December 06, 2006

Angel of the morning

or a conversation over morning tea with a 74-year-old nun about Christmas that dissolved into me having to stop the interview because I was crying. Up until then, we had chatted amiably about Christmas trees, what the sisters were each going to cook for Christmas dinner, the perils of leaving small children to celebrate midnight mass by themselves with tablecloths and candles, and how commercialism had washed away the link between Christ and Christmas ...

Me: What was your best Christmas ever?

The nun: (looking off into the distance a little) In the 1970s, we were decorating the crib which is at the back of our chapel and we heard one of our sisters had been killed in an accident in Picton. That really told us that death was part of the child’s coming. In some way it was a very memorable Christmas Eve. We’d heard this group had been to Picton to pick up a nun from the ferry were driving back to Blenheim and there was a slick on the road. And one of our sisters was killed and two were injured. I think was forceful memory that this celebration, we were committing to the birth of Christ in the liturgical year and she was committing to eternity, and that both were part of our lives.

Me: (not really getting it) So death is not a sad thing?

The nun: Death is a return to God, but I’m not sure what it is on the other side. For me it is a deep element of faith, where or what the eternity will be, but I have a deep faith that there will be an eternity in one form or another. But I haven’t got visions of beautiful surroundings, I’ve only got a sense that God my creator will be there. I’ve lived in that faith all my life, and that he will bring me to a happy death, a realistic death, and acceptance of death. I watched a 35-year-old nun die of cancer, and after fighting it for 11 months, I thought that death was the nicest thing God could give her. It was a gift, it was the culmination of a life well spent. If you’re fearful of death then you have been badly informed. If you are fearful that death will bring you to a judgement you’ve been badly informed. You’re going to God who made us in love, you’re going to the ultimate, a person who appreciates you and knows all that you’ve done, and all that’s good in you.

Me: (in a tiny mouse like voice, feeling suddenly overcome by tears): Even if you’ve been bad?

The nun: (almost whispering) Yes, God knows why. He knows the conditions in your life that might have driven you to a fragile life. You might have a little insight in to the whys of failure. God has a full insight into the whys of failure, so God sees failure in a different why to what we do. I don’t believe that God comes down with a heavy hand. He is the hand from whom we came. He understands the reasons for failures. He accepts them. Lots of humans won’t, but God will. You didn't really want to know all that?

Me: (gasping for breath, unable to speak) I feel ... I think we'll leave it there for today.

The nun: (smiling) Ok.

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