Only once have I ever risked being catapulted out of an abbey for one of my (n)unorthodox (n)underground news publications, and that was when I was serving as Editor in Chief of The Shabby Abbey Grapevine (The SAG). That was under Father Danno’s (s)watch, when I put out a shocker edition called The Rapevine.
It was actually more like a phone book than a Catholic newspaper, at least the size of it was, because it included the direct accounts of eleven hundred nuns who reported having been assaulted by Father Danno. Apparently, he attempted rape on all eleven-hundred horrified and traumatized nuns, but the nuns were saved –due to his impotence– from enduring the hallmark stage of rape. Although Father Danno enjoyed holding power over nuns, he couldn’t actually become aroused by one, and so divine impotence saved the nuns from having to endure that part (except in the case of Sistrrr Shawnacy, nun-wife of Sistrrr Joan, who was to her great pain and misfortune penetrated into a sandpaper desert of dissatisfaction by Father Danno’s impotence worm). Each of their stories were unique, but they were all molested by the same deflated worm of impotence – the tyrannical culprit whom we thank God is now nothing more than a ghost at this abbey.
Two little nuns and I hauled The Rapevine around the Shabby Abbey, of course, but we also managed to get the thing delivered to abbeys all across the United States, thanks to the help of Sistrrr Indigo, a nun-turned-trucker who prays-on-the-go and sends the nuns images of indigo sunsets from the sky-cam attached to hrrr heroic Babylonian boxcar, Pearl. Sistrrr Indigo delivered copies of The Rapevine to nuns from coast to coast, until The Vat caught wind of Operation End Rapevine, and shut us down. Father Danno made every nun whose eyes fell on the hefty publication sign her name to a statement of apology that included the line, “Father Danno is the most virile person I know.” I refused to sign and told the nuns I would find us a nun-friendly lawyer if we wanted to continue to take him down (a redundancy, given that he never got up), but the nuns grew too frightened (and freight-ened with all that Rapevine-delivery-via-trucker business) to continue the operation once The Vat became involved. The idea of rising up against The Vat’s legal team, even knowing that the truth stands with them, was enough to cause the nuns to betray themselves and sistrrrhood itself.
This is how you discredit the sistrrrhood: you get a nun to tell an outrageous lie that no one in her right mind would believe. It makes the nun feel so sick with guilt that she gives up entirely. That is how The Vat wins. But, Readrrr, you and I are here because we know that The Vat cannot, and will not, win. Because LOVE WINS.
My emancipatory publication, The Rapevine, might have gone down in flames, but The Grapevine continues. We can no longer send out eleven-hundred-page apostolic true crime books but, as it stands (where F. Danno is concerned: it doesn’t!), we are currently at liberty to write partial truths and disguised truths in The Grapevine, which I am now running out of The Friary Priory.
One of my more cryptic columns, “I Spy Spirituals,” is a collaborative effort between the nuns and me. You can guess how it works, at least on a microcosmic level.
The premise is the juvenile classic, “I spy, with my little eye, something __________.”
I write a list of clues about sixty spied somethings that I have encountered in the priory, and the answers are encoded in the crossword puzzle, which the nuns fill in throughout the week. Essentially, they crack the code of themselves, because I only spy on them! But, as you know, Readrrr, the nuns love themselves and they love to read about themselves and they love to solve the puzzle of themselves. They stay up for hours in the night trying to solve the riddles I set up for them (and I stay up in the night studying the riddles they inadvertently set up for me– it’s called mutual love, Readrrr!). Trivia is one thing, but trivia about your own self… quite the divine mystery, I tell you. Although I have big, not little, eyes, I retained the “little” on the eye to make clear that, while I am a big picture nun with big eyes, the only Big Eye is the eye of our Holy Fathrrr.
Let me offer a few examples from The Column of The Little Eye.
I spy, with my little eye, something pleasurable in every nun’s bottom drawer.
I spy, with my little eye, something Sistrrr Smyth dreams of at night.
Crosswords: CHERRY PIE
I spy, with my little eye, Sistrrr Sackville’s favorite phrase.
Crossword: WOO(l)F, WOO(l)F
(one more, Dear Readrrr, one more)
I spy, with my little eye, the color that melts Sistrrr Almira Gulch into a puddle of divine love.
Got you on that last one, Readrrr, didn’t eye?! Sistrrr All-mire-ah does fancy what is known in Lake Oz Abbey as emeraldry. As for the apple of my own eye; my divinic desire favors what meets the eye at Mo-Hag Any-Lake, which gives me a red wood foe-rest kind of ache. Sistrrr Almira is a water-logged m-er-old city-nun so let’s focus on herrr:
Enter a snippet of trivia on the queen of Emerald City, since, as I have insisted from the beginning of this blog, I am a wicked little nun: the one known by millions as “the wicked witch of the West” was actually just a nun who hadn’t yet found her Oz. I consulted with Sistrrr Oz-bourne about this, and learned that in the all-true, alternative version of The Wizard of Oz, we learn that the Emerald City is a land of wicked nuns, like me, with green eyes. Anyone who makes it past the gates there immediately dies of earthly love and is just as immediately reborn again into the highest realm of divine love. Oz is the equivalent of Paradiso. It is no surprise, then, that most find themselves tumbling down the craggy and steep sides of Purgatory, headed right back to its very beginning. Not everyone is cut out to make the (star) trek to Mount Purgatory, let alone to transcend its peak and head into the fast and bright spherical lanes of the heavenly realm. It takes someone with vision, not eyes, to travel the path. What’s more, it takes someone with love blossoming eternally in the farthest, deepest, impossible to penetrate reaches of her soul. Readrrr, I hope you, like me, are that someone.
Wearing a pronounced eye brow, like the Wicked Witch of the West, is a good start to being that someone. If you care about your “ruby slippers” (crossword/codeword for Paradiso), you’ll consider it. For all you need is one eye if that little eye is “as powerful as a telescope.”
What I mean, Dear Readrrr, is this: do you possess The Telescope of The Soul? Do you?
If you possess the enormity of discernment that is the soul’s telescope, then, fear not, you are still on the path to Paradiso.
Paths to Paradiso… that’s another great Grapevine column of mine, one I am always streaming live. I love all of my columns in The Grapevine, but perhaps my favorite is our AA column: Aquaphobics Anunymous. Although the nuns LOVE anonymity, the nuns don’t have issues with alcoholism so we have never needed a traditional AA group around here, but we have nun-traditional issues, and one of them is aquaphobia.
Some of the nuns are frightened of water. They say that it’s a collective form of PTSD related to The Great Flood (known by the nuns as The Great Exclusion). Many sistrrrs claim the nuns were excluded from Noah’s Ark because they did not have a male-enough form. They wanted a ticket onto the ark, like every other one of God’s animals, but because they did not have a male and female form, their story is that they were left to drown in the wrath of the unforgiving waves, a species damned.
Nonsense, right?! Right! Here’s some probationary nunsense for you, instead: my research on the nuns has taught me that these nuns have been thinking about this all wrong– I mean, first of all, the nuns are aquatic by nature (the waves have everything to do with their existence and by god do they love to eat fish); secondly, after years of interrogating the wimple, I conclude that there are most certainly male and female nuns. In fact, each nun is both male AND female, in terms of gender (sexual organhood is debatable, too; it depends on the nun). The nuns are two-spirited, and don’t let anyone (other than a nun) tell you other-wise. Just ask the maniple-wearing Mantuan nuns, if you don’t have an eye telescopically competent enough to note the obvious (the whiskers, Readrrr, the whiskers… it’s all in the whiskers).
Note to my substitutive language students: an extra “r” can make a world of difference, as is evident in this Genesissyan passage:
“Then the Lord said to No(r)ah, ‘Come into the ark, you and all your convent, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation.'” Genesis 7:7+1/2
The story of how the nuns survived the flood, without the help of Noah or his ark, has been passed down through generations of nuns. In short, as I’ve heard through the gapevine (time and again) (did you notice that missing “r”, Readrrr?), God so loved the nuns that He built them their very own arrrk. Some kind of separatist ship of sistrrrhood. Sistrrr Norah’s Arrrk, He called it. Well, it afforded the nuns protection through the flood, just as it did the ark you’ve read about, but on one condition: that the nuns never remember they had a Norah or an arrrk. Talk about creating a gap in the collective memory of a sp-shes. All of this resulted in collective PTSD (Post Traumatic Ship Disorder). Come to find out, thanks to Old Sistrrr Lenora’s ancient scribbles and accurate memory (there’s always that one nun who remembers the exact shade of toenail polish worn at the original nun spa party…), one of The Vat’s best kept secrets is no secret in convents all over the world. Nuns everywhere are learning about their hisstory aboard Norah’s Arrrk, overcoming their mythological aquaphobia, and diving deep into the ocean of ancient knowledge to access memories of their formative years in order to heal from the hurtful myth that their Heavenly Fathrrr left them behind because of their inability and unwillingness to procreate.
“Only No(r)ah and those who were with her in the arrrk remained alive.” Genesis 7:23+1/2
I’m a probationary nun so I wasn’t aware of this when I was first at the priory. I only learned about it through Sistrrr Sappho Shakespeare (SSSh), when the two of us studied together for two years in the Nunderground Library at the Friary Priory. She did not tell me about Norah’s Arrrk. To the contrary, actually. She was a hardcore aquaphobic at the time– afraid of her own aquatic nature. It was she who nicknamed me “Sistrrr Great Lake” and called me her “little Finger Lake” because I was ever trying to get her to jump in the lake with me at nun camp. One time, I pulled her in. We were just girls then, but it caused a rift between us (rather than a raft, alas, although it did momentarily turn Sistrrr Sh into one). Speaking of rift-raft, I regret that rift (not that raft) to this day. But I do not regret trying to get her to see that phobias can be mythological in nature. And I know she does not regret my efforts, either, with the exception of the rift that formed that day at the lake.
The two of us were in our nun frocks, standing on the dock together, staring into a horizon so pink you would think one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s vulvas had swallowed the earth. Our faces beamed and glistened with the flesh of the divine feminine but the breeze from the lake kept us perfectly dry at the same time. Sistrrr Shakespeare was bunching up her frock because she had tripped on it following me out onto the dock. Her frock was considerably longer than mine because she is about seven inches taller than I. While we stood in the light of the luminous horizon, all hope within us, rippling with glimmering admiration for one another, like the outermost layers of the waves on the lake; I dared her to take off her frock and take a dive in the lake. She scoffed at me, in her usual, gentle way, and I said, “Fine, then, you stay here; you can watch me in the lake.”
She agreed to sit on the ledge of the dock and dip her feet in if I could find a way to bunch up her frock so that no one at the Friary Priory would know when we returned. I grew excited that she was ready to take this step with me and got down on my knees to gather up the bottom of her dress. While bunching, I noticed a rip in one of her seams, and began tearing off the bottom of her frock. It fell evenly and easily into my hand in seconds, as did her gasp into my ear and hand onto my head. “What are you doing,” she exclaimed. “It wanted to come off!” I responded. “What will the others say?!” “When you’re at the lake, you don’t worry about what the others will say,” I told her, growing annoyed at her concern for outside opinions.
I took in the sight of her ankles, which were strewn with unshaven hair and prominent, unapologetic pores, and mighty in their way. I tied the piece of frock around my waist and looked up at her disapproving face. “I want to wash your feet.” She gave me her “you’ve got to be kidding” look but crouched down beside me, and I started to note an Elvis-like half-smile come over her crooked mouth, the mouth I admit, Readrrr, I desperately wanted to kiss and never stop kissing. “Get in the lake then, Lady,” she said, egging me on. “That’s Milady, to you,” I said. She then pronounced me with a dignified authority only she could muster, “Milady of the Lake.” Taking it in, I pulled my frock over my head in seconds, and, in only my bloomers, lowered myself into the lake. Fortunately, it was not freezing that day or I would have been squealing and possibly also peeing.
The lake felt comfortable, homey even. I was hanging off the edge of the dock, scared of letting go and unsure of what was beneath or around me.
“May I have your feet?”
She awkwardly inched her feet toward me, pulling off each closed-toe sandal.
“Don’t you trust me?”
“What, trust the Lady of the Lake?”
She moved her feet in front of her, her toes touching the outermost part of the dock. Holding onto the dock with my right hand, I held my left hand in the shape of a cup and scooped up some water. “Ready?” “Ready,” she said. I took my little hand to her meaty ankle and slowly released the water, which traveled out in streams over the veins of her foot. I did this a number of times, slowly, and then traced the streams with my finger. I bit her toes a couple of times, which made her contract and chortle “ow, Me-(lady), ow.”
“What say you?” I asked, hoping for her approval.
“Me Low Key?”
This was our way of speaking with one another; no one else had to understand it – and it was better that they did not and could not.
“Me like Lo Key.”
Somehow the chill of the lake had no effect on my small frame. The Shakespearean sky warmed me. It was then, in the pink haze of the moment, that I noticed her toenails, as bright as the horizon.
“Not to break with tradition, but I have to know how you smuggled hot pink nail polish into the priory.”
“It’s a divine secret, but I’ll give yo a clue. Lo Key.”
“What’s the clue?”
“I just gave it to you.”
I rose and fell with the waves at the dock, one hand resting on her foot. For some time. I cannot tell you everything that happened after that because that’s between Sistrrr Shakespeare and me, but I will say that I earned my reputation as both a Finger Lake and a Great Lake all over the dock day (and she her reputation as the Niagara Falls). If only it hadn’t ended the way it did.
In the midst of being back up on the dock with Sistrrr Shakespeare, engaging in holy hankypanky -bloomers and knickers at our ankles, in what any sane onlooker would describe as an “outrageously compromising position,” the voices of a few priests suddenly sounded. They were coming toward us. “Oh God; priests! Hide…hide,” I started to climb off of the one whose lap I had been calling Good Ship Sappho. I pulled up hyr pantaloons but had no time to untangle my blooms. A lake of panic struck.
“Get in the lake with me, we can hide under the dock.”
I could see the terror flicker across the face of Good Ship Sappho and made a quick decision to hurl myself off the dock, this time pulling hyr into the lake with me.
Yes, Readrrr, I yanked hyr into the lake. But to my surprise she leapt in willingly. Once we were immersed, she gripped both my hands and pulled me under the dock with her. She was able to reach the bottom of the lake and had to bend her head to crouch under the dock. I was almost but not tall enough to stand without swallowing water and she could see this. “Shhh. Zip the lips!” she whispered, pulling me to her. “I’ll be your flotation device.” I smiled and felt safe with her under the dock. For a moment, a moment packed with eternity, we were safe, one with the lake, bobbing with the waves, safe with new horizons in our eyes.
But as soon as we felt warm in the horizon of the soul, a cold shadow was cast over us and the harsh, disapproving voices of snarly men shattered our ambient calm. It was at that moment that we froze and that the lake seemed to freeze around us. There, frozen in the lake, pressed together under the dock of darkness, we listened to the Oxfords of the priests heading toward us from above. One of the priest’s heel pressed down against the dock right over Sistrrr Shakespeare’s head. She winced and I wedged my hand between her head and the dock but could not move it to caress her. We were frozen.
The men stepping over us sneered and grabbed up my vestment, which (thank God for my forgetfulness) wasn’t labeled with my name, and they stomped off, muttering something about “getting to the bottom of this.” I knew we were in trouble. Sistrrr Shakespeare didn’t move. She was frozen. Her ankles felt like ice against my feet.
“I’m sorry, Sappho,” I began to fret, “You appear to be frozen. It’s okay. We’re safe.”
She then smirked. “Must have. True love’s kiss.”
“Oh my god! You scared me.” The warmth of relief cracked through me.
We were both icy at this point, Readrrr. But I pulled my mouth to her mouth and pressed my cold lips against hers, and what was stoic and icy melted into spring – the warmth wrapped around me and entered me; instantly, the seasons passed between us and it seemed that the water that surrounded us had miraculously turned. To wine.
Our spring, however immortal to our memories, was in reality short-lived. Father Roberto must have sensed a Sapphic miracle, because he came out to the dock almost immediately after it took place. Bent on maintaining winter at the priory, Father Roberto did his rounds at the dock just as we were moving our eternal spring fling onto its planks. He hobbled out, carrying the disheveled frock, to find us, after learning from his brethren about the mysterious frock on the dock. As soon as we emerged from the water and Sistrrr Shakespeare had hoisted me onto her lake-soaked lap, Father Roberto bounded out toward us and assaulted us with every condemnation known to nun (witchcraft and Sapphic Sin being the main accusations that were flying at us from his repetitive mouth).
Naturally, quick-thinking nun that I am, I begged for absolution for Sistrrr Shakespeare and told Father Roberto that all of it was my doing– that I had pulled her into the wicked water with me, that I had kissed her and that she had protested, that I was the unnatural one and that Sistrrr Shakespeare was not part of my wickedness. Sistrrr Shakespeare was in such a state of shock and feared Father Roberto so much that she could not react. She began to cry beside me, and I could see that he interpreted her tears as a sign of her repentance so I incorporated them into my story, pleading, “You see, Father Roberto, what I have done! It is all my sin! I am the wicked sistrrr of the lake! She sheds these tears for what I have put her through! I even painted those wicked pink toenails, Father!” I then began crying and knelt down to kiss her feet. “Forgive me, Sistrrr Shakespeare; forgive me for what I have done to you. Remove this wickedness from your sacred feet, Wife of Christ, and forget you ever knew me!” Father Roberto was satisfied with my confession, sent Sappho to repent in her cell, and took me to his office, where he unloaded the wrath of God on me and made calls for me to be removed from the Friary Priory. And I was removed the very next day, without being able to have one last word with or glimpse of Sappho Shakespeare.
She had overcome her fear of the lake, and saved me; she was no longer an aquaphobic, like so many of the nuns. She knew that it was not the flood, nor the lake, that would drown her, but only fear. Fear of Father Roberto. Fear of condemnation. Fear of public ridicule.
Fear was death. It was life without the protection of the God-granted ark. Waterfright is nothing other than a fear of self. That is what I learned in the lake, on and under the dock, with Sistrrr Shakespeare that day.
Now, today, though I am still separated from Sistrrr Sappho Shakespeare, I run AA meetings and an AA column for the nuns who are ready to anunymously dip their fingers and toes into their own great lakes. It may not be the news everybody in the world is interested in reading, but it’s the good news that the nuns most need.
The good news that the nuns are fountains of living water, reflecting God’s love, and nobody, neither Father Danno nor Father Roberto, can deny it!
You visit the earth, and water it: you greatly enrich it with the river of God, which is full of water: you prepare them grain, when you have so provided for it. Psalm 65:9