by Isabel Gardner
Your task is not to seek for love but to find all of the
barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Rumi, 13th century Sufi poet
Eadie wouldn’t tell me what sin was. Of all people, she had to know.
“Meditate and ask for the answer.” She handed me a journal. “Here. Write down whatever comes.”
“You think I’ll get an answer?”
“Try and see.” She chuckled like a Zen master, but she wasn’t a Buddhist, she was a Catholic nun. She looked at a pile of books stacked on the apartment floor. “Take this too. It might help.”
“Sufi Meditation.” I read the title.
She heard my uncertainty. “They’re mystics. People said to have direct experience of God. But don’t worry about them,” she patted my wrist. “Just the directions.”
My family left me on my own when it came to figuring who God was. I picked up ideas from friends and at those once-a-year Christmas Eve services with grandmother, but I never felt cleansed after silent confession. I’d get a tainted feeling around those other church ladies. Their eyes took inventory of me like I didn’t measure up. “It was probably your measurements,” a lover joked once years later about my breasts and long legs.
I’d thought of doing some things in my time that might’ve raised Moses’ hair and followed the directions to God with a little foreboding. After a late night bath, I dressed in white. To deflect negativity, Eadie’s book said. The darkness and quiet of midnight promised to open my heart to spiritual light. I waited for the mantle Seiko’s twelve chimes, closed the blinds to street glares, and lit candles. The delicious scent of sage and citrus streamed from a Yankee candle and cleansed the air as I sunk down into the sofa with Eadie’s journal. My ballpoint stayed on the end table. I didn’t really expect to use a drop. “What is sin?” I asked, and wide-eyed, scrambled for the pen.
Anne, Sin is anything that takes you away from realizing my love and presence within you.
I set my pen down with special care and stared off in wonder.
It’s unpredictable how people’s paths cross. Take Sister Eadie and me. I’m a professional ghost writer. That’s how we first met. She was a fifty-one year old nun who came to my office for help writing a little book about the relaxing of Church disciplines since Vatican II. I was thirty-seven and for personal reasons had grown so much scorn for Catholicism you could’ve scraped it off me. When you write for others though you have to become a blank slate.
Eadie had just begun her sabbatical when she found my advertisement. Nuns get to take time off like teachers. She signed a lease for a bright studio apartment with large easterly windows and gleaming wood floors. She used to bow and say it was a very enlightened place. She had a year to live there outside the convent with a monthly stipend which I thought was charitable of the Church. After her twelve months she would decide if she wanted to return to the motherhouse or get a dispensation.
When we first consulted about her book, I gave her a test question. I wanted to find if she was a sexist like Saint Augustine who’d said women were only good for procreation.
“Do you think your God is a man or a woman?”
“Both!” She leaned back with conviction.
That’s the moment Eadie and I became friends. She said just like Church doctrine, Augustine had been a work in progress and also asked the men in his diocese at Sunday Mass: if women were the weaker sex, why were they so much stronger in fidelity?
When I’d fall into one of my regular existentialist funks, Eadie tried to pull me out.
“Faith is the longest walk you’ll ever take. From your head to your heart,” she promised once, brushing back a strand of my hair. She never tried to make a Catholic out of me though—my non-practicing Episcopalian mother would have set the spirit of Thomas Cromwell on her—but she often reminded me how church law had softened and I softened too in Eadie’s warmth.
I used to imagine nuns and lesbians were male rejects. God forgive me. Maybe I’d been a sexist myself. As lesbians started coming out in the gay parades, the beauty of some astounded me, like Eadie’s. But her being beautiful wasn’t the biggest surprise.
One night Eadie took a dark green bottle from her kitchen cupboard. I recognized the straight sides and tall shoulders of a Bordeaux. She poured us both a glass and asked me for one of my smokes.
“You drink?” My jaw hung. “And smoke!”
“Man does not live by bread alone.” Her eyes twinkled.
I could never get a grasp on that salvation stuff. But as she lit up the cigarette and twisted the neck of the wine bottle like a pro, I worried for Eadie’s soul.
My immaculate perception of her descended even further as she poured more Merlot. “Red wine is symbolic of transformation,” she said with too faint a smile. Her voice cracked. A tear rolled off her high cheekbone. Then this Bride of Christ confessed. It was like slipping on black ice, she said, the way she’d fallen in love with that priest at a Jungian retreat. She never saw it coming or the longing afterwards, and struggle to keep the walls of her heart from falling in the convent. Months later, around her fiftieth birthday, her resistance caved. Her identity started slipping. She panicked at night in her single bed and her conscience nagged until she felt something shift in her. One morning while finishing breakfast, she was certain she saw a shadow of regret hanging on the faces of grayer-haired nuns, and she put in for her sabbatical.
After some girl talk I realized Sister Eadie had hopes of being saved by a man or love like a lot of us.
“In Corinthians Chapter 7, Paul wrote: ‘… it is better to marry than be aflame with passion’.” She raised her goblet.
“Here, here!” Our glasses clinked that night and we grew closer than some people do in years.
“Why’d you become a nun in the first place?” I put my wine aside.
She looked down, swirling her Bordeaux. She set the glass on the table as if it had weights in it. “It was who I thought I wanted to be at eighteen.” She swigged the last of her wine. “And a good way out of my parent’s house.”
Mornings in her apartment, Eadie told me soon as she’d wake, two feelings waited there for her. Like enemies they kept an eye on each other and made her tense and uncomfortable. She’d lived in an environment of mandated celibacy and obedience so long, thinking of change was as awful as it was exhilarating She meditated and called for the gift of discernment and then one morning soon after our revelry, I got the call.
“Anne, will you watch my cat for a week? I’m going to Florida.”
I knew Florida meant the battle was over.
Eadie packed her suitcase and braved the drive down. Her priest was living alone, like her. Their love rose from the dead. He told her he’d feared putting their souls in jeopardy and warned that in Corinthians Paul also wrote: “ ‘Do not seek marriage…those who marry will have worldly troubles…’. ”
Eadie told me she got on her knees.
“I’d take all the troubles of the world to be your wife,” she vowed.
He clenched his fists. His body ached from years of yearning for a woman’s nurture and tenderness.
Eadie’s lips parted. His hands trembled as he bent and kissed her and unpinned her long hair.
When she got back home, Eadie swirled like a dervish on the wood floor.
Not long after the kiss and sweeter taste of intimacy, her priest—I never knew his name—became defensive and even angry with Eadie for nothing he could explain. He refused to meet or even talk again.
“He made me feel like a villain.” Her eyes searched the room. “Am I?” Her face creased and she looked older than before.
Maybe it was what she’d call the Holy Ghost, but later something told me the priest had been afraid to come out from behind the collar. He feared spiritual condemnation, but as he grew older, his decision would bring more pain than comfort. As for myself, I thought it was a real sin. Not what happened between them, but what didn’t.
Eadie returned to the convent. A year later she got cancer. I saw her only once more. She died fast. I thought it was more a broken heart. Before they lowered her into the ground in the nun’s section of the cemetery, I placed a red rose on her coffin. She told me she loved red roses like red wine and that priest.
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Isabel Gardner is an English Language Teacher for Buffalo Public Schools, Adult Division. She also owns and operates professional writing services, and has been in business for over 20 years and featured in The Buffalo News and on Western New York Live. She is certified in clinical hypnotherapy and operates a private hypnosis practice.