Bill's going to the monastery this weekend. He's joining 25 other members of his church for a weekend retreat at St. Gertrude's in Cottonwood. I'm not joining him for a number of reasons. Somebody has to take care of the animals. When he first asked me, I thought I might be saddled down with some proofreading for my manuscript. I also knew that Annie might be coming this weekend. So, I declined.
He has continued to ask me if I wanted to go. Finally, I responded with the most profound truth behind my unwillingness to spend the weekend in Cottonwood with a bunch of Presbyterians and their hosting Benedictine nuns.
"I can't behave that long," I said. "It's just not within my being to be that good for a whole weekend." After all, Presbyterians and nuns would be aware of my every move, and as a fiercely independent, easily distracted soul, I know my limitations, especially when it comes to formalized religious situations. An hour maybe, but a whole weekend----it's just not in the cards.
Bill told his minister Nancy why I wasn't going. She said I could come anyway. She didn't care if I was good. She also said I didn't even need to stick around all weekend, if I'd just come.
I thought that gesture of goodwill was very gracious of her. It's typical of what I've seen of Nancy since she and her husband Gary moved to Sandpoint a few years ago. Nancy epitomizes ecumenism along with a lot of other admirable traits. She's a doctor. She's a retired Air Force officer. She's lived all over the world. She's a mother of three boys. Her hubby does a lot of neat ministry in the former Soviet Union. He also spent time in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.
After a career as a doctor, Nancy decided to take up the ministry. So, she went to Cambridge University and earned another degree. She and Gary came to Sandpoint from Kentucky. I know that Bill and I hope they'll stay put. Bill works closely with Nancy as the clerk of the session at the local Presbyterian Church. To say he's dedicated reaches beyond understatement.
I've often said that I could never be anything but Catholic, even though I'm in a period of lapse these days for various reasons. I do and have admired over the years ministers and members of other religious persuasions, not for the religious dogma they peddle but for the open-minded, welcoming but not pushy religious example they set. Yes, Dennis, you know that you've almost turned me on to Lutherdom. And, there's Colin who's an assistant pastor at Cedar Hills, and what an inspiring human being he is! There's also Paul, the open-minded Methodist. I'm sure there are more who would fit in this category if I only knew them better.
Because of Bill's association with the Presbyterian Church, I've enjoyed a special friendship and admiration for Nancy, so much so that we asked her to participate in Willie's wedding, standing side by side with Fr. Tim O'Donovan. We asked Nancy to officiate at my dad's funeral. Most folks who came were surprised to learn she had never met my dad. One would never guess from the beautiful words spoken about him that day.
I remember a brief discussion we shared while driving to the cemetery on that snowy afternoon. Those few words convinced me that this woman sees beyond borders, beyond persuasions, beyond restrictive dogma. She embraces what is good regardless of its roots, and I think that is good.
This Presbyterian minister goes to St. Gertrude's Monastery on a regular basis for four-day retreats. She has told me these activities recharge her engines. Now, she arranges for her church members to enjoy the setting as she does. Bill will be with the group this weekend, and I know he'll come home fulfilled from the experience and thrilled to have spent some time visiting with his good friend Sr. Carol Ann Wassmuth, the St. Gertrude's forester.
I'll stay home and hopefully out of trouble because Annie is coming for the weekend. One day, though, I'll try to dig deep within myself and find an ample dose of self-discipline allowing me to behave at an upcoming Presbyterian retreat at St. Gertrude's. It won't bother me to be among the Presbyterians because I do believe that this activity exemplifies what God would want for us on this earth: to get along, to respect one other for individual beliefs and to live as an unpretentious example to others.
That's what Pastor Dr. Nancy Copeland-Payton does in my eyes, and I admire her for crossing boundaries and consistently building---in a quiet but profound way----the understanding we so need in this world.