Giving Up Something Good for Something Better
Reviewed by Seres Kyrie
October 1, 2018
By Sister Alegria del Senor and Sister Confianza del Senor (Beth Blodgett and Prairie Naoma Cutting). Amigas Press, 2017. 362 pages. $14.99/paperback; $4.99/eBook.
On a sunny spring First Day I arrived at Madison (Wis.) Meeting to find that I had mail! A piece of paper folded on itself, hand labeled in neat, tiny cursive from a monastery in Honduras. Wow! I could hardly sit through worship because I was so excited to open it!
Sister Alegria and Sister Confianza were reaching out, as they had read my article “Choice Poverty” in Friends Journal (Dec. 2014) and thought we might have some beliefs in common. Coincidentally, Sister Alegria would be attending a high school class reunion not far from my farmstead, and they wondered if they could visit on their journey.
Thus began a handwritten correspondence and a later visit between f/Friends who choose to walk the path of poverty as a means to know God. The Sisters’ first book, Amigas del Senor: Methodist Monastery, describes how they came to found a Methodist–Quaker monastery in the hills of Honduras. Their second book, Giving Up Something Good for Something Better, chronicles their continuing adventures and godly revelations as they mark 15 years along their ascetic path. Both books are comprised of compelling vignettes of their lives, alternating between the two authors.
Sister Alegria (then Beth Blodgett) was first called to a life of poverty, chastity, and contemplation after an already rich life of a medical profession, family, and modern experiences. She was yearning to live more authentically and felt that a life in rural Honduras—where she had previously done some mission work—would allow her to strip away what was nonessential to her Christian seeking. Later, after Sister Alegria put out a call for help in establishing a monastery, Sister Confianza (then Prairie Cuttings) traveled to Honduras as well, then receiving a clearing that she too would become a perpetually professed Sister.
The second book offers more photos of their life at the monastery, which I truly enjoyed. The Sisters donate one day of their week to servitude at the local clinic, where Sister Alegria assists with patient exams, and Sister Confianza helps with clerical and pharmaceutical chores. They travel by combination of foot, hitchhiking, and the occasional bus. In short, they travel in faith. They are quick to emphasize, however, that their leading is to be a contemplative monastery, and when they are not doing the simple chores of gardening, hauling water and grinding the corn for their daily tortillas, they are in godly study and prayer.
As pioneering Methodist–Quaker monastics, the Sisters have created many of their worship ceremonies to reflect their beliefs. The book even includes sheet music for some of their original Spanish hymns. Reading this, I too was inspired to create more intentional time for lauds, vespers, and worshipful song in my daily life. Sister Alegria notes that not only is taking vacation a privilege for the elite, even leaving one’s homestead in an impoverished place indicates wealth. As a somewhat isolated Quaker, I was reminded of the song “Guantanamera” and its translation: “With the poor people of this earth / I want to share my lot.” In this case, sharing our lot may simply mean being spiritually satisfied in staying home and not traveling far for meeting for worship. The Sisters note that contemplative life is in and of itself renewing.
Sister Alegria has shared with me personally, and repeatedly in the book, that it would have been too difficult to live an authentically impoverished life in America. Even for the poorest, there is simply too much stuff. I noted that Sister Confianza wore plastic shoes held together with tape. I would have gladly offered her a pair of my multiple thrift-store shoes, however, such an offer would have missed the point of their strivings: to use items in their complete entirety. As Sister Alegria says, “Prosperity generally destroys faithfulness. Whether approval or material prosperity, it always seems like a little more would be a little better.”
When the Sisters visited our home in 2015, they were quick to point out that poverty in America looks very different than in Central America. Though we both believe in poverty-as-peace testimony, they could hardly believe that our below-the-national-poverty-line life could include our multiple (old) vehicles and animals that we raise solely for meat. In the book, Sister Alegria recalls her life before her discernment to become a nun: she had long refused to pay war taxes but was still comforted by life’s luxuries. There is a distinct difference.
My first memory of that hot day the Sisters arrived at my home is how enthusiastically Sister Confianza jumped into our cooling, muddy river, often deemed unswimmable even by the locals, though our family too enjoys it as a swimming hole. Their gratitude for a swimming spot was engulfing.
We spent our long weekend working in the garden; I was heavily pregnant at the time and appreciated the extra hands. Sister Alegria admonished me to plant more potatoes in the coming years—cheap, filling, and well adapted to grow in Wisconsin. Each spring since I have taken her advice. Sister Alegria helped my kids with their homeschool work; my daughter still credits her for helping her memorize the six times-table. And best of all, we woke to the Sisters’ glorious day-break singing as part of the morning worship that did not waver during their travels.
In person and in print, the Sisters are honest, frank in their truth-leadings, and devoted to their path. When I read the pages of their newest book, it felt as though they were once again seated around my supper table, giving thanks, reminding me of what abundant, abundant bread we had on that day to break together.
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