Continuation of How I Became Sister Rosa, pt1.
There’s something so unnervingly different about what the Sisters do, and it strikes me not only in the way it’s hard to pin down in text, but in the reactions I get when people ask me about them.
“So, are they like, a religion?” people will ask, more often than not. “Can they have sex and stuff?” and then, the natural continuation— “oh, but so like, they’re not really nuns at all then. It’s just a gimmick?”
To be honest, I never know what to respond to that. To conceptualise the Sisters, I think one has to imagine the world anew. Because the Sisters weren’t made for labels — they didn’t come here to be defined, regulated or boxed in. In fact, their mission is quite the opposite. To dissolve the borders — both mental and physical — that keep people prisoners to their ideas, their fate, their class, gender, sexuality, or otherwise. Do away with these endless categorisations and try to assess actions based on just that — actions — rather than the pre-defined moulds and forms that they do, or do not, fit into. The Sisters are radicals. They want to do away with much of the current systems, not adapt to them.
So I will try and answer these questions, instead, by describing what the sisters are — rather than revel in all those things they are not.
One of the most important traditions for the Sisterhood, and one which is vehemently performed every month in rain and sunshine - on bad days and good ones - are the full moon ceremonies.
The moon ceremonies are a merry chaos of cats, dogs, kids, perfect strangers and close friends, all joining forces to celebrate the power of the moon, the most feminine of cosmic forces. They present an opportunity to connect, catch up, mobilize, and learn from one another. It’s an opportunity to relax, unwind, have fun. What happens on a more practical level is that we gather — the Sisters — and hold a public talk on politics, social change, and spirituality, and then we segment our wishes for change through chants, prayers, cleansing rituals and circle dance. When the ceremony is conducted, we celebrate with wine, weed, food, and good company. There’s a lot of joy in the air, and the ambience is one of communion.
I think every tribe, every family, and every friendship group across the globe need a moon ceremony of their own. Because of all the people who come, a majority tend to come back. Even those who travel to the Abbey from far, far away — photographers, journalists, celebrities and friends — make the long detour to come back and participate, one more time, as if though they’d been called by a higher source to return.
If devotion to service — to create safe spaces, serve the poor, and help humanity — is secondary to living in celibacy, donating money to the papacy and being oppressed under a corrupt and judgmental body of power-hungry patriarchs, then I have to concur with the sentiment that the Sisters of the Valley, myself included, are not ‘real’ nuns. But if we admit that the habit is a symbol, a symbol of devotion to such values as inclusivity, as love, service and devotion to humanity, then the Sisters are truly nuns. Though, I think we really have to get out of these spiralling patterns of thinking. We have to stop boxing each other in with words.
I am certain that every nun that has ever walked this earth became a nun for the conviction of selfless service — before their belief and devotion was crushed by the weight of oppression and greed. And I am convinced that this is why the Sisters regularly receive e-mails from Catholic nuns, who find their beliefs resurrected from the dead as they learn about the Sisterhood. This is why Sister Sierra, a beautiful and kind kindred soul, left her life as a catholic nun — to become a weed nun.
Writing the Accidental Nun
So the moon ceremonies really got me sold on the Sisterhood. But it was my collaboration on an autobiography with Sister Kate that kept me coming back to the Abbey, over, and over, and over again — and eventually turned me in to a sister, myself.
As Sister Kate was driving me and Alexander back to the station from my third — and his first — visit, she told me about a book she once wrote. It started out as a conversation on her brother, who works in something mind-numbingly soul-crushing and capitalist that I can’t remember. She told us she didn’t keep in touch with her family anymore, just because of their lifestyles and a whole bunch of shit that had passed— events that were too heavy, and too complicated, to cover in a simple car ride.
“I actually put all this in a book once”, she continued. “The whole story that led me to start the sisterhood. My falling out with the family. Then I dumped it in the closet and forgot about it.”
“What?” I turned around to face Kate.
“Yes, it was ludicrous. I just thought, I can’t forget about all of this — or actually Claire told me, you can’t forget about this, you have to put it into words somehow. So I dumped it all into 200-something pages and then the Sisterhood took off and I forgot about it. I didn’t have time to finish it. In any case, it can’t be any good. I wrote it in a month. It was a month of chain-smoking and drinking and when I was done with it, I never wanted to see it again.”
We dropped the subject, seemingly. But at that time, I knew Alex was thinking what I was thinking. I couldn’t forget about the book. And as we got closer to the station, I turned around again, eyeing Kate. And I mustered some courage. Actually, quite a lot of courage, because I was nervous.
“What would you think if, I mean, if I helped you finish it? If I did the editing and like filled out the blanks and you could actually release your book?”
My voice trembled. I felt like this could be a very sensitive subject, and I didn’t want to disturb my chances to come by the Abbey again. This was Kate’s life story, after all, and I was asking her to give it to me. Not only that, I was asking her to trust me with rewriting it and making it into something to release, to give her story to the public. I was praying she would see it as an offer and a possibility. Not as a preying on her private life. And she did.
“Yes, sure, go ahead, we can always give it a try!” said Kate with a positive tone, after a short silence.
And so I suddenly had a new job, beyond my thesis. I was writing a book. The memoirs of Sister Kate - The Weed Nun.
For the next few months, I was busy finishing my thesis and fretting over the idea of writing a book. What if I failed it? What if I couldn’t make anything of it? What if I didn’t manage to even get half of it done and Kate extradited me from the Sisterhood? (LOL, yes - my thinking really did go like this).
As my tourist VISA expired, I went to Mexico. I didn’t really feel like hanging out in Sweden in May — weather-wise one of the most unpredictable months of the year — and with all that talk of building a wall, Trump had got me curious about Mexico. So I went and I saw and I was not disappointed. In fact, I was mesmerised by the food and the people and the language. No one is more generous with their language than the Mexicans, who thought my crappy Spanish should earn me lavish praise. I was in heaven.
I found a beautiful little natural reserve and native American village outside of Tulum — Punta Allen — a perfect place for me to get my shirt together, both when it came to the book-project and when it came to my Anthropology thesis, which I couldn’t be more eager to be done with. And so, I spent the following two weeks eating fresh fish and hanging out with my new-found friends, the owner Niki Allen and her helpers at the beach hotel Serenidad Shardon. The village was literally a long stretch of paradise beach and every day, I would join Niki and Ursula in teaching Mexican school children English.
Later, when class was done, I would sit down with the manuscript and dissect it like a botanist dissects a flower bud, put the different chapters and pages in slots and categories and make up a plan for how to make the book an actual - readable - book.
The biggest problem were the holes and the patches. There were large swatches of the story, where it either didn’t make sense or it made big jumps from one thing to the other. It was obvious the manuscript had been written in a month, with pressure on top. But it was also an eloquent, moving, and intriguing script. Stephen King once said that to be a writer, one has partly to have practiced, and one is partly born with it. I second that. And I think Kate was a born writer.
As I was done with the excel-sheet of columns and comments for changes and edits, I was thrilled. I felt confident in the work that was to be done. It would be intense. But I looked forward to it as an adventure and a challenge. And I knew we had the seedling of a best-seller by our hands.
Becoming Sister Rosa
During the fall, I started my work patching together the holes of the story and fine-tuning the chapters. I was back in California, on a new VISA, and I came to the Abbey a few times to hang out and find out more about Kate’s life.
I also became a Sister myself during this time. I don’t really remember how, exactly, it happened. I know Kate, half tongue-in-cheek and half serious, commented ‘maybe you’ll want to be a sister yourself, someday’ the very first week I came to the Abbey. That stuck with me, but I never really saw myself actually doing so. It felt so far removed from me and where I came from. After all, I’m a bit quirky, and I come from a very non-catholic part of the world. The image of the community-serving sister, even if I understood it, didn’t really strike a chord with me.
However, something with the very expression of the women itself — from Kate to June to Alice — reminded me of my own mother and a plea, that was always within her, in her energy-field.
“There’s something about being a middle-aged woman in society — you just don’t count”, my mom would say — and 11 years later, Burda told me the same thing, as I taped her for an interview. With the Sisters, though, the plea was no longer quiet. It was loud. It was present. And it was no longer a plea. It was a statement.
So I loved what the Sisters did, how they just took back the power with no further ado. I loved that.
As I came to increasingly identify with the Sisters, becoming a Sister myself started looking like less of a long shot and more like the inevitable future. I was starting to realize that there was no ‘template’ sister. I wouldn’t have to be anyone else, to become one. In fact, maybe I was the most perfect sister I could be.
And so, when Kate mentioned that I needed to become a Sister to do this or that (I don’t remember, actually, what it was) I jumped at the chance. And the next moon ceremony, I was no longer a guest. I was a Sister. Sister Rosa.
To my very own surprise, I loved wearing the habit. I am in fact, loving it more and more. There’s something very empowering about being partly anonymous, partly part of a collective you really believe in. There’s something very empowering in being dressed like your fellow sisters and knowing you’re part of a sisterhood. I think it’s something we’ve missed, as a people. Communion. Service. Joint spiritual practice. It’s such a refreshing, lovely, invigorating thing, and it’s obvious, not only by the reception of the visitors but by the reception of the wider public, how people long for a new clergy. How people long for a spiritual community, to be taken care of, to be loved, to be accepted. This is why I believe, in both senses of the word, that every nook and cranny both needs and will have a sisterhood in the future.
So, Sister Rosa was born.
And so, started a new adventure. I came with the Sisters to a Cannabis Conference in Toronto. We finished the book. I came with the Sisters to Hollywood to release a music video, and at some time in the future, we’re going on a book tour. I’m looking to start a Scandinavian Sisterhood — in Denmark. Maybe I will write more about all these some other time, some other day.
But for now, suffice to say, the adventure of the sisterhood has just begun.