Raven and Sister Catherine

The Saga of the Seventh Generation Trilogy, Book Two: RIPPLES by C. J. Hotchkiss

From Chapter Four: The Hawk of Freedom

Raven’s profession had its hazards even with rules and regulars.  She took great care to protect herself from diseases and babies.  She dealt with problems when they arose, but it wasn’t until she was 32 years old that she found herself pregnant with a baby that would not go away.  Raven thought it irrational to bring a child into such a hard world and she hadn’t a speck of maternal instinct in her entire body.  She ingested the blue cohosh root and drank enough to drown the hapless fetus, but, in spite of her most extreme efforts, the baby took hold of her body and would not die.  Raven didn’t want advise, reproach, or sympathy, so she closed up shop, gave the dogs to the boy who got her mail, and told the cats they were on their own.  In a flash of whimsy, she decided to spend her last pregnant month in Our Lady of The Holy Sacrament Abbey in Pueblo, Colorado, a little over 200 hundred miles to the south and east.  Her awkward, possessed body made her tired, desiring a clean bed and servants.  In a smiling nod to her sweet Jeremiah, she would offer the nuns the unachievable task of saving her soul, while this child made its way into the world.  Then she could leave the baby with the frustrated Sisters and return to her life of unapologetic sin.

Most of the nuns were not happy to take in their new guest, shocked by her indelicate life story and suspicious of her motives.  Raven’s efforts to win them over quickly bored her, so she relied on her trump card– good old-fashioned, white, Christian guilt.  References to random massacres of women and children or to how the Lord Jesus had hung out with prostitutes did not win her any affection, but got her a room and three meals a day.  Raven’s attitude also protected her from a good deal of the efforts to save her soul.  The older nuns saw her as a lost cause; the younger, more strident sisters were not sure she deserved to be saved at all.  Only Sister Catherine, a nineteen-year-old, pale white novice, seemed genuinely happy to offer sanctuary to Raven.  Raven’s ruse of salvation did not enter into Sister Catherine’s thinking.  She simply saw a woman who was profoundly alone and about to have a baby. 

Raven, of course, wanted nothing to do with Sister Catherine’s maudlin support.  She felt more comfortable with the sermons and icy stares of the others.  She was coarse and callous to the young girl’s persistence, but eventually saw that there was no avoiding the tenacity of virtue.  Like this pigheaded baby, Sister Catherine would not go away.  In a rare moment of gentleness between the two women, Raven asked why a pretty, sensible girl like her wanted to waste her life in a convent.  Sister Catherine instinctively knew better than to trust her new friend, but she told her how she had been raped on her way home from town when she was 15 and her family had sent her to the convent in shame.  “What a bunch of assholes,” Raven brushed it off.  “You shouldn’t let people shame you like that.  They are vindictive either because you got a woman’s body and they want it, or you got a woman’s body and they want you to be ashamed of it.  Now look at you, all wrapped up in a white cloak and no hair, like it really is a shame to be a woman.”

Sister Catherine blushed and was sorry she had told Raven.  All the anger in her brought back the shame, mocking her efforts to smother it in goodness.

“Girl, you done believed all that bullshit about men and their power.  They just a bunch of little boys looking for some pussy and hoping they can get it up when they find some.  Any man who would rape a girl is a coward, scared of having sex with a real woman by her own choice.  Your family should be ashamed of their own selves, putting the shame on you like that.”

“Jesus knows that,” the girl replied quietly.  “I came here ashamed.  Jesus took my hand, telling me not to heed anyone who thought I was unworthy.  He told me only to pay attention to the prayers when they told me that God cherished me and to forgive even the nuns, if they judged otherwise.  He comforted me and took away my fear and self-loathing.  I stay here to be his student, to learn what the Lord God truly wanted his church to be.  Jesus is teaching me the purpose of forgiveness.  It is not for the absolution of others, but to bring the power back in my own hands.  It’s not to make me feel better; it’s to make me in charge of what I feel.”

Raven was surprised at the strong words from this meek young woman.  It was the same surprise she had always felt when she glimpsed the power behind her mother’s compliance.  It was the same powerful humility that she had resented, but couldn’t ignore, in Isha.  The girl’s faith reminded her of Jeremiah, when he would talk about Jesus.  She had no patience with such faith, but she had seen it in enough good people to watch out for it.

“Miss Raven, Jesus told me you were coming.” Sister Catherine said shyly. “He talks to me when I am alone in the library.   He said you were to be my Mary Magdalene.”  Raven looked up and Sister Catherine smiled.  “He said through you, I would come to understand love and forgiveness.”  That seemed highly unlikely, as Raven was neither loving nor forgiving.  She began to wonder if Sister Catherine might be a little crazier than she had suspected.

“Well, I am a whore, if that’s what you mean.   But I ain’t going to be washing anybody’s feet.  I also promise that this baby is not an immaculate conception, though I have no idea who the daddy is.  Your Jesus is a bigger fool than I thought he was if he thought you were gonna save me.” Raven had retreated back into her attempts to shock the good intentioned nun.  She didn’t want to be open to any sneak attacks on her soul.  Sister Catherine just smiled, no longer intimidated by Raven’s indignities.

“I don’t think he wanted me to save you, Miss Raven.” Sister Catherine said thoughtfully.  “I think he wanted you to save me.”

“Don’t call me Miss Raven.”  Raven snapped.  “And how the hell did he think I was going to do that?  I’m pretty sure we aren’t even on the same side.”

“Oh, Jesus doesn’t have sides, Miss Raven.” Sister Catherine laughed.  “He is just out there trying to patch us up when life knocks us down.  He sometimes tries to get us to patch each other up.  He says he can hardly keep up with all the patching that needs to get done, so many people hurt and lonely.  You are right though; I really don’t know why he thinks you are a patcher.”

“I am definitely NOT a patcher,” Raven contested.  “You just ask around.  Most people need a patcher when I am through with them.”

“Yes, I can see that,” Sister Catherine agreed.  “But he was very clear that you were going to patch me.  I think it has something to do with your wonderful baby.”

“Well, you can have my wonderful baby and leave me out of it,” Raven was increasingly uncomfortable with the conversation and the fact that she was participating in it at all.

“Oh Miss Raven, I know you don’t mean that,” Sister Catherine scolded.  “Babies are God’s blessing.  They are a gift to help us experience the love the Lord God has for us, as we pass it on to the new life he has given us.  And your baby will love you more than you ever been loved before.”

“I don’t like babies and I don’t want a baby. I have no desire to be a mother or to be loved by some helpless, demanding suckling I never wanted.  If you are so crazy about babies, why are you here in a convent?”  Raven beat down whatever hormonal tug she might be experiencing and put the soppy nun back in the spotlight.

Her retort had more of an effect than she had intended.   Raven unexpectedly regretted her words.  The girl, that she had mocked for allowing anyone to shame her, had tears in her eyes.  She stared through them, not avoiding Raven’s regret.  “The rape was violent and I fought hard.  The man used an axe handle to violate me and ripped my insides.  When they found me three hours later, I had lost a lot of blood.  They did not expect me to live.  I did, but they could not save my womb or female parts. The two of us share an irony, Miss Raven.  You will have a baby that you do not want and I will want a baby that I can never have.”

Raven wanted no part of this deal – either of sharing an irony or being a witness to the battering of this defenseless girl.  Both thoughts violated the pact that she had with herself to never care about anything more than her immediate survival.  After this conversation, Raven tried to avoid Sister Catherine’s eyes, though they followed her, even in her sleep.  Her belly stuck out between the two of them, connecting them like a magnet.  Raven began to notice that the other nuns treated Sister Catherine like a feeble child, not entirely kindly, but solicitous anyway.  These dedicated women of faith did not believe in Sister Catherine’s conversations with Jesus in the library any more than Raven did, but they seemed to judge her for them, which Raven did not.  Raven understood, simply, that Sister Catherine was broken.  The rape had untethered her.  Her mind was darting about, looking for goodness.  That was not an easy task, even in a convent.   Raven was begrudgingly touched by Sister Catherine’s unrelenting efforts to seek out decency, even in Raven.  Sister Catherine probably did recognize Raven’s goodness, because it stuck out in such contrast to the rest of her nature.   Not many people took the time to notice it at all.  Raven was irritated by how much that pleased her, feeling an unfamiliar urge to protect the girl.  If Sister Catherine wanted to have personal conversations with Jesus, it was none of anyone else’s damned business if he answered her.  Maybe he just liked her.

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