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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Animal Brain

WE had a couple of comments about the 'monastic community' the other day. Seeing how it's Lent and all and we are looking for some suffering (I hope), I thought perhaps we should wade in.

How do you and Sister St. Aloysius decide how to allocate chores, if that is not too personal a question. (You mentioned once how annoying it was that she hadn't cleaned the stove in a long while.) Even among groups who don't live as a community, it's a problem that some people feel put upon.

Not so much annoying. Shocking would be the word I would choose.

Everyone feels put upon. Our society encourages it. We like to 'vent'. It's supposed to be healthy.

I don't think it's particularly healthy. I think it would be more healthy to stop being so put upon. Not having your needs met? "Drop some needs." I heard a comedian say that once. Good advice.

To figure out the chores, we divided the house up by rooms, and since she cooks (we decided on that because I am a terrible cook...I suppose we could have me cook and offer it up, but we have to keep up our strength) she did the kitchen. Until the stove debacle. Then we re-worked a couple of things. I've never encountered a nun who didn't do her chores. I've encountered some who were terrible at some given task. The only time there is a problem is when someone who is terrible at a task thinks they are great at it. Then one must decide between expediance and diplomacy. We're not all Andy of Mayberry, tricking people into doing the right thing.

The other thing I sensed was that there was too much "make nice face" going on. The one mother spoke as if she was worn out from always being "on duty" -- cheerful and selfless and whatever -- with no time to just vent and complain and be crabby because the "walls were too thin." Check me on this, Sister, but one can't just *pretend* to make nice in communal living. One actually has to BE nice.

I'm with you on this, but we all know it's not that easy. I think you actually do have to pretend to be nice sometimes, with the hope of the niceness sticking. You have to be able to open the email, delete the badness and forward on the niceness.

That was a bad analogy. Pffftt.

You have to let the badness hit you, like when a line drive blows straight back and beans the pitcher in the forehead. You must shake it off and throw the next pitch, like the line drive never happened.

You can't sit around thinking about how, "if I'm all loving and nice all the time, the irritating person will eventually see that THEY are the irriating one and come around and be nice finally." It's not your job to make other people into nice people. It's just your job to keep being a nice person, no matter what. Throw the next pitch. That's why the nuns always told you to "mind your own garden."

Here's a fun story. St. Therese the Little Flower and another nun were mopping the floor when the other nun carelessly flung the wet mop water right into St. Therese's face. Hot, wet, filthy water. And as nasty as that would be to have happen to you, imagine it while wearing a habit with a stiff veil and all that. (Trust me, she's not going to excuse herself and go get her other big stiff veil. She's going to wear that wet gooey one until it dries or until bedtime, whichever comes first.)

What does St. Therese do? Nothing. (I'm sure she wrote it down later in her Little Book of Suffering to add it up for the Poor Souls in Purgatory.)The question is: Did she feel like screaming, "Watch what you're doing with that mop, you idiot?"
We'll never know.

I vote yes.

Here's why. People are also mammals. We have nerve endings that send signals to our brains when things that are hot, wet, sudden and filthy smack us in the face. The brain screams, "Don't let that happen again!"

Did you know, for example, that the real reason for gaper's block is not that everyone has a morbid curiosity? The real reason is that your mammal brain is hard wired to protect you from harm and so when something is out of the ordinary, your brain wants you take note. You may have to run, or fight. An accident is out of the ordinary. Your brain will want to take note.

So for a moment, when we have our toes stepped on, or our egos, for a moment there we may want to scream, "Watch it, you idiot!"
It's what we do in the next moment that counts. You may well have to grit your teeth into a smiling grimace and make "nice face" while you drop the need to comment on the other person's lack of brains, common sense, empathy, sense of direction or hand-eye co-ordination.

If you do it enough, you will get past the need to pretend to be nice and you will actually just be nice.

Unless you are Audrey Hepburn in "A Nun's Story". Then you'll just be aggravated
that you can't go do whatever you want to do and you'll put on your party clothes and walk out the door.


Gretchen said...

Oh, I so need to learn to make the Nice Face. And repeat it often. Just one of my many faults. Thanks for a great entry!

dvobiscum said...

Dear Sister Mary Martha;
Your blog is such a treat that I’d considered giving it up for Lent! However, your ‘spiritual direction wrapped in riotous humor’ tipped the balance today.

Couldn’t agree with you more re: venting, dropping needs, and practicing being nice until it becomes second nature--a bit reminiscent of ‘taking every thought captive’ to put on the mind of Christ [2 Cor.10:5], not my will but His, etc. Not bad goals for Lent.

A holy and blessed Lent.

Leigh said...

Oh I was so hoping that you would bring up "A Nun Story" sometime. I just love that movie.It really is very sad when she walks out at the end, mostly because you know that know matter which course she took, she would eventually long for the path not chosen...At an Oak Lawn,Illinois hospital there is a nun who is also a doctor. Apparently she didn't have to make the hard choice like poor Audrey Hepburn's character...

Leigh said...

...sorry, I'm tired. I meant to say NO matter, not KNOW matter. I better sign off and get some sleep!

Anonymous said...

Dear SMM,

would it be ok if I reproduced some of your thoughts and advice for our parish magazine? We're Anglican, but a lot of what you say is relevant to us too. After all, we both say the same creeds!

Anonymous said...

After watching the movie 'Strictly Ballroom' we say to each other "Happy Face!" and don a large plastic smile. it adds a smidge of humor for the one being corrected, which is always nice.

Sister Mary Martha said...

Go ahead and put it in your bulletin. Maybe we'll swing some people over the fence.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Sister and fellow commenters! This post is exactly what I need, seeing that it reinforces my main project this Lent.... That is, doing what the post says, and realizing that it's not about me, it's about HIM, and He is always there to help! I hope you all have a joyful and fruitful Lent, followed by a truly magnificent Easter!

Tienne said...

Sister, you are too funny for words! I just love your blog.

I have a question. Is it possible to "miss" one's vocation? To feel called to Holy Orders, for example, but through stubbornness, fear, lack of trust, or ignorance, choose another path that wasn't God's design for us?

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

HA! For a minute there, I thought you were going to post someone's question about eating animal brains for lent or some such thing! Heehee, I guess I must be craving protiens or something.

Anonymous said...

We (our family) attended a family retreat day this weekend. One of the priests who spoke suggested that making sacrifices on their own is difficult, BUT if one offers up the sacrifice for someone or something "near and dear" it becomes more purposeful and, therefore, more doable. Even making "nice" is easier if it's done to spiritually support a troubled child, spouse, &c. Just a thougth...

Anonymous said...

Sister, I have a question. There is a book out by Kevin Orlin Johnson saying that the Vatican has forbidden Catholic laity from " distributing the Eucharist at Masses when a priest is present... Yet American bishops continue to encourage faithful Catholics to violate these laws." Can you address this please?


p.s. quotation marks are quoting from his book information.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, I have been the most guilty in my life of feeling "put upon" all the time and "needing to vent." I have been famous for complaining. It is something I have been working on for several years now since my re-conversion, and I am happy to say that I am getting better at making a nice face and at dropping a lot of my needs. It was fun to see you address this issue in your humorous way and very helpful too! God bless!

Anonymous said...

Point taken sister. Sorry about the irrelevant venting about the roommate - I got swiftly punished by being inundated with work. But as you say...offer it up.

I must say that despite being raised Catholic, the whole concept of offering up suffering to God is kinda foreign to me. To me (and probably other Third Worlders) it's something that we need to be philosophical about and just accept as a part of life. So it becomes mundane - probably because it is also commonplace: you suffer, but you look around yourself and you see others suffering as well so you really don't have a right to complain.

It's our joys - infrequent and therefore more precious - that we are taught to give in offering.

Which brings me to another question: when to endure something, and when to indulge in a little WWF smackdown? Just kidding, but you know what I mean. For instance, you read the riot act to that bank clerk who was neglecting that poor old man. I know we're taught to turn the other cheek but sometimes - in defense of ourselves and others - isn't a little righteous anger necessary?

Thanks and Happy Valentine's Day!