“What is beauty?” and “In our life, what strikes you as beautiful?” These were the questions proposed by our Mother Abbess to the youngest members of our community for our pondering and presentation in video format. Wanting to benefit from the insights of all, we in turn invited each of our sisters to reflect upon the nature of beauty and the expressions of the beautiful found within our monastic enclosure. “God is Beauty,” all agreed, “and He both reveals and conceals that beauty in the glimpses of Himself that we are blessed to perceive this side of heaven.” And, in a particular way, “Beauty is Jesus Christ.”
After the expression of these most essential realities of our Poor Clare life, a pattern emerged in the wide range of responses which allowed us to categorize insights and suggested images under the headings of:
Beauty in the Liturgy
Beauty in our Customs – Becoming Whole
Beauty Perceived by the Senses
Beauty in our Bridal Covenant with Jesus
Then began a two-month long enterprise of translating a little portion of those large possibilities expressive of beauty into a concrete form genuinely reflective of our Roswell Poor Clare life. Evening recreations in the novitiate were often spent gathered around our common room table, discussing, planning, selecting. A small video camera donated by the younger old sister of our postulant was our first piece of equipment, supplemented by the seven and a half minutes of video-capacity on the community’s camera, with both together eventually producing hundreds of video and sound clips of our daily life and observance. An adjustable music stand (already doubling as our Mass lectern) was called into service as a make-shift tripod. And, finally, a bargain sale purchase by one of our families at an eBay store enhanced the capacities of our donated laptop to include a suitable movie-making program, a critical component for coalescing the final selection of 253 pieces of image and sound into one united whole.
Filming and editing, stabilizing and refining, each of our novitiate members and our mistress contributed according to our particular areas of proficiency, with all of us coming together on a daily basis for consensus as we worked through each category for presentation. It became “our” work, indeed, even as it transcended us: At the very start it was clear that this was less novitiate project than community endeavor, from the initial submission of individual responses to the welcome assistance of a generous sister who volunteered her workroom and expertise to help with sound recordings and the continued cooperation of all our sisters in being filmed. “What is beauty? In our life, what strikes you as beautiful?” “The sisters themselves,” we echo; for just as none of us could have produced this video by herself, so none of us can express the fullness of the Poor Clare charism without the others. This in itself is one of the most beautiful aspects of our shared vocation – that every one of our sisters and all of us together are needed to create, maintain and foster.
“The senior sisters of a community make up its crown; the young solemnly professed are its strength; the novitiate sisters are its hope for tomorrow.” -Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.
Published by the Roswell Poor Clares’ novitiate
“What is beauty?” and “In our life, what strikes you as beautiful?” When our Mother Abbess proposed these two questions to our novitiate shortly after the September feast of Our Lady’s birth and suggested that we use the medium of video to convey our answers, we could hardly have imagined all that the next two and a half months would hold – or that we of NBC (Novitiate Broadcasting Corporation) would have so privileged a role in sharing some of the most beautiful aspects of our life not only with our own sisters but with our families and friends as well.
BEAUTY IN OUR POOR CLARE LIFE
Reflections on the Beautiful
by our Roswell Community
is now available for viewing on our community’s website at www.poorclares-roswell.org. And in this issue of Mañana, it is our joy to share with you some of the “behind the scenes” operations which led to its production.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: Like most Poor Clare endeavors, we knew from the very start that this project also had to be a community-wide enterprise. So our first step was to ask each sister to write down her personal reflections on Mother’s questions, which created the narrative for our film. Anybody who thinks that Poor Clare nuns are exactly alike need only skim through the wide range of answers that arrived in our novitiate in an unassuming cardboard box from the community sisters. Most wrote original prose as their response. Some quoted Saint Thomas Aquinas. Each contributed with enthusiasm in her own highly original style to speak of that topic so dear to any contemplative’s heart: beauty, and more importantly, of the One Who is its Source.
…AND THEN WHAT? Next followed the process of sorting through the sisters’ responses, organizing them under the four basic headings of:
Beauty in the Liturgy
Beauty in our Customs – Becoming Whole
Beauty in Creation Experienced Through the Senses
Beauty in our Bridal Covenant with Jesus
and then linking them together into a narrative script to guide the video. At the sound of the 6:30 evening recreation bell, while the solemnly professed sisters gathered in the community room with their light sewing, rosary-making, crocheting, etc., the novitiate sisters often made a beeline to “Official Video Headquarters” in our own common room for what always seemed a far too short recreation hour before our donated laptop, to discourse joyously but intently on all things “video.” We not only marveled at the insights of our sisters, but scratched our heads at how to put them all together! The moment we would declare this complex task “Finally finished,” one or the other of us would appear the following evening at recreation saying ever so sweetly, “I was thinking about our script, and it needs more work here.” What made the task even more complex was the necessity of matching each answer with a fitting scene or image from our life. Yet how does one make a video on our Poor Clare life flow effortlessly, when the community may be praying the Divine Office in choir one minute, and then participating in some general work project the next?
Another challenge we encountered was the sheer amount of footage we had collected. After weeks of, “Oh, that is beautiful! Where is the camera?” we had an astounding amount of film and audio files: sunsets, sunrises, birdsong, bellsong, and so much more. All twenty-three of us in the community had speaking parts (and, yes, that is the voice of Mother Mary Francis, from a tape recording of one of her poems). Many recreations were spent just deleting what we could not use. The laptop holding our video editing software, an invaluable resource in this project, was weighed down with hundreds of video and sound clips, which we eventually trimmed to a final selection of “only” 253 pieces of image and sound destined for actual use. Our laptop was very pleased with how light it felt, and we were amazed at how quickly things proceeded after we had cleaned it up. We also used the laptop as a sort of glorified typewriter to write this very chronicle. As the novitiate sisters of ages past sewed away their Saturday work periods, so we novitiate sisters of today passed many work periods before the laptop, which rested on top of a sewing machine table and did not seem the least bit self-conscious about being in our monastic novitiate. (We do want to assure our readers that we still see far more of the sewing machines than we do of the laptop, and that we’d like to keep it that way!).
EQUIPMENT AND COSTS: We simply could not have made this video without that faithful laptop, the video editing program purchased on sale by a sister’s mother, the community’s camera (with limited video capabilities) and a hand-me-down video camera from our postulant’s little sister. But perhaps most notable among all our pieces of equipment was the music stand. In true Poor Clare fashion, this relic from ancient times, which had begun life as an adjustable music stand from a sister’s younger days playing the saxophone in high school band, had already been called in and dignified with an elegant drape to play the part of lectern for Holy Mass. The old music stand was then called into play as “official video equipment.” Its adjustable height and side-to-side swivel capabilities made it highly desirable for our filming needs, providing the stability of a tripod during the video’s longer scenes (specifically those panning shots in our monastic choir and refectory).
One particularly humorous incident occurred when filming the first panning shot of our video, in which the camera slowly pans down from our choir crucifix to the Blessed Sacrament. Don’t be deceived by the effortless footage you behold in the video: this shot took work, and repeated attempts to get it just right. The old music stand was brought in to serve as “filming assistant” for the shot. Only, the stand was not tall enough to capture the crucifix at the proper angle. Poor Clares are not daunted by such trifles. A table was carried into choir and the stand was perched on top of it, with the camera resting on the peak of this small mountain of equipment. Our junior balanced on a wooden bench behind the “mountain” to control the camera, with our postulant anchoring herself at its base to keep the music stand and camera from shifting and plunging off into the abyss. Dear Mistress meanwhile stood by to lend moral support and legitimacy to the whole operation. It was quite an affair, but in the end it was worth it, for the shot came out beautifully.
EQUIPMENT, PART II: But this versatile music stand was not the only special equipment our NBC camera crew hauled through the halls of our monastic home. There was also the huge ladder, brought up from the sacristy basement and erected on the raised platform directly beneath the altar, one fine Saturday morning when the tabernacle was closed and the choir being cleaned. This time it was our Dear Mistress who clambered up the seemingly never-ending steps to capture the opening image of our video: the face of our Lord on our beautiful choir crucifix. Although the ladder was extra tall, it did not reach high enough to capture our Lord’s face straight-on. In order to achieve this shot, she stood on the highest step which could safely hold a Poor Clare nun and raised the camera straight up over her head. The other members of NBC, holding the base of the ladder steady with all their might, gazed upward at the LCD monitor of the camera, and whispered out instructions: “Left!” “Up!” “No, not that far up!” Then: “Zoom! Now, wait for it to focus. Oh, no, you’re taking a video, not a picture!” It was certainly an adventure, but by the third time Dear Mistress had disembarked from the towering ladder, the filming was deemed “just right,” and we were ready to leave our monastic choir to its usual peace.
MORE “BEHIND THE SCENES”: Another incident deserving special mention was the filming of the incense. That two-second shot of the gracefully rising smoke required much effort, for we learned when attempting to film this apparently simple shot that the beautiful incense has a mind of its own. On that particular day, the heat was on in choir and every time the blower blew, that small wave of air would chase the incense in all directions. It was rising, all right, but to the right and to the left, and not straight up as we desired. Our NBC camera-woman, with equipment gripped firmly in one hand, gently waved the other toward the incense. When it persisted in its errancy, she lowered her head into the undulating waves and desperately began to blow, thereby risking smoke inhalation and reminding herself that often the best penances in life are the ones we do not choose. That night at recreation, when she presented herself at Official Video Headquarters with multiple shots of the incense (yes, at last finally rising straight up), she admitted that “I don’t know how many times I filmed it.” “Six?” we asked. “I wish it had been only six!” she remarked, expressing her relief that movie-making is not our permanent apostolate!
It was another story with the turtle. That particular video (actually, our very first, done as an experiment to learn how to operate the camera) came about almost by accident, when Sister Turtle just happened to be out for her constitutional that particular sunny afternoon. Sometimes it’s a matter of planning, we concluded, and at other times, just being in the right place at the right time. That’s because, in the end, it’s all about…
“PERFECT TIMING”: Everyone in the film industry knows that timing – both in the movie itself, as well as for its release – is of critical importance. The timing for Beauty in our Poor Clare Life couldn’t have been more perfect, falling entirely under the auspices of the Mother of God. Begun shortly after the feast of her Nativity, it was completed on November 21, the memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Pro Orantibus Day, when the Church remembers her contemplatives and their hidden lives of prayer and sacrifice. We burned the first DVD on the following day, and it was viewed by the community on the great Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. A further Marian touch was that the video appeared on our website around the Solemnity of our Lady’s Immaculate Conception (not having internet at the monastery, we didn’t upload it ourselves).
What we never could have planned, however, was that our video’s release would coincide so closely with the publication of our Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. By vocation, Poor Clares typically evangelize from the cloister by living the Gospel as our very form of life. But in these days when Pope Francis is challenging the entire Church to spread the Good News by a radical, new commitment to mission, we see Mother’s decision to open this window into the beauty of our life as a definite response to his call to a more creative evangelization. For we, too, are “people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty,” who seek to make the beauty of the Gospel “more clearly recognized and accepted by all.” With his affirmation that “the Church evangelizes and is evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy” we heartily agree, even as we firmly believe that the whole of Poor Clare life “gives direct expression to the heart of the Gospel” and that “what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ.” And so it is our privilege and our joy to present these glimpses into the BEAUTY IN OUR POOR CLARE LIFE. As our Holy Father invites us, “Let us go forth, then, let us go forth and offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ.”