“Journals and Letters” week 3: At sea in 1840
[Today we are discussing “Journals and Letters“: Page 10 to page 23 New York. Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin‘s writings every week in the coming year.]
In this week’s text we meet Mother Theodore the story teller, the teacher, the scientist, the philosopher, the woman full of faith and perseverance. We see Mother Theodore the comforter, the traveler, the patient. We see her courage, her faith, her intellect, her wit, her resilience.
Beauty and nature
As I read about Saint Mother Theodore’s adventures in this section of her journey, I am struck by what a wonderful, descriptive writer she is. You can feel and see the imagery in a sentence such as: “Mist from the waves, lit up the rays of the sun, displayed as it were thousands of pearls and all kinds of precious stones, which seemed to frolic about over a vast extent of the surface.”
Then the scientist and teacher in her come forth. I love the many instances where she studies and describes an animal for the reader. She tells of the whale’s massive head, as big as a house. The dark brown color of its back and how it spouts out water apparently by respiration as its jets are so regular. She observes the behaviors of the animals at sea, more accepting of humans because they have not been harmed by them. And her description of the porpoise (sea hog) is just phenomenal. From the sounds it makes to its taste (just like pork) to its sharp stiletto teeth (82 in the upper jaw).
Stepping back in time
For me, traveling with Saint Mother Theodore brings me to a time I never experienced. A time when you couldn’t see a video of a whale close up and couldn’t Google a porpoise to learn more about it. A time when it took 40 days of peril to travel across an ocean. A time when letter writing was the prominent mode of communication that was slow and not always reliable. And, oh how I wished they had the comfort of Dramamine available to them through their sea sickness.
I am thankful in reading this that Saint Mother Theodore took the time to record in such detail and beauty her experiences for all of us.
Your turn to share!
What about Mother Theodore’s character stood out for you in this passage?
What grabs you most about what you read in this passage?
Please leave your comments so we can keep the discussion going.
Next week > Oct. 31 Week 4: Page 23 New York to top of Page 29
Thank you, Amy!
I liked that her mind worked like a camera. Her descriptions portray what I sometimes try to capture in a photo.
Hi Amy. 😊
One of the things that endears Mother Theodore to me is her love of nature. So many times in her poetic writings she wonders at the planet’s beauty and exhibits curiosity about animals and plants she is experiencing. I loved the description of her holding the bird that landed in the cordage on board ship and examining it so closely. I also admire her ability to see human-made beauty in the architecture of the settlements around New York harbor. That reveals a woman ready to learn as well as teach in this New World.
That’s a great reflection, Amy! I was struck by how Providence put people in their path that would help the sisters on their mission. Mother Theodore is thankful for each one. Also, she seemed resolved once the journey began. While they apparently all mourned leaving their native France and fellow sisters, they leaned on each and forged ahead. They climbed down from the ship into the small boat without complaining. I’m trying to picture it! Habits flowing and all!
I so appreciated your comment about picturing the Sisters “habits flowing and all ” as they descending from the ship. Any of us who were students of the Sisters in the days of their wearing the religious habit can picture this.
I loved this comment, “What a religious pensiveness seizes the soul on beholding the sky and ocean, which seem to the voyager as the only objects in creation! And oh! how magnificent is the setting sun, which found me every evening at the same spot like a faithful courtier!…) page 15 Journals and letters.
For many people today whose view of God is tarnished by the sins of organized religion nature is the pathway to the spiritual, the idea that they are part of something far bigger than themselves, that life may have even have a meaning and they should be stewards of the planet. I have found this to be true in my nephews and nieces and I thank God for it. As I pray they do not walk alone through life. Mother Guerin is indeed a saint for all ages.
Theresa, I appreciate your words about nature. One of my younger brothers has been so disillusioned by organized religion…for many, many valid reasons! Lately he finds connection to His creator through visiting the Grand Canyon. He finds permission to. Put dow the old paths that are no longer working for him, from Richard Rhor and other great teachers. I rejoice in his happiness as I can see many burdens and wounds going back to his childhood are being lifted. He is becoming what his two years in Protestant Seminary could never make him. His true self. May we who find a place in an organized, established way of prayer (mass), have hope and patience with young people searching for their connection to the creator.
I agree about the description of nature in this passage. What really appeals to me is the humor that Mother Theodore found in even dangerous circumstances. “Never did we laugh so heartily,” she says when the ship and all on board are flying around uncontrollably. They also remain on deck purposely to continue to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. She even describes the rough sea as fearfully beautiful. In all this turmoil there is an inner peace and appreciation for Providence and all God’s creation. The members of this group were calm and resigned to whatever the Lord might ordain. Mother Theodore still teaches and consoles those who walk with her.
Agree with you about Mother Theodore’s humor! It’s okay to laugh and find humor even in anxious and dark times. It’s so restorative and healing to do so.
I was struck by how difficult the journey was…the storms…..the days and months at sea. We travel around in just hours. We take so much for granted. Mother Theodore wrote calmly and with such wisdom despite the rough seas and perilous journey.
We certainly do take so much for granted. I commented the other day how fortunate we are to have technology available to us during this pandemic! (i.e. internet access, Zoom, GrubHub, Mobile and On-line odering, Telelheath visits, FaceTime, ant this Blog!
I have enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. I too am so impressed with the details in her descriptions of everything she sees! Mother Theodore is a woman that NOTICES the world around her; that reflects upon it; is curious about it; and puts it all to paper. Most of all she is in awe! She is an awe-filled individual and is awestruck by God’s creation! She teaches me to enter into the beauty of God’s creation, to find his Presence there; the healing and hope from being in awe and to be ever thankful for it.
All of the above comments have added to my deep appreciation for the profound beauty of Mother Theodore’s writings. They capture the sights, sounds, smells, textures of all that she observed and they let us experience them with her, too, as we figuratively join her on the ship, Her reaction, “I must say, it excites a delightful feeling toward the Author of these wonders. I felt happy in belonging to Him and said within myself: What will our good God be in our True Country, since even in our exile, He is so great, so powerful, so magnificent!”, is a proclamation of the Providence of God. Her insights, her prayers and her responses continue to inspire and encourage us in our journeys 180 years later. Her life is a proclamation of God’s Providence
Wonderful piece of writing! I so enjoyed it.
Wonderful reflections by all. It enriches my reading of Mother Theodore’s journal. And thank you Amy for getting us started this week as we continue to travel with Mother Theodore and her companions. Mother Theodore’s ability to write in such detail of all that she sees around her is breathtaking. And truth be told, I never thought that much about aquatic life until now 🙂 And, I think if I closed my eyes, and if I could hear Mother Theodore’s voice, I would feel as though I am right beside her.