Friday, March 8, 2013

St. Catherines, Betty, and Angelica: an International Women's Day Sychroblog

So, Sarah Bessey, who I totally want to have coffee with except that she lives in western Canada, is hosting a Sychroblog for International Women's Day, which is today.  This means a whole bunch of blog posts relating to the question, "Who is your patron saint, and who were your spiritual midwives?" are being put up on her blog today, and I thought, heck, might as well be one of them.

My patron saint, which I chose before my confirmation in the 8th grade, is St. Catherine.  There are a whole slew of St. Catherines in the Catholic Church, and as I remembered it, the one I had picked for my patron was Catherine of Siena.  (We could chose any patron we wanted, but had to write an extensive report on that saint's life.  Because there was no internet in the dark ages of my childhood, all we had for research was the saint biographies in our little Catholic school library.  I was lucky to snag a St. Catherine.  Two of my friends got stuck with the confirmation name Bernadette.)  However, a quick perusal of the online Catholic Encyclopedia this morning tells me that I'm wrong: my patron, whom I distinctly remembered as being married to a louse, is actually St. Catherine of Genoa.  Siena/Genoa, you can see how a girl might make a mistake.

Anyway, they were both known, oddly enough, for the practice of taking Holy Eucharist every single day, which during the Medieval period in which they both lived was exceedingly rare.  This was around the time that the Church issued an edict that every Catholic was expected to receive the Eucharist at least once a year.  Both were known for their service:  SCofG eventually became the manager and treasurer of a hospital, and SCofS was an ardent letter-writer whose missives influenced the Pope and other leaders of her time.  She's known as someone who spoke the truth to power, which is a pretty cool way to be remembered.

That said, both women were also pretty much whacked.  The Medieval term for this was "mystical."  SCofG had visions and revelations; SCofS starved herself, supposedly living off a daily spoonful of herbs and the Eucharist.  Also whacked is what happened to SCofS after her death:  the pope wanted her buried in Rome, while the people of her hometown, Siena, wanted her buried there.  So they cut off her head, (after she was dead) and let Rome have the body and Siena the head.  O--k--k-ay.

Sarah Bessey uses the term "Spiritual Midwives" to denote those women who somehow influenced your spiritual journey, who called out or helped birth a new and better part of you.  The obvious one for me is my friend Sarah, the nun/priest in Haiti.  Sarah's been my friend since forever; I've stayed up all night more times in her company than all other instances combined.  I've always been able to talk about anything with Sarah, including religion, including while sitting on her kitchen countertop at 3am waiting for a carrot cake to finish baking.  Sarah's become a better version of herself since joining the Society of St. Margaret, and I hope, through her intercession, that I have, too.  And I know she'll get me to Haiti some day.

Oddly enough, in my adult life (in my childhood I had mentors, but I'm not sure they'd count as midwives) I'm going to have to count my two main trainers, Angelica and Betty, too.  They're both sort of religious but hardly go around discussing it all day long.  What they do is tell the truth.  If you grew up, as I did, in a house where truth was a rare and dangerous commodity, this is as shocking and welcome as rain ending a drought.  When I was wildly nervous warming up in show jumping one horse show, years ago, I said to Betty, "I hate warmup rings."  She said back, "I can see."  That's all, in a completely neutral tone of voice.  And suddenly my nervousness was okay; I could accept it instead of fighting it.  As soon as I accepted it, it started to dissipate.

Angelica's tougher: she mixes her truth with snarky remarks and sometimes downright rudeness.  But she has this ability to see what I could be, and to push me toward that vision.  She also refuses to allow me or any of her students to be dependent on her in any way.  For a long time after I started competing I couldn't imagine doing it without a coach to help me, but Angelica broke it down for me.  First she only walked a course with me after  I had already walked it myself.  Next she wouldn't walk it at all, but she'd discuss it with me.  Now she might discuss a problem fence, but mostly, until I move up to a harder level where I actually need some guidance, I'm on my own where she's concerned.  The first time she expected me to warm myself up for cross country, I nearly panicked, but I realized she (and Betty) had taught me exactly how to do it, what I needed to get from my horse to know we were ready.  And after that, I wasn't panicked anymore.  And I can't tell you how empowering that feels, and how much it's carried over to my daily life.  I don't have to panic.  I know what to do.