Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On the Specialness of Mis-matched Spoons....

Baroness Ade Bethune once fashioned a lovely word picture for the Catholic Worker about the sacramental beauty of mismatched chairs and hospitality that was so breath-taking to me that I began copying it onto the final page of Acts in nearly every Bible I ever used afterward. It was almost as if she had taken Brother Lawrence by the collar, breathed him in, whole and deep, and then exhaled him onto the page with her black-smudged brush in fine, deliberate strokes--proof, indeed, that absolutely everything physical is potentially sacramental.

In 1999, at the old convent christened Star of the Sea, I sat with Ade and told her that two of her creations meant the most to me: the black crucifix that hung above the mismatched maple plank tables in the white house at Peter Maurin Farm and this simple paragraph about sharing hospitality in simple things. Should I have been surprised when she looked up from the page and asked, "Do you live it?"

This memory came again to me last night as I was getting ready for bed. I have a favourite chair that sits in my room; an old highback kitchen chair with a carved back and hollowed seat that has been painted at least a dozen different colours over the years. Its paint is chipped and worn, it's grimy black in places and its legs are battered. My mother is a master wood-craftsman; I know how to fix this, so why haven't I stripped and refinished this thing in the dozen-or-so years that I have had it in my stewardship? Because it is art, and it is too perfect on its own to touch. It goes with nothing, it stands alone, a pale blue eyesore with a checkered past of changing hands and changing hearts, discarded, passed on and neglected....until it passed to me. This chair is one of my finest treasures. It reminds me that beauty is found in the uncommonly commonplace if only you open your eyes to see it. It is, to me, at the deepest level a symbol of family. It is also a key to the mystery of my affections.

Few of the plates in our cupboard match, none of the bowls match the plates. Forks and knives and spoons in the drawers all come from different decades, different sets long ago lost, divided and forgotten. Blue, green and brown bottles from who-knows-where sit in window casings to catch and scatter the sunlight in the mornings. The dining room is littered to overflowing with plants that have been abandoned and adopted from just about everyone we know; the ivy is from a cutting my grandmother once snatched from the crannies a castle wall in Spain and snuck home in a book unnoticed. The living room and the library are stuffed with books once loved by others, then rescued from the dumpsteres of Thomas Loome, et al (I truly have no shame--my parents taught me well); I read them and share them as best as any truly gluttonous bibliophile is capable. You'd probably look at this place and be calling for a garbage truck, but for me? This is home, this is heart....this is a picture of real life.

I believe that family just happens to be whomever GOD chooses to set down in our path in any given moment. I believe that most of my family are as varied and as fragile and, yes, just as useful and as valuable as the books in our shelves, the chairs at our table, the spoons in our drawers. And I believe that heaven on earth is found in merging the whole lot together in the breaking of bread, the sharing of comforts, screaming and yelling at each other until the pain we each carry subsides, and those quiet moments resting with one another's company in the refracting blue-green light when nothing needs to be said at all.

Family isn't always pretty. Often they are old and needy and not terribly nice. Sometimes they have minds that are bent and souls that are chipped. All too often they smell like ashtrays or stale beer bottles or footlockers left far too long without a good scrub-down. Sometimes they act for all the world like a tenacious weed that you'd just love to strangle to death and be done with. Yet whilst their lives seem shallow, or sordid, or completely out-to-lunch, their souls' hearts are not. But if they weren't here? If they didn't fill my house with their cracked, broken, totally unorganised selves? This place would be empty and it would cease to be home.

Do I live the ideal of hospitality in mismatched chairs? I try. Often I fail...and then I remember that everything has some intrinsic value and beauty all its own...and I try again, saying to my own soul, "There is no such thing as a mismatched spoon, only a bit of art waiting to be cradled safely in the drawer with all the others." I need reminding and forgiveness if I somtimes forget.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gilbert House Annual Appeal

Gilbert House Catholic Worker Annual Newsletter and Funding Appeal

15 October 2009—Feast of St. Teresa of Avila

This past year has been absolutely awesome! We have been blessed in so many ways during 2009, and we have lots of news to share, though we’ll just stick to the highlights--mostly just the really amazing stuff.

We now have only sixteen thousand dollars in principal left on our hundred-year-old farm house which we are working hard towards paying off over this next year. This news is great on the one hand because when we reconcile our home loan, we will save nearly sixty thousand dollars in interest and, subsequently, be able to address some much needed repairs on the house that the former owner was unwilling or unable to do. It will also provide us with the foundation we need to buy a second house next door for multiple long-term guests and additional community members--something we not only need in this area, but that we are anxious to see to fruition.

We are so grateful for the home that we share, thanks be to GOD, and look forward to the day when we will have more room and resources to share with others.

Our garden blew a gasket this past summer, and started bearing its young in the yard (which was really nice in some ways—it certainly cut down on our mowing chores). We grew so much surplus of such a wide variety of vegetables that we were actually turned away at the local food pantry (in all, we were able to give somewhere between five- and six-hundred pounds of produce to WestCap), and when they could take no more, we started calling friends, neighbors and family.

Our autumn harvest has been excellent. What wasn’t given away to those in need and to friends of the house has been eaten up or bottled and put away for the long winter, and we hope to share it still. We have two farmers and three neighbors who regularly give us too many apples for sanity—all of which have been made into pies, crisps, ciders, and jellies...or sauced, buttered and bottled. Mr. Erickson, from Rumar Farm over in Wilson, thinks it’s wonderful that he can split his rotting apples betwixt the chickens and us “girls” and that we’ll return next Spring with a “couple-or-three” bottles of wine for him.

We are currently working on another batch of the homemade "Petta" Merlot for the American Chesterton Society’s annual conference next summer, when Chestertonians from all over the world will be able to share in the age old tradition of hospitality of “beer and beef.” Every year Mary Alice claims that G.K. Chesterton, “that fat, long-winded dead man, took our heat away," because of the personal expense of making gallons and gallons of wine, but it always manages to work out anyway. Poor G.K. (for next year’s conference, I’m shooting for eighty gallons, just so that we have a store…just don’t tell Mary Alice.)

We have printed many of Mary Alice's card designs for sale and for gifting this year, hoping to show them at craft fairs and shops in the area; she will also be volunteering at John the Baptist parish’s annual Harvest Festival again (31 Oct.), where she hopes to share her artistry once again. Miki has been creating some very intricate scrapbook albums in addition to getting started on yet another huge new batch of altar linens and vestments for her “winter months” project; she will also be spending part of the winter putting together some "family history" scrapbooks for the American Chesterton Society that Ann Petta asked her to make. Friends of the house flit in and out with every imaginable project of their own, and it all keeps us busy and productive.

We have an eighteen-year-old girl who plans on living with us for the next year or more whilst she finishes high school and then enrolls in classes to become a licensed massage therapist; she plans on coming to stay in January and we are looking forward to having her here and getting the opportunity to support her desire to graduate and start her adult life.

Miki has taken on an outside job, part-time, with a temp agency to help bolster our income and our ability to aid the people who come to us looking for help. What cash we have brought into the house usually goes right back out the door, either on house necessities, or given freely to those who need it more than we do in any given moment--a thing that is becoming more and more common as the economy flounders and more of our neighbors lose their jobs.

And, now on to the really bad news: For the past three years we have been trying to get our roof fixed. The roofer we previously had made a bad situation worse, and we now have a ruined ceiling in the dining room that has grown a lovely community of mold. It’s going to cost $20,000.00 to fix, and we are looking forward to paying off the house so that we can do this without incurring a huge debt. We would much rather invest such a large amount of currency on "promiscuous philanthropy," but if the house is to remain standing, we have no choice.

For all of those who have been to the house to help with our many projects this past year, we offer you our heartfelt thanks because without you nothing would be as rewarding. For those people who have donated to the house and helped us to provide assistance to others in our community, there are no words to express our appreciation for you and the blessing that you are! For those of you who pray for us, we offer our own prayers for you and yours in return.

If you can help us with any of our current financial needs, we are humbled and grateful for your support, and we thank you now. If you’d like to take a look at our other house needs, photos of this year’s garden, or would just like more information on what we do and why, please take a look at our house blog at: http://gilberthouse.blogspot.com/ . May our Lord bless you all, and keep you safe, this coming year!

Please remember that in keeping with Catholic Worker tradition we are not tax exempt and that we are decidedly so, as our co-founders have asked us to be. In that spirit, we ask our friends to give generously out of their abundance at a personal sacrifice, never asking for Caesar to acknowledge us with a tax credit for our gifts, but only that the GOD who knows their hearts acknowledge them as He will. So long as the poor are taxed, so will we be with them.