Journals and Letters week 18: New Orleans to Indiana
How I love this part of the story! It’s packed with such insights into Mother Theodore’s heart and mind. Again, she shows us her astute observations of nature, her love and wonder at the dolphins [‘Any day you see a dolphin is a good day!’ I often say to visitors I’m guiding at our nearby state park overlooking the Pacific]. We see her intelligent perceptions about the processes by which the Delta Islands are created and her wonder at the “magnificent spectacle” of the sea of ships from all over the world. She even recognizes her old friend and protector, the Cincinnati, in which she made her first voyage to the United States. I, too, have spent months at a time at sea. And I know that feeling of recognizing the vessel that held you safe and the affection you can feel for such a thing.
Glory of nature
Like the writings in her first Journal, Mother Theodore again shows us that she can marvel at the work of humans as well as the glory of nature. That itself is a gift. Mother Theodore shows such compassion in her care of a dying man and his wife. She, who chafed a few years ago at being crowded together to sleep with strangers on the river boat, shares her small room for two days with this Protestant widow. She stays with her in her grief until she can “put her in the hands of a friend.”
New Orleans sickness
On arrival to the Ursuline sisters in New Orleans, the Providence Sisters’ first act is to go to the chapel and offer thanksgiving, just as they have done each time they have arrived at a destination. Mother Theodore’s thanksgiving for, and union with, the friends and benefactors left behind is expressed so beautifully. “For true hearts there is no separating ocean; or, rather, God is their ocean, in Whom they meet and are united.” Mother Theodore knows the desire to be One.
Next comes the illness. Mother Theodore has not spoken of troubles in this account. Indeed, she writes that the news she has from her sisters at the Woods is that all is well. But we know that Sister Basilide had written to her, accounting details of the troubles there. And no doubt that stress may have contributed to the fever that attacks her and leaves her in the care of the Ursulines for seven weeks while she was “burning with desire to join them all again.” I think it is very telling that Mother Theodore doesn’t mention in this Journal the grief the Bishop is causing the community back home.
Then we come to the description of New Orleans and the well-known passage about Mother Theodore’s pain at seeing the slave market. She wishes she could purchase all the slaves at auction and set them free. Her statement at that time is one we must take to heart still today: “These Americans, so proud of their liberty, thus make game of the liberty of others.” No slave markets today, no. Yet that legacy is still so evident in the systemic racism that tells a lie about “liberty and justice for all.”
Finally, the steamer took Mother Theodore north and she exclaims, “With inexpressible joy I saw once more my Indiana.” MY Indiana! It was “no longer for me the land of exile; it was the portion of my inheritance, and in it I hope to dwell all the days of my life.” Well, I know that feeling, too. A Hoosier transplant for many decades to southern California, I feel that thrill of joy each time I return to MY Indiana, and especially to our beloved Woods where this story began and continues still today.
What about you?
I so look forward every week to the comments as well as the reflections on these pages. It is thought provoking to hear what touches others, so leave a comment!
Next week > page page 169 to page 180
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