Sunday, November 04, 2007
This year my birthday came at a time when we didn't have much money. I was still in earliest "great zeal" stage of my Francesco love, and I didn't mind it. Poverty was actually good for a change.
Remember the St. Francis themed birthday party, even though some of you got drunk off cyberwine and Steve ended up frying twinkies. Or was that one of my other parties? Who knows. We get festive over here at raga-d. I also had a RL St. Francis gift theme. That stands for "real life" this time. Not "raggedy leather".
My pumpkin heather bought me a book I'd been longing for. Terry gave me an Amazon gift certificate and I bought, you guessed it, books about Francesco. Gina came all the way to Inkster and we went to this great Catholic book and gift store. She'd and my friend and son's godfather Robert gave me a monetary gifts, and I knew exactly what I wanted: a San Damiano cross.
No good Franciscan goes without one. Many of us wear them, though some wear Tau crosses. But I'd be willing to bet a San Damiano cross is somewhere in their life, even if it's on the wall. I felt so excited in the store. Looking at it. Talking myself out of it. Thinking of all the stuff I could do with that thirty dollars, an longing for it just the same. I don't know how long I stood at that jewelry counter while Gina sat in the book reading.
Finally, I talked myself into it. There were things that needed to be done, yes, but it was thirty dollars. The entire bottom wouldn't fall out of my life if I bought a pendant. And Gina and Robert would be happy if I got something I really wanted. Just to be sure, I went back to Gina and we talked it out. Of course she told me to go for it.
I had that crucifix on before we got out of the store. I can't begin to express how happy I felt wearing it. I felt like it was for me what some folks call, "an outward sign of an inward grace." My friends in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans wear a simple San Damiano cross as a habit. It's their monastic "hook-up!" Though a few have robes, too. At that point I hadn't decided on the order I wanted to join. I was chatting with sistuh Paula Clare a lot, and the crucifix we shared in common connected us profoundly.
It wasn't expensive, especially the chain, and I didn't want to break it. I started taking it off when I went to sleep at night, and putting it on when I started my day. It was fabulous!
I had my liturgical prayers several times a day. My Bibles and St. Francis books. A new community of people I was in conversation with about Franciscan spirituality. In some ways I felt on top of the world. This was before the drama started about church. This was before it all mad me sad. Before I felt I had to choose.
When I'd slip that crucifix on, it changed me, every single day. I wouldn't dare wear anything cut too low or too tight with the same cross that said, "Go and rebuild my house" to Francesco hanging on my tatas. It inspired modesty. It inspired long suffering--perfect joy--when I wanted to get snippy with someone. I wore a lot of black at the time (still do). And it looked pretty darned awesome against my wanna be nun clothes. It really was a habit to me, and I hadn't had any one thing act as such a sanctifier in my life in a long time.
Then one day, when I reached for it in the morning, it was gone.
I'll stack mountains of books by my bed when I'm working. And mostly I work in my bed. Chronic pain makes it an idea environment for writing. I wondered if it had slipped between my books. Nope. Did I put on on the bookshelf in here? I did not. Where the heck was that cross?
I cleaned and it was still gone. I couldn't understand it. I grieved the loss of it. Hurt. It just wasn't the same not to have my little silver Franciscan habit. A lot of time went by, and one day, there it was.
My San Damiano cross hung on my sister's neck.
You may find this no big deal. That's because you don't know much about my childhood, and much of my adulthood. I lived in a house of chaos growing up. I didn't need the craziness of the projects outside. We had enough at home. I didn't have much, but I couldn't lay down the little I had. I had to stash money in my bra. And I didn't have much to work with in that department. So I lets just say I couldn't keep much money. There was no safety in my house to own something nice. Things would sprout legs and walk away--especially money. And one of the culprits was said sister.
For years we had to do an inventory whenever she visited, and almost every time when she left, something else did, too. It use to make me so angry. It felt so violating. And I've tried to help her out. A lot.
So there's my habit. And in shock I say, "I've been looking for that for weeks!" She says, "Oh, I use this for protection. You want it back?"
Okay. Now I've told y'all I wore this cross without fail, everyday. She only got it because I was sleep or in the shower. She never asked for it. She wore it for weeks hidden, because I saw her everyday and I did not see her wearing it.
You want it back???!!!
I did. But I had changed. How do you work on a vow of poverty and detachment from possessions and ask for your crucifix back?
Lots of "stuff" kicked up in me. That old, familiar helplessness from my childhood. That dread of not having the safety of being able to keep something in the privacy of my bedroom. Guilt, because I wanted it back, and that desire warred with some nebulous idea of what was the right thing to do. It was complicated. And I didn't have to ask WWFD (what would Francesco do) because I knew. He'd give his draws to my sister if he thought she wanted or needed them. And I thought, God has given me a lot. Maybe it does make her feel safe (and not just covetous). And I knew by the shady way she does a lot of things, still, that she needed it more than I did.
But I didn't have any more money. I couldn't buy another one. And since that time, I've gone without that bit of fortification for my day. And I know this will sound lame, but things changed again. The liturgical prayer life slipped. My language got sassy and salty again. I didn't pick up the St. Francis books like I had before. And maybe that's just how it is. Yet another abandoned ENFP project or three. But I can't help but think that simple gesture of taking up my cross daily, made me a better follower.
Now I have to play catch up. I have to get back on the stick with no cross on my neck. I'm still very conflicted about if I should buy another one. Believe it or not, I'm afraid I'll get attached to it, and my "crucifixation" will cause the pain that the loss of this one caused. And I've got enough pain.
I know when I finally profess vows in the order I chose, I will be given a cross. And this one has a full habit. Alb, scapular, knotted cinctures. The works. I will be clothed by a gentle, lovely priest, and that will be that. I don't think she'll want to take that.
But that will be at least three years away, and that's if I discern that being Franciscan is truly my calling and I take those vows.
Until, my neck feels as empty as my heart does in this regard, missing my daily "habit."
Pray for me.