My letter to Rosalie

Rosalie was the first one to see the author in me (actually the first one to see much of anything in me), and thus had a big influence on my life. I treasured her correspondence and still have a couple dozen of her letters.

This is an almost 25 year old letter from my younger self to Sister Rosalie, my high school creative writing teacher.

At the time, in February of 1994, Clare was in first grade and Liz in fourth. It was right around the time when AOL (AMERICA Onine!) was getting started and people were starting to use the web. So this is an actual, physical letter, sent in an envelope with a stamp.

We were writing about books, and apparently I must have been reading The Bicameral Mind because I kept going on about metaphors.

And as to location, as many people know, any house with little kids qualifies as a Looniebin.


The Looniebin
Friday morning 11 February, 1994

Dear Rosalie,

It would give me great pleasure to hear from you at any time. Believe me, there is very little going on in my life that couldn‘t stand a little interruption. On the other hand, letters can be held and reread and enjoyed over and over again, so feel free to give forth in any way that your spirit moves you.

I loved your comments on Karen Armstrong. I got a hold of Through the Narrow Gate and read part of it. She certainly has a lively mind and is obviously still questing. And I‘m still only half way through the History. But it still seems that she is caught in the modern trap of equating truth with literalness. This is one of the things I‘ve been musing about (so to speak) of late, so I‘ll try it out on you and you can tell me what you think.

Let‘s think of truth vs. literalness in terms of poetry. And let‘s say something like, “The snow blankets the ground.“ Now if you judge the truth of the statement literally, you are going to say that it is not true: literally of course, the snow is not a blanket, it‘s snow. But there is an obvious aspect of the concept of blanket that means “warmth, protection, slumber till awakening.“ The full meaning for the word is not just its literal meaning; it is its literal meaning plus all of its associations. The full meaning is its pattern of meaning. In metaphor, the pattern of meaning from one object gets applied a new object and this creates a new pattern of meaning, like the earth “sleeping and protected till spring.“

So while something might not be literally true (the snow is not a blanket), its pattern of meaning is authentically true (the earth is sleeping and protected till spring). The pattern of meaning can be true without it being literally true. The mistake we make is to assume that the only truth is literal truth. There is a bigger truth, and its validation has more to do with recognition than proof.

If this analogy is applicable to the world of the divine, then maybe this is where Karen Armstrong gets tied up. She tries to prove/disprove divinity literally, and misses the whole point. You don’t prove divinity, you recognize it, and you can’t recognize it if you haven’t had the experience. And you probably won’t have the experience if you think it’s totally bogus, so you end up locked in a literal loop, missing all the good stuff.

The exit from the literal loop in my mind has to do with having the confidence of your own experiences and the ability to recognize something when you see (or feel) it. What you think?

I’ll hit the library for Steiner’s Real Presences. It sounds promising. And I have just read a good one, called A Life of One’s Own by Joanna Field, written 50 some years ago, about how one woman worked herself out of her literal loop. It’s all in secular terms, but I think the same thing is going on.

An anchorhold, as opposed to a looniebin, is a place of quiet and solitude to which you can get away if the noise of a cloister is even too much for you. For me, it was a Sunday morning with Dad and the kids at Mass followed by Mickey D’s, so I had a chance to play my four-ladies-chanting music and finish my letter to Rosalie.


The Anchorhold
Sunday Morning with Anonymous 4

Occasionally even the looniebin provides a flash of anchorholdedness and this is one of those mornings, so it’s a good time to continue my letter to you.

I have to tell you about one more thing. The other night I went to St. Scholastica Priory on Ridge Avenue. It’s HQ for the Benedictines and put me in mind of Longwood in the old days when the nuns still shared the building with the high school. So anyway there’s a chapel with beautiful, intricate murals which have been recently restored (was there ever a chapel in the old building at Longwood?). And the evening was a celebration and blessing of the newly restored murals.

The chapel and the murals were quite beautiful and magical. Unfortunately I think the liturgical police had been there; the altar looked a tad bare (no Eucharist in evidence) and all the seats (no more pews) faced the center aisle rather than the altar (presumably so they can look at each other? I just don’t get a lot of this stuff).

So anyway the nuns marched in and said some prayers and sang some lovely chants, and the room just sort of opened up and there was this wonderful sense of being in the presence of a community of praying women, one whose specific tradition went back some 1500 years (one of the murals was about the time St. Scholastica prayed up a thunderstorm to get Benedict to spend the night so they could continue “talking about holy things”). How wonderful to be able to pray in a place like that two or three times a day.

But then the liturgical police struck again, and four of the nuns did this dance thing where they waved around evergreen branches which were symbolically dipped in symbolic holy water. It was very Victorian like those old “tableaux vivants” things where everybody dressed up and did poses, and it was about as vibrant joyful. Is it me or is all this stuff just plain goofy??? My friend Leah and I couldn’t look at each other while this was going on for fear of bursting into snorts of laughter. And then we had to pray this “Echo” Our Father where you act out with gestures all of the words. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the few older nuns that were still in habit, imagining how they must be rolling their spiritual eyes and “offering it up.” It seems the liturgical police are giving us the modern equivalent of the medieval hair shirt.

But the chapel and the murals were beautiful, sort of a cross in style between Renaissance and Art Deco. I think you as Picture Lady would have particularly enjoyed it.

So anyway I’ve enclosed an article my friend Judi sent me from Washington D.C. which I think is on the mark.

And do you have any travel plans? To Chicago? Any plans for Italy this spring or summer? Let me know. And keep those calls and letters coming!