Despite having thought that I had resolved my issues with my father, shortly after his death I fell into a lethargy accompanied by stomach flu and a cold. After about two weeks, the only symptom was a lingering cough. But I had no energy. I knew there were a number of essays to write or edit in the pending file on my computer, but didn’t have the will to do anything.
During this time, I came across the Greek Orthodox prayer rope (komboskini) that had been spontaneously removed from her person and given to me by the Mother Superior of the Paliani Convent in Crete a few years previously. Made of black wool yarn with one hundred intricately woven knots and a cross, it was not something I could easily wear in my everyday life. But as I was still lounging around in a black jersey nightgown, I put it on. I felt it on my skin and cradled between my breasts.
The Mother Superior, who was well under five feet tall to my over six feet tall, and I had known each other for over two decades, as I brought the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete groups to visit the convent twice a year. She always offered us coffee and cookies and sometimes holy bread in the convent’s refectory.
On most visits we sat together on a small couch, while she shared her story and the story of the convent with our group. She had asked to join the convent where her much older sister lived when she was only eight years old. She was made to wait until she was twelve before coming to live with her sister. When asked why she wanted to join, she sometimes spoke of God, but more often of the beautiful garden the nuns had created for the Holy Myrtle Tree.
After several of the older nuns who liked to join us in the refectory died, it became our ritual to sing the convent’s song of the Holy Myrtle Tree together at the end of our conversation. The Mother Superior knew that we were not Greek Orthodox, but she more than once commented that she loved to hear us “psalming” under the tree. Hers was a religion of love, not judgment, and she knew that I and the women who came with me to Paliani loved the Holy Myrtle Tree as she did. She and I came to love each other too.
This spring when we visited, I was told that my friend had died. The new Mother Superior, who had joined the convent in middle age after a career in the civil service, and who did not have the same spirit as the older nuns, had decreed that as our group was not Orthodox, we could no longer tie ribbons on the tree or sing under it.
I was heartbroken.
Another of the nuns who had known me for decades was outraged. “Isn’t the one God the Creator of all of us?” she kept asking. “Would anyone come to visit the Holy Myrtle Tree who does not love God?”
I wore the Mother Superior’s prayer rope for several days. As I was passing my time watching crime shows with forensic research units, it occurred to me that even though the Mother Superior had died, her DNA was on the prayer rope. She made it, she prayed holding it in her hands, and she wore it over her robes. That thought comforted me.
I took the prayer rope off after a few days when I got dressed to go out. The next morning, without thinking, I opened the pending file on my computer and began to work on the writing projects I had set aside. The cloud under which I had been living for almost a month had miraculously been lifted.
It took me another day or so to ask myself if I had been healed from beyond the grave by the Mother Superior’s love.
In memory of my dear friend, the Igoumeni Theopisti of Paliani (Siva, Crete, 1927-Paliani, Venerato, Crete, February 3, 2017), and in our shared love of the Holy Myrtle Tree and the Panagia, the Blessed Mother, Amen.
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Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.
Join Carol on the life-transforming and mind-blowing Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete.
A few spaces available on the fall tour. It could change your life!
Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger
Photos of Mother Superior Theopisti by Ann Lemon