Thursday, August 16, 2012


Though for some time now even the tiniest flicker of desire to be a nun has entirely vanished, and it no longer gives me The Sigh (some of you ladies will know whereof I speak) I still like to nungaze on occasion. (I would like to say for the record that I invented the term nungazing, which I have noted has gone around the Cathosphere for a while now thanks to Kat's having adopted it from my old nun-posts...without ever the least nod of attribution I might add.)

I don't really understand what happened to my nun desires. I remember them quite clearly, and know that I first decided I wanted to be a nun, contemplative if you please, by the time I was eight. I pursued it semi-seriously in my 20s and more seriously in my 30s and then one day, it just stopped. Like someone shut off an invisible switch.

They took a blow, along with nearly every aspect of my religious inclinations, when John Muggeridge died. I spent about three months not caring about anything after that. More or less just lying face down on the floor not eating and focusing on breathing as shallowly as possible. I got up later and started living again (since there didn't seem to be any alternative) but since then - and I realised with a start the other day that it has been seven years! - I have struggled to find any joy or enthusiasm or even interest in religion. Having had a good deal of time to think about things recently, it's clear that the succession of events, a lot of which I've not written about publicly, has really knocked the stuffing out of my "faith life". (Good grief! how I loathe frivolous God-talk!)

Oddly enough, living in Italy has significantly reduced my day to day involvement with the Faith. One would think that proximity to the Pope and all those incorrupt saints lying around in their baroque Snow White coffins would be sort of inspirational. But things have happened, let's just say.

Cancer treatment left me largely housebound and these days the trip into the City is hugely troublesome. A day in town must be paid for with two days in bed, and the rest of the week exhausted and draggy. I had a burst of energetic going-into-the-City in the spring when drawing classes started again in April and a kind donor gave me a huge whack of money to pay for nearly full time lessons for the spring session. But it was clearly way more than I was ready for because by the end of May I was so exhausted I could hardly move or think straight. I guess there's only so much I can force my poor old battered body to do.

Yesterday was a holy day of O. in Italy, as well as a national holiday and the start of Ferragosto, and it was impressive how many of the Italians observed the obligation. But my immobility combined with the insufferable, suffocating hot weather made going into town out of the question, as it has for several months, and the only thing going in S. Mar. of course, is the NO. There's a little chapel around the corner where they have Sunday and Festa Masses that only rarely employ bongos. Yesterday, and I assume througout the summer, they take the Mass outdoors instead of making us sit in the tiny chapel, putting plastic lawn chairs out on the bocce green next door. It wasn't unpleasant, (except for the rasping, off-key, caterwauling female "cantor" whose enthusiasm for singing directly into the microphone did nothing to encourage more than a little thin warbling from the congregation).

But I'll be perfectly honest: it was the first time I've been to Mass in several weeks and it did exactly nothing for me, except to make me more cranky and out of sorts. For the last year, I have been more or less dispensed from the Sunday Mass obligation and it has done nothing to encourage or bolster my flagging enthusiasm. I dutifully played the part at Gardone, but peer pressure is a poor substitute for genuine devotion, and it's only too easy to look pious.

But I've not given up. I don't really know why a thing that has been so integral, so much at the core of my identity, has suddenly fled but recently I've learned to roll with the punches and be patient. Things develop and often take time. Healing takes time, no matter how imperiously one commands one's brain and body to obey. It seems that I am the only person (apart from Christopher) over whom my bossy mind-powers have no effect.

I think I'm thinking about it more because someone I know has decided to go all the way and join the Carmelites, and it has opened the door to some rather dusty old mental and emotional closets. I think I have an idea what is going to happen to her inside. The World and its doings are going to become increasingly distant and irrelevant. I've experienced this just on the few short visits to monasteries. I recall that it was a bit of a job getting the old brain back into the business of caring about politics and All That after coming out. The world inside a monastery is a different sort of place. I suspect that it is more like the way God sees the world.

I find myself equal parts annoyed with K's decision and more lonely at the thought of it. (Yes, yes, I realise that I am supposed to be happy for her, but it's like using phrases like "faith life" and signing emails with "in Christ"...fine if you can fake it, I suppose.) It is acting like a dredge at the bottom of a very old river and bringing things up that I would rather allow to continue to rust away.

Now and then I test the old nun-obsession by doing a little nungazing of my own and it's always the same. Nothing. It's just not there, that old thrill.

John and I used now and then to spend an evening in his sitting room or in the little library downstairs. I would read aloud to him for a bit and we would sometimes say the Rosary together. I don't ever remember being happier than these little moments. But now when I think about them, all it does is hurt. And it's the same with most of the happy things in my past. My worst dreams are always the ones where I revisit my grandparents' house Up Island, that blissful little pocket of glowing childhood happiness and security. Those are the worst nightmares I experience, and the agony of waking up from them and finding myself back in the here and now is even worse than finding myself back there again. I always know when I'm feeling domestically insecure: I dream that I'm back there and wake up crying.

One thing I've learned is that we don't really ever "get over" pain and loss. We just learn to live with it. Or maybe it's just me.

Maybe that's a hint as to why my brain can't stand to think about God n' Religion any more: it seems like happiness that I can't ever have, like finding the Door to Narnia, and having it be locked. It's probably why nungazing now only makes me faintly sad. I think I have convinced myself at least that having had cancer, and having been cut apart to stop it, hasn't meant the end of meaningful life. But things are certainly vastly different now than they were before diagnosis, and before coming here, and before leaving Canada and the Oratorian Empire. In some ways better: I'm less fearful, less intimidatable, but also less able to be happy. My capacity for joy seems to have diminished. And I miss Cheshire.

We'll have to see what happens next, I suppose; I'm placing a lot of hope in art and in Seeing More of Italy in the coming months of chemo-free goodness. My hair has started growing at something approaching its previous rate (still weirdly curly though) so maybe my capacities will start expanding a bit soon.

Anyway, all this ramble was precipitated by a photo and a news story about the SSPX Dominican nuns of Wanganui, New Zealand. The rumour is that the Vatican Cong. of Religious has approved someone transferring from a NO convent into theirs. If true, this would be quite a good sign. And it reminded me of the hour or so I spent looking all over their website and daydreaming about them. For a short time, it was fun to imagine that I could retire there and teach drawing and painting in their little school. I could wear tweed skirts and twin sets and invite the girls to tea and teach them to make Victoria Sponge cake and drive the nuns to their doctor's appointments and things. It was a peaceful hour and felt sort of almost like the old twinge.

I suppose I've been sharing too much again. Sorry.