The Mass would be at 10:30. We arrived at the monastery at 9:00. Sr. Jean was lying in state in the foyer at the entrance to the chapel upstairs, but we came through the back door, downstairs, into the kitchen. We were warmly welcomed, first by Sr. Ann, and so through the morning by all we met, welcomed and embraced. Eventually we made our way upstairs to find ourselves gazing on Sr. Jean's cold body, so clearly a shell, so starkly the animating spirit gone. My own heart gave no stir or leap, the freeze in my own emotions only beginning to thaw in a climate where death was not the prevailing atmosphere. Looking through the window, past Jean's casket, the Nevada sky was a brilliant blue. Clouds were sculpted into saucer shapes that lingered across the panoramic landscape to dissolve gently, imperceptibly into pure and open space.

Music moved me from the casket to the chapel. It was a relief to move away from that marble flesh to the reverberation of sound on invisible air. Harp and cello, keyboard and woodwind: sit; breathe; close your eyes; feel what you feel. Before the beginning of Mass the sisters gathered in the foyer, sang the Salve Regina (a hymn to the Mother) and closed the casket. Then they escorted the body to the center of our gathered circle and the Service began. As Sr. Mary stood to read from the prophet Isaiah: Let the wilderness and the dry lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom, I knew that her crippled knees and bent back were the result of decades labor of love yielded up to the beauty of her monastery grounds. Strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees, and as she read, the warmth I felt was not the warmth from the desert sky coming through the chapel windows. And as the oldest in the community, Sr. Rose, stood to read from the letter to the Ephesians: live through Love... she was the dearest embodiment of the words she spoke. It was not any light from outside that made me feel that dawn was unveiling herself from my shrouded heart. And as Sr. Celeste lingered at the foot of the casket, it was not her confusion or the loss of her great creative fire, now flickering low through her dementia, that drew my tears, but the tenderness with which her hand was taken, in which she was guided back to her seat and enfolded.

People might look for miracles from the death of a Carmelite woman, some might think holy. But those who lived with her for a lifetime knew her humanness, just as she knew theirs. The now middle-aged priest, eulogizing her, remembers standing at the monastery door, 18 years old with no living mother, and having Jean open the door to him, open her heart to him, open a lifetime of love's possibility. As he speaks of her sweetness, her kindness, it is the recognition that I see reflected on all her sister's faces that moves me beyond my mind's dark brooding. Theist, atheist, non-theist, whatever you believe, wherever your mind lands for meaning, there is something greater than that here.

Some might look for miracles from the passing of this woman whose whole life was lived in relative obscurity. Some might look for a voice or a vision, a favor, an intervention.

But for me this was the miracle of her resurrection:

Love so tangible
my clamoring tongue fell silent
Night lost its hold
and the Light shone.


To learn more about the influence of Christian conservatives on our government I recommend this article by journalist, Bill Moyers at:

Love knows no seasons,
no races, no nations, no colors.
Love knows no ages, no times, no societies, no states.
Love knows no occupations, no economic levels, no parties,
no opinions, no favorites, no enemies.
Love knows no boundaries, no limits, no cultures,
no persuasions, no priorities, no places,
no prejudice, no conditions, no end;
Christmas is Love, is forever, is here and now.

-Carmelite Monastery of Reno-

©Diane Pendola, December 2004. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

If you believe you receive a benefit from this, and the work we do, a donation would be gratefully accepted. You can make a tax deductible donation by sending a check to Skyline Harvest, Inc, PO Box 338, Camptonville, CA 95922 Thank you!

Back to Top