Sunday, November 30, 2008


Today's the First Sunday in Advent, and I'm entering into that time of waiting and preparation with extra feeling this year. My own waiting and preparation - the boxes and suitcases stacked here and there in the cabin, the loads of trash and discards I've carried out - are a fine way to enter into the Advent spirit.

This will be a hard December for many, with jobs disappearing, savings shrinking, and the value of houses going down fast. But Advent expectation had never been about the glitz of Christmas, the shopping and the parties. It's a time of waiting for someone poor and powerless to be born in us and to transform our lives.

I light one Advent candle in hope of transformation.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Giving Thanks

Yesterday, as in the past six years, I enjoyed two family Thanksgiving feasts - one with the Sisters at St. Mary's at noon, and one with my sister and her family in the evening. I'm filled with gratitude for both my families and overfilled with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pie. And I'm filled with gratitude to God for all these blessings of loving and being loved, being part of such good families.

Today there are 30 days left until I move to El Salvador, and today - filled with all that good turkey and the need to work some of it off - I cleared out a basement space where I'd stored camping gear, Christmas decorations, and old paperwork. Turned out to be surprisingly easy..... and I give thanks for that!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Living in Tomorrowland

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in one of the Tomorrowlands that were featured in the Sunday Supplements and World Fairs of my younger days. As, for example, yesterday: acting on a tip from Sister Chero Chuma, I discovered that Skype will not only let me call other Skype-enabled computers free, but will even let me purchase a local telephone number, so friends here can call a Bellevue number and talk to me in El Salvador without a long-distance charge. Amazing!

I also looked on Google Earth for a small town in El Salvador's Usulutan Province that may be a future mission site, and found myself hovering above it, able to identify the church and plaza and inspect the nearby fields.

I've heard stories from our Sisters who ministered in the Phillipines in the 1960s or Cameroon in the early 1970s about letters taking six weeks to get back to England or the United States, telephones that took days of hard travelling to reach in an emergency. Indeed our globe is now so much more intimately connected and that will make my mission so much easier.

But for someone who remembers her sense of awe when copiers first became available in libraries, it's Tomorrowland for sure!

And in Tomorrowland, it's only 32 more days until I fly away.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cancelling the paper

Yesterday I cancelled my subscription to the Seattle Times, which has been my hometown newspaper of choice since I was a kid. Whenever I've lived in Seattle or nearby, I've read the Times. It used to anchor my evenings, then a few years ago the Times shifted to being a morning paper, and I wrapped it into my morning rituals (up, wash, dress, prayer, breakfast and the paper) with special attention to world news, the editorial cartoon, Mariners scores in baseball season, and the comics page. In many ways, it's been part of my sense of continuity, security.

But the newspaper world has been shrinking and the Times with it. The editorial cartoon seems to be appearing only on Sundays, and Doonesbury has been banished to the funny pages. The Mariners, in this year of misery, have not been fun to follow. The classified ads, once hefty, are now reduced to a few pages. Most of the news comes from the Washington Post or New York Times, and I can easily read that on-line. Announcements of staff layoffs are frequent. My sense of continuity and security gets battered! I can only imagine how difficult and frustrating it is to be a print journalist or editor these days, how tattered their security is.

I cancelled my subscription not because of all these changes - I would choose to be a loyal reader to the end - but because the Seattle Times doesn't deliver to El Salvador. I wish all the staff and management of the Times good fortune as they figure out how to change with this changing world.

Only 33 days until I get on the plane....

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How long?

Almost everyone has the same two questions to ask me about my coming time in El Salvador: how long are you going to be there? and how's your Spanish?

How long? There's no time set for this mission. How long I'll be in El Salvador depends on so many things - PeaceHealth's continued involvement with the mission, my own health, the needs of my Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace community - but I hope it will be a good long time, a few good years.

And the Spanish? Well, it's one of my life goals to become really fluent, and I figure that living in a Spanish-speaking country is the best possible way. At present, I'm maybe at an upper-intermediate level (decent vocabulary, lousy grammar) and I figure that on the long path to fluency one of my best gifts to the Salvadoran people will be the unintended humor of all the words and phrases I get just a little wrong.

I'll find out about all of that in just 35 days.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Room of One's Own

Only 36 days until I leave for El Salvador!

I’m a fortunate woman. Today I’m sorting books and belongings, getting ready to leave, but also getting ready to move to a room in Cusack Hall here at St. Mary-on-the-Lake in Bellevue. I’ll have a home base, a place for my spring-fall-winter clothes, some shelves for the many books that I can’t take down right away, a room that looks out on cedars and firs. I even have a newly-created closet in the basement where the overflow – of which there will probably be a lot – can be tucked. It’s essential, as Virginia Woolf said, to have a room of one’s own. When I come home - probably two to three times a year - this room will be home and this community of Sisters at St. Mary's will be home.

And after a while, El Salvador will also become home.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Remembering the martyrs and the viejitas

I've been sorting photos today - slowly moving through my six years of photos of our Sisters, events, ministries, and activities and moving them electronically from my computer to our system files. A tedious task, but also a nice trip through time. Among the photos were many from my time in El Salvador with a SHARE delegation in 2005 - we were commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1980 martyrdom of four North American churchwomen - and among those was this photo of Josefina, the secretary for a cooperative farming settlement we visited.

Visitors to El Salvador are always taken by the children, who like children everywhere are beautiful, full of life. I love them, but I also love the elders who are tough and able and joyful, like Josefina. I'm an elder myself, looking forward to living in a society where las viejas are valued for their wisdom.

And it's only 38 days until I leave, so I'd better get back to sorting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blessing the work

This morning I wrote notes to the 13 CSJPs who have been raised up as possible members of our new Congregation Leadership Team. They'll be meeting in New Jersey this coming weekend to discern who feels called to move forward to the Chapter of Elections in January, 2009 when the final team of five will be chosen. I wrote to thank them for their willingness to come to this time, and I wrote to bless them in their work.

I love the process of discernment, which to me basically means calling the Spirit and the community, the gathered wisdom of a group, into a life decision. Entering into discernment, you acknowledge that you don't have all the wisdom, that others can help you see more clearly your own gifts, and your own shadow. So I'm praying for that collected wisdom to be present with all our 13 Sisters this weekend.

And it's 39 days before my move to El Salvador.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

40 Days to El Salvador

In just 40 days, I'll be getting on a plane for El Salvador! What's a bit horrifying is the amount of work - sorting, organizing, moving, giving away - that has to happen both in my office and in the little cabin I've been living in for the past five years before that blessed day.

I've moved so often - I think my last count was 36 moves in my lifetime, so this will be #37 - that you'd think it would all be second nature by now. Alas, no. But all those moves have left me with a strong belief that I will, somehow, get through it all, not perfectly, but well enough.

I was astonished to find this suitcase photographed on the web because it looks exactly like the old leather suitcase that my family used during our years in Bremerhaven, Germany - and our suitcase was also plastered with stickers from many European hotels. It's a good reminder that I grew up packing - and unpacking - and know well how to unmake a home, and then how to make myself at home in a new place.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Martyrs of El Salvador

The other blogging Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, Susan Francois, has a moving memory of encountering the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador during a Congregation Experience there a year and a half ago. I have now walked many times in the rose garden at the University of Central America that now blooms where six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter were killed - a rose garden planted by Elba Ramos' husband, Celina Ramos' father, in memory of all that was lost on the 16th of November, 1989. Here is a rose from that garden (photo by Jane Halsey).

I am always glad that Elba and Celina Ramos are remembered along with the Jesuit Fathers Ignacio Ellacuria, Ignacio Martín Baró, Amando López Quintana, Segundo Montes Mozo, Joaquin López y López, and Juan Ramón Moreno Pardo. Like so many Salvadorans during the Civil War years, they died because they were at the wrong place, in the way, witnesses to murder. Ignacio Ellacuria and his companions were killed because they, like Monseñor Oscar Romero, spoke for the poor, the vulnerable, the voiceless - the Elbas and Celinas.

May the roses bloom this November day over the garden where their blood was shed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Goodbye to the garden

This week I found a few rain-free hours to tidy up the garden outside my little cabin - pruning, transplanting, cutting down the dahlias and japanese iris. It's an annual ritual, but this year I'm also saying goodbye to this garden, which I've tended and planted happily for five years. Now I'm heading for a tropical garden. I won't see the trillium bloom or the English daisies come back to life or the hosta poke up from their garden bed. I'm going to miss the astonishing scent of the sarcococus (I don't think that can be the right name) in January and the time in January-February when the varied thrushes pay an annual visit and the tiny daffodils that pop up in March. I'm going to miss this garden.

Instead I'll be learning new garden rules (do you plant in the rainy season, or in the dry?) and learning what to plant in El Salvador. The possibilities of a garden are so entirely different - even the grass in El Salvador looks completely unlike grass in Bellevue - that it will be a continual surprise to learn the garden. I don't think I'll have much time to miss the Bellevue garden next year, so I'm missing it in advance right now.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Army brats

My sister and I spent part of Sunday remembering our days of growing up as Army brats. We remembered our dad, who loved the Army and served it well. Kathy remembers his great disappointment when health kept him out of the field of battle during World War II, and how he vowed instead to be the best PX Officer - and later best Transportation Corps Officer - ever. We remembered how difficult Army life was for our mother, who hated the rigid and empty protocol that enveloped officer's wives ("would the 2nd Lieutenant's wife please pull the curtains?") in those days, but did what she was called on to do because that was part of the world she'd married into.

I remember Army life much less as militaristic than bureaucratic, formal, hierarchical, massive, traditional. It was a world within which everyone had a place and a role (and a rank: I remember with embarrassment telling other kids on the school bus that my dad outranked their dads. I can't remember what I was trying to win with this ploy.)

Much has changed in the Army since those days, but we continue to be blessed by this country's deep tradition that our military forces do not take sides in our political life. Although I am mainly and mostly a pacifist, I do honor those who've served in the military in war or in peace, and especially those who've died or been wounded in body or mind. I wish for a future in which such sacrifice is no longer needed or acceptable, unlikely though it is to come in my lifetime.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The view from Riverbend

I stayed up late last night, watching the election returns with friends. I remember hearing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last great speech in 1968, when he said "Now, I'm just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding." That's how I feel today, remembering the darkness and pain of 1968, the assassinations of King and Robert Kennedy: I'm happy that God has allowed me to live to this day, 40 years later, when a part of King's dream has been realized.

And then I got up very, very early this morning, and flew down to Eugene, OR, where I've spent the day with Kathy Garcia, my colleague in the PazSalud program in El Salvador. Kathy has been the Eugene-based coordinator for the PazSalud healthcare volunteer missions; when Sister Eleanor Gilmore, the founder and current director of PazSalud, retires in February, Kathy will become the program director, and I will be the in-country coordinator. We will be a team of two, and it was great to spend the day talking to Kathy, saying hello to some of the volunteers I've met on previous missions, and helping to sell Salvadoran crafts and PazSalud calendars to staff at PeaceHealth's new RiverBend campus. It's grand to know that I'll be able to rely on her experience, great organizing skill and uncommon degree of common sense as I learn how to live and work in El Salvador. It was also grand to spend time walking through this immense and magnificent new medical center.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Time to Vote

Linda Hanson told me this morning that she stood in line for two and a half hours on Saturday to vote. I voted absentee, which is very easy to do in the State of Washington, but she wanted to visit an actual polling place, to have that hands-on experience of democracy, and it was worth those two and a half hours.

I think of people who live in countries where the regime or the military decide who's going to "win" an election. We're privileged - and it's a privilege that needs to be exercised.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Family party

I've started into the two months I've kept free to organize, so that when I get on that plane on for San Salvador on December 27th my bags will be packed and I'll be ready to go... There are some tedious chores like health care visits and sorting out the office, but first I invited all my family to come to dinner at our new Peace and Spirituality Center - which meant a weekend of cooking, transporting, setting up, cooking some more (why did I do this, I muttered to myself), and then they all came in, and I remembered why. I'm blessed to be part of a family that's generous, warm, real and a lot of fun to be with, and I'm blessed that my sister Kathy came over early to spend the afternoon helping me cook (triply blessed that she enjoyed it), and I'm blessed that a bunch of them stuck around to make sure everything was cleaned up before they left.

Wish they'd eaten more, though! I inherited from my Dad a strong drive to over-provide, and I now have a refrigerator full of more leftovers than I can manage in a week. A challenge...

Saturday, November 1, 2008


In this blog, I'll be sharing my experiences in El Salvador, where I'm headed in 2009. I'm going to be the in-country coordinator for PazSalud, a healthcare volunteer ministry that's a collaboration between the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, my community, and PeaceHealth, the healthcare system we founded. To get started, here's a photo of women in the market from my last visit to El Salvador, with a mission team doing eye surgery at Hospital Saldaña.