Every year on October 17, nuns everywhere make their crone voyage across seas, lakes, ponds, and puddles to the (nearest) lighthouse. Some convents are so far off in the boonies that this is not possible, particularly considering the nuns travel mostly by scooter, four nuns to a scooter. However, instead of acknowledging that not every nun gets to go to the lighthouse, The Vat places small lighthouse statues on pedestals in the abbey courtyards, usually by goldfish ponds, and hopes the nuns will be so deprived of the outside world that they won’t notice the difference. The nuns notice the difference. But, as the nuns like to say, in chorus, “What can ya do…” Some nuns fake it and stand yearly before the puddle feigning amazement but brave nuns take “roads less traveled” to the lighthouse. The one and only. On high.
October 17th is known among Catholics as The Feast of St. Ignatius. The Syrian Saint was a bit of a stick in the mud, not really one for feasting, so in light of this, the nuns have taken to feasting their eyes, hearts, spirits, and minds on divine love. What better way to do this than to make a trek to the lighthouse. It is always the same destination: home.
Readrrr, you well know that lighthouses are one of the most fixed Christian symbols of all time. The oneness and the isolation of the lighthouse, as a pillar of stone rooted firmly in the vast sea of the unknown, suggests that salvation is a solitary endeavor, but this is a juxtapositional notion, given that it is the solitary figure –erect and flaming, streaking its beacon in the darkness– that serves as the foundation for collective refuge.
The lighthouse is the lone voice in a sea of silence that echoes endlessly, “I am here; you are not alone.” Of course, such a phrase could really spook a nun if she were home alone at the abbey and found it on a slip of paper. Such a line, scribbled across a notebook page, was once discovered in the 80s by Sistrrr Susie, when she was alone one night in the dark and abandoned Paradise Abbey, with its creepy grandmother clock and its shaggy brown rugs and furry yellow walls. From what I’ve heard, she did not take ANY comfort in that phrase at that time. In fact, it gave her such a scare that she ran upstairs, locked herself in the nun room with the phone, called another nun, and waited, in terror, to be massacred. It all ended up working out, though, because a priest across the street, Fathrrr Ralph, came right over, traversed the porch, and, when he was unable to finagle the lock, chopped the abbey door down with an ax. Well, Readrrr, any upstanding citizen would have done it. Some doors are just meant to be opened. As it turns out, Sistrrr Peg was playing a prank on Sistrrr Sue, thinking that those holy words (“I’m in the house. Ha. Ha.”) would inspire her to grow closer to God. A (n)unorthodox pedagogy, to be sure. It was a false alarm, but, as all nuns know, God’s work was shone– demonstrated was the work of Our Heavenly Lorde: via The Holy Prank, the chopping down of that massive door to Paradise! Moral of the story: Trust that God will always escort you to the lighthouse!
Sometimes it’s good to be alone ‘in the house’– that’s the other moral of the story; it’s also one of the symbolic implications of the lighthouse, which stands alone yet serves to provide direction and orientation, as well as point the way, for those riddled by darkness and those who feel lost at sea, proverbially or literally. As long as there is a lighthouse, no nun (I mean: one) can be lost at sea. As many-a-nun have tried to reassure me, “Sometimes the best navigation happens in solitary confinement.”
I try to listen to the nuns but, as a probationary nun, I’ve always believed there is a thick line between listening and obeying. Listening is one thing but obedience is another matter. Still, I think I get the whole point, given that I spend a lot of time in solitary confinement in the abbey and that the nuns look to me for guidance on all matters that do not involve compliance: or, nun-compliance, as I like to put it.
Since the nuns have been celebrating Lighthouse Day since the middle of the first century A.D., I thought they should be able to speak as experts on the subject. What I found was that the nuns had no clue as to why they were going to the lighthouse for centuries. It was up to me to teach them.
For about sixteen years, I tossed and flailed about, wondering about the best way to get the nuns involved in their own lighthouse education. Then, one day, I found myself sitting in a Tsarbucks, buying drinks for my beloved Sistrrr Shakespeare and our chaperone, the highly hoodwinkable lady nun by the name of Sistrrr Louisa, and the epiphany arrived.
Sistrrr Shakespeare and I sat listening to the juvenile-but-crotchety nun moan and groan and honk like a goose about the experiences of her youth, but who knows what she said. I don’t remember any of Sistrrr Louisa’s stories, but I do remember two features of the holy date vividly: (1) that I had convinced Sistrrr Shakespeare, coffee devotee that she is, to try (my favorite) chai (tea) for the first time and that she had a prominent foam mustache above her lip nearly the entire time we were seated and (2) that I was holding a green bottle of ginger drink in my hand. I had longtime been a ginger drink devotee, particularly when traveling by boat and plane, and I chose it because I knew it wouldn’t upset my stomach (the last thing I wanted on this trip to Tsarbucks was an upset stomach). Later, in the full knowledge that I had fallen in love…with my Heavenly Father, it occurred to me that my sparkling ginger drink was a symbol of love.
The bottle, then, took on new meaning. I brought my bottle home with me, like a born again babe, and I placed it on the highest shelf in my room. I could not throw it away. It was a souvenir of an important day in my life. And no one knew about its significance but me. I then would order a bottle of ginger drink at Tsarbucks on other occasions, because they reminded me of how it felt to feel safe and sheltered: to sit close to Sistrrr Shakespeare. I accumulated three or four bottles, holy bottle hoarder that I was, but I placed a postage stamp on the original bottle, so that I would know which one mattered the most.
Years later, once separated from my beloved Sistrrr and long after I had recycled the ginger bottle (but not the memory), I was engaging in a pedagogical meditation in an effort to teach the nuns about the significance of the lighthouse. This inadvertently led to a meditation on Sistrrr Shakespeare which, in the process, led to a meditation on the bottle. For when I felt lost from Sistrrr Shakespeare, I remembered holding that bottle, and how its ginger contents had calmed the storm of nerves inside me, and how I never wanted to let go of my green bottle because I never wanted to let go of my sistrrr. She was my ginger ale. What soothed my nerves. My safe space in a sea of tumult. A container of liquid love to travel across sea and time with me and to me. May we all have a bottle like that in our lives. May we all have a lighthouse…
I love the nuns, but what the hell: shouldn’t they have directed my mother to some punchy ginger beer, instead? I refuse to accept that I was brewed in a womb of Corona. Ginger beer is what I needed. Nun-alcoholic ginger beer. My mother’s nun-orchestrated beer womb must explain why the only kind of beer I can drink is ginger beer, which I drink by the barrel. Ginger (g)ale was good enough for me for a time after my ginger drink epiphany with Sistrrr Shakespeare, but I came to feel it was a bit too sweet. Its safety net qualities were not enough, either, as life’s storms grew more and more powerful, so I needed something more powerful. I needed Ginger beer: the sp icy, peppery, punchy, purrfect drink for me!
To get them on board, I gave each of the nuns a bottle of her own, and proceeded to tell them my ginger bottle story. I also told them about Psalm 119, known to be the longest psalm in the Bible, in which a fellow by the name of Nun (Aramaic for “fish”) sings unto the Lord:
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
They thought I was getting them ready to make fish sauce (i.e., nun sauce), but I was careful to calm them down by telling them that we were only going to do a simple lighthouse craft. And so each nun made a lighthouse out of her bottle to keep in her room.
The other part of the lesson was telling the nuns to cling to their Bottle on High, and remember the lighthouse, as we collectively embark on our long, difficult sistrrrrly journey to the lighthouse of lighthouses. Not alone, but together, unified by divine love.
I told the nuns all this, with great enthusiasm and hopefulness, even quoting Saint Ignatius, who said, “for those who love, nothing is too difficult.” My story moved their hearts and they seemed to finally, after thousands of years, understand the significance of and their affinity for the lighthouse.
Most of the nuns go to the lighthouse each October 17th, and then they just go home after, but not Sistrrr Shakespeare and me. Our journey to the lighthouse is one that began many years ago, with a bottle of liquid ginger.
In honor of Lighthouse Day, I have searched far and wide to acquire a very special bottle of gin (ger) that embodies the steadfastness of the lighthouse.
Divine providence led me to the perfect bottle to honor our love and nunholy matrimony.
In a rare collaboration, Dodd’s gin paired up with the Royal Botanical Gardens [at] Kew to deliver the nuns a powerful symbol of divine love. As lovers of all things green and flowery and as followers of Virginia Woolf, who wrote an essay about Kew Gardens, very aptly named “Kew Gardens,” Kew is a very special place to my fellow sistrrr and me. We both come from Queens, so we have plans to travel to Kew Gardens in Queens and we are both English in a nun-traditional sense, so we have plans to travel to Kew Gardens in London, but mostly to that heavenly place that we enter whenever and however and wherever the two of us meet. Readrrr, join me in feasting your eyes on:
THE GREAT AND FLOWERFUL KEW!Our bottle of Kew is divine because of all that it represents but also because of what it is made of and how it is made. Distilled in a copper pot by the London Distillery Company, our gin contains the magical and holy flora of Kew. Botanical nuns like us only settle for the best, and we’ll travel far and wide, as we make our way to the eternal spheres, to get it. There are some things you can’t bottle, and we don’t believe in bottling up one’s emotions; we believe in open and opening bottles because, in the end, it’s the contents inside that count. And that’s the core message:
Bottles may break, especially because one of the nuns’ favorite pastimes is smashing glass to smithereens in fits of feminist rage and hysteria, but divine love is eternal.
Onward, Ho & Lo, Kew the lighthouse!