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My Soul Remembers—6—SOUTH AMERICA

I was soon being drawn to a new experience quite remote from the former ones.

Due to my former experience, I was pulled to a deeply religious family steeped in tradition and hours of ritual.

At an early age, they placed me in a convent for training.

I was struck with fear, a fear that almost caused madness.

The discipline was strict, and the hours were long.

A combination of work and controlled prayer became a way of life.

We lost contact with the outside world and the affairs of state.

With all the prompting, I was able to take my final vows and become a nun.

In spite of my vows, there was much I resisted and was cautioned by the superiors that God would punish me for this type of disobedience.

I was not afraid of my God, but I was afraid of my superiors.

The routine of prayer was so mechanical that it became monotonous.

I refused to take part in it but prayed within myself according to the promptings of my own indwelling Lord.

Much was seen over the edges of the prayer book as God was sending His message through my heart.

Time takes care of all things, and so it was with me.

A call was received for a missionary sister, and I responded to this call.

I had been trained in the care of emotionally and mentally disturbed minds.

This gave me a deeper insight into the human being and taught me why the body is compelled to suffer for lack of mental discipline.

The boat trip was long but afforded me a freedom I had not enjoyed since childhood.

The great ocean seemed so much a part of me as we tossed in the waves frosted by her vigor.

I loved her as she slapped the hull and stern of our ship.

I felt her strength as she beat upon rocks and sand.

This was a new experience — a new friend.

We arrived in South America; the headquarters were in Peru.

We were escorted by carriage to a high point beyond the crowded city where the convent was located.

The Superior appeared to be a harsh woman, but, behind her armor of protection, she carried an abiding love for the Christ.

We became inseparable friends, taking long walks together and confiding in each other.

We especially enjoyed the gardens that were carefully tended by Juan, our all-around-man.

In our times together, we would discuss many matters and our relationship to them.

We are too confined she would say; some day it will be different.

We are too cut-off from the real world to render any great service.

I agreed and confessed my desire to serve life through prayer activity.

Both of us felt prayer had its rightful place, but agreed it calls the hands and feet to action.

Prayer without works is dead.

The cloistered life did not stop me from reaching out in thought to the world that lay beyond the great walls.

I knew that one day I would enter that world.

The walls were not my boundaries; they could not confine me.

Straight they stood like giant sentinels in our world.

Yes, there is so much I remember, my soul does not forget.

My life had a richness and, for the time, I was satisfied being married to God.

The marriage was heaven-ordained they told us, yet I remained very much a part of the earth and subject to human desires.

The chalk white habits sang their song, flowing from our bodies and sweeping over the stone walks.

Our black ones brought somberness and reverence to the dignity of our order.

I was always reaching for the crucifix to remind me of my obligations that otherwise slipped my mind.

I loved the smell of salt water as the spray sent a delightful aroma over our walls.

I enjoyed her manner of speech as she poured herself over the cliffs and the rocks below.

The heavy humidity gave us an abundance of vegetation.

Flowers blooming on all sides appeared as smiles in God’s world.

I loved them and caressed their petals with tenderness.

Even in this world of solitude the atmosphere was alive with vibrant colors and great vitality.

Prayer, you ask about prayer.

What is prayer but man, living, being that which God created him to be.

Is not life the very prayer of God moving through man?

In our world, man is so accustomed to words, he tries to live through what he spits from his mouth.

Prayer is silent communion that builds an inner reserve for those periods of emergency.

Prayer is like a dam in human consciousness that directs the flow of infinite energy and gives direction to its movement.

It is a type of spiritual reservoir and needs mental engineering to operate at peak performance.

I call prayer heaven’s conservation plan and program.

Now, I will tell you about prayers, for I remember vespers when the giant bells would swing high in the tower and send their call far across hillside and valley.

People are being called to prayers; it is time to worship.

Columns of black habits move in precision toward the chapel, and, as they go, one by one, in face-framing hoods, stiffly starched, projecting like blinders on either side, I watch until I, too, must fall in line.

With attention focused forward, we cannot be distracted by passing happenings.

I remember as they passed how deeply I felt for each one, knowing something of the loneliness each one felt.

Each face told a story, this I especially remember.

Yes, I, too, have my story.

A story that keeps me awake in the midnight of my life.

A story that tears at the heart like the waves beating the coastline below.

A story written by life and not by temporary enclosures.

Yes, life present, past, and life yet to come.

During my many walks in the garden I had taken special notice of Juan.

Frequently, I took liberty to talk with him and speak with gaiety, reflecting my inner feelings.

There was something in him that drew me to him in a way that brought fear to my mind.

I questioned, “What is it this man has to do with me? Why is it I feel this magnetic attraction that pulls me in its mighty current?”

My feelings were strong, shadowed by guilt, yet I was helpless in my effort to gain freedom from them.

This was wrong for a nun to entertain such feelings, yet they were present in me.

My path crossed his many times, and somehow he understood my intentions.

Now, ask me about love, for this is a type of love but not love itself.

Love is often cruel in its attempt to adjust itself and be lifted up.

The pain can be more severe than any physical illness.

Even in the hurting, there is a peculiar comfort.

Love is a feeling transmitted between souls that remember and long once more to find solace in union.

These souls forget careless use of energy brings destruction.

Love, yes, I am speaking of love, not sex.

Man has been misinformed regarding both.

Man has come to believe that love is sex and has distorted the image.

In his confusion he misues both, weeping in his so doing.

Energy is energy and can be directed into whatever channel the mind will send it.

Sex is an action resulting from a personal reaction.

The reaction itself proves to be unsatisfactory at times and brings violence rather than harmony.

We must guard ourselves against the wrong use of any power, for that power is redirected back to the sender with precise accuracy.

With all this knowing, the temptation was more than I could resist.

Consciously aware of my vows made years ago, time dulled the utterances I made.

Why is it we forget things we should remember?

My only concern now was that I needed Juan more than I needed vows or anything my present world could give me.

Shocked? Yes, I was shocked, but I was practical enough to be brutally honest.

Tell me, life, why does my soul remember?

This, too, my soul remembers: a hard pillow, wet with tears; long, dark nights in a lonesome cell whose interior boasted earthly possessions of a prayer book, candle, straw mattress, and crucifix.

The walls projected an unfriendly feeling with their stark coldness.

Bare, they stood, like a person stripped of possessions.

We were told this helped to keep our mind on God and spared us the desire to possess things.

I tell you; God did a better job in creating His world.

He did not fill it with drabness but adorned her with extravagant beauty.

Soon, I learned my feelings were the feelings of many of my Sisters.

More than a few were torn in the struggle between devotion and service.

Hard, gruelling work helped some to forget; temper was a release for others, while fear mocked the hearts of the timid ones.

I am grateful that some could reveal it as joy and radiate His love sincerely and purely.

There were only a few, I tell you, not many,

I longed to go beyond those great walls and began to evolve a plan in which I could make this journey.

The world I had left behind was once more calling me, and I knew I must answer.

An urgent need for help among the poor was evident, and the numbers to serve were few.

Opportunity had presented herself to me; she beckoned, and I responded.

My request was granted on the basis that our gardener accompany me on these outings.

Now, life had given me more than I had bargained for; this new experience unlocked the huge carved wooden gates.

Outside lay a waiting world, tired, commercial, rushing, sick, pleading her case, and trying to find peace in her own unwillingness to yield.

I saw all manner of things, and I recalled that this is what an open door reveals.

My friend Juan, his donkey loaded with supplies, and myself wove our way up the hillside into the country area.

Here we ministered to the sick, the hopeless, and the confused.

These were a part of the world’s unknowing victims.

They were not yet aware of a great truth that would one day deliver them from this treadmill of habitual difficulty.

I loved them, as they reached out to me for light and love in their child-like ways.

The friendship between Juan and me grew deeper, and a strange emotion began to write her story.

There was untold anxiety that beat us both like lashing whips.

I remember an occasion, while resting near a small waterfall, that his arms caught me.

His velvet lips told what he had been unable to speak and had sealed in his heart.

I realized this was the soul of my former husband that followed me and now lived in Juan.

Once more we rested in the love we once shared.

It was only a moment, but it still lingers.

I was no longer afraid; I did not resist; I gave what I had to give.

Our eyes met often and spoke a language unknown to the others.

A clasp of the hand sent love wildly through our bodies to later rest in its converted energy.

Strange happenings were taking place in my body.

I was grateful the habit concealed much, but for how long could the concealment last?

In a terrifying moment, I realized this lifetime was soon to be ended.

I had transgressed the law, and to break the law is death to the body.

The law is an action unto itself, only we had set it in operation.

I rejoiced to know my body could yield a harvest, yet I knew I could not reap it.

Life became a state of constant fear.

Hell was claiming her victim, she had received her own.

I lived in this state with a burning conscience that brought me utter despair.

My only salvation was that I had Juan’s love, and I seemed to carry the burden with lesser weight.

There was a torment within that shook my frame; yes, a rebellion that set my thoughts into whirling motion.

I ask, “Is it wrong to love? Is isolation more respected of God than honest love?”

No, God created us that we might love one another, but I am understanding this love must be qualified.

Love wears no price tag, it is a gift of the spirit.

The nights were darker and longer than usual.

I was growing weary in trying to find a way out.

Yes, I tell you, I was weary.

The moment of truth had come, and I knew I must do what I must do.

Quietly, I slipped from my room down the long uninviting corridor.

I pushed through the chapel doors and fell prostrate before the altar.

How long I was there, I do not remember; the crisis was over, and now I knelt in silent prayer.

“My Lord and my God,
You know my troubled heart.
And You know my body.
Accept my restless soul.

This act I must do,
Lord, you will forgive.
I must go through death
That I once more may live.

The prayer book is closed,
And the rosary said.
A candle lit.
Yes, Lord — A bowed head.

Take back my soul,
I ask You now.
Show me the way;
Lord, tell me how.

Oh, bless these lives
That I must leave behind.
Help them forget, Lord.
Let them be kind.

The child that I hold,
It, too, must go.
For it only came, Lord,
To rest my troubled soul.

These tears that I weep
They are not for me.
I ask for sleep, Lord,
Please let it be.”

Slowly, I lifted my head to catch the glow of many candles.

Someone sat at the organ, although the bench was empty.

Music filled the chapel and drifted like fresh air around me.

The organ, too, has many moods.

Often, her notes are sad.

They are haunting, they tell of love, and quiver in their crying.

The peaceful message soothed me, but I needed to tear myself from her and finish what my mind told me I must do.

I paused at the Stations of the Cross long enough to remember the climb to Calvary.

The weight of the cross was heavy on my shoulders, and my heart grew faint.

Time was fleeting, and life was pushing.

The night welcomed me with a great expanse of twinkling lights.

The golden moon smiled sadly and slipped behind a cloud.

I picked up my pace and moved quickly through the garden to the stairs along the wall.

As I approached the stairs, a figure emerged from the darkness and clutched me desperately.

“Juan,” I cried.

He was tense and frightened.

“Juan, it is you.”

Our embrace was one filled with indescribable terror; a moment of moments.

We knew this would be our last and in it declared a love that would endure forever as a tribute to itself.

Tears trickled over our burning lips and splashed in our laughter.

If only I could have died in his arms rather than take the step before me.

Words were not spoken.

A silent communication still lives in my memory.

Yes, oh, yes, how my soul does remember. I broke from his embrace and rushed up the cut-out stone stairs.

My eyes studied the rocks below and asked them to be kind in receiving me.

I once more heard the great ocean, in her relentless motion, shout with a conquering voice as her frantic waves tossed and lashed themselves upon the jagged ledges.

I heard the steps of Juan on the stair and knew that before he reached me, the plunge must be made.

In a frightful moment, as his hand reached for me, I found myself falling through space.

All the prayers I had ever said were repeated in that swift period of passing time.

I lived years in a few short seconds.

I could hear Juan’s voice above the ocean, but there could be no returning.

Two bodies, one unborn and my own tormented temple, released their soul, as the rocks claimed their own.

The roaring tide continued to toss and foam.

The voice from the wall screamed into the night like a searching animal, lost and bewildered.

I can hear it yet.

“Wait for me. Look for me. I will find you, I will find you. Love like ours cannot be lost.”

This life which united our souls in harmony will soon be teaching us in the next; the lessons we must learn in our need for body adjustment.

© 1972, by Richard Dale Billings
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.