Thursday, November 1, 2012

God's Opening Flower: Marianne of Molokai

Dear Reader -  Today is All Saints’ Day. For those of us in America, it’s not a big deal unless we’re part of a liturgical church (and, heck, even then it’s lost its luster as a feast in some circles). But I remember back when I lived in a more traditionally Roman Catholic country: the whole world shut down to mark the occasion.

Since I’m sitting here in Lewes, my shop is open – and nobody’s stopped by to wish me a good one. Not surprising. But I’m finding myself feeling a little wistful this year.


As I told my church choir buddies a week ago at rehearsal, my mom’s Aunt Marianne (for whom I’d written a poem that our former director, George Bayley, set to music for us all to sing) was canonized at St. Peter’s Basilica on October 21 (the eleventh American to be named). So this is her first All Saints’ Day as an official saint.

Now, anybody who knew of her knew well that she didn’t need any official designation to deserve reverence and appreciation, but it still feels good to have her recognized.

Known as Mother Marianne of Molokai for most of her life, the work that gained her the most attention was with the leper colony on that remote Hawaiian island. But her work for those who were outcasts and social pariahs began long before that, as I learned in the books that my mom shared with me about her when I was growing up.

She opened and administered some of the first general hospitals in the United States in upstate New York. Her work was groundbreaking in two ways: she figured out that good hygiene was key, implementing practices that are still in place today, and she also refused to bend to the social barriers that kept many from medical care, including race. In particular, her willingness to care for alcoholics scandalized society.

As mother superior of her order in Syracuse, she answered the Hawaiian king’s plea for help with the leper colonies after 50 other religious orders from around the world had refused – and the sisters of her order volunteered in droves to help as well.

The conditions that the nuns encountered on the islands were horrific. Employing the same brand of practicality and determination, Mother Marianne transformed the hospitals into clean, functional institutions. She and her sisters had to exercise a lot of bravery as well, standing up to the royals and their government as well as the unscrupulous men who ran roughshod over the lepers, particularly in the colony on Molokai (an island which served as a natural prison).

After Father Damien (who has since been canonized for his groundbreaking work on Molokai) succumbed to the disease, Marianne and her sisters took on his responsibilities. In the course of their work, the women transformed the colony – not only making it a clean and sanitary home, but also adding beauty and joy to what was previously a bleak existence - planting gardens, making beautiful clothes, teaching the children, and sharing music. Not one of them ever contracted leprosy in the decades that they served.

Marianne’s love of music became the inspiration for the title of my poem: God’s Opening Flower. Her favorite song was Makalapua (The Opening Flower), which was sung at her beatification at St. Peter’s seven years ago. And the heart of the poem, the line “What I did I did for joy,” came from an astonishing and transformative moment that I shared with her in a meditation.

So, even though I can’t be part of any particular celebrations on her behalf this All Saints' Day, I figure I can celebrate with you here, dear Reader, and share my little poem. Thanks so much for indulging me!

Blessings  - Jen

God’s Opening Flower:
Blessed Mother Marianne of Molokai
 written in honor of her feast day on January 23, 2006, by Jen Mason

Who are the wretched and outcast among us?

Do we see them? Do we know them? Do we hold them as they are?

Or do we turn away, veiling our lives: setting a darkness and distance which calms our fears?

In our darkness a voice breaks through:
            What I did I did for joy
            My life filled up to brim and over
            Sharing in pure brightness the joys of living
            God has made me an Opening Flower

Lives that knew nothing but wretchedness and isolation: cast out and left to the wolves of lust and greed.

To these lives came our Opening Flower, revealing the beauty and dignity that dwelt there all along.

Lives that lived in another kind of prison: locked in the illusion of perceived superiority.

Our Flower gently lifted that veil of security, shielding the open souls from all danger and harm.

For in our darkness a voice breaks through:
            What I did I did for joy
            My life filled up to brim and over
            Sharing in pure brightness the joys of living
            God has made me an Opening Flower

Our Opening Flower knows the wretched and the outcast among us. She knows what is outcast within us, too.

She boldly, safely leads us through the trappings of our own shuttered minds and souls to the beauty and dignity that dwells with us today.

“The charity of good knows no creeds and is confined to no one place.”

We, too, must follow where joy and beauty lead.

For what we do we do for joy
Our lives filled up to brim and over
Sharing in pure brightness the joys of living
God will make of us Opening Flowers.

(And now, dear Reader, you can see what a talented fellow George Bayley is for figuring out a way to set this less-than lyrical poem to music - and how kind my fellow singers were for singing it with me!)

P.S. We gotta have music, right? I've listened along to Mr. Bruno Mars every now and then with Miss C on XM, but none of his songs have ever really stuck for me. That is, until now - I saw this new song of his performed on SNL a couple Saturdays ago. It's so darn happy (even talks about heaven [grin], and I figured it was performed pretty darn close to the same time as her canonization - so I'm thinking it's a good, if unorthodox, accompaniment to my musings about Aunt Marianne (hint: don't skip the ad, or you'll get taken to some odd place on youtube):

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