First Christmas in the Cloister

"We'll plant trees in the spring," their leader promised. Meanwhile the few young nuns newly arrived from Chicago must embrace the sere brown fields of their new home in New Mexico, and try to forget about snow. The story of the first Christmas at the Poor Clare Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe was the first season's greeting to reach me this year. The nuns of this convent belong to the same religious order as Galileo's two daughters. The friendship we formed while I was writing Galileo's Daughter continues, although Mother Mary Francis, my special correspondent and guide to the cloistered life, died five years ago. I'm grateful to the current abbess, Mother Mary Angela, for sharing this memory from Mother Mary Francis, who woke on December 24, 1950 to sing the solemn Christmas Martyrology, only to find her surroundings strangely bright:

"The 15-watt bulb in the dormitory hall furnished the only light for all our cells, and what illumination this Poor Clare chandelier managed to provide through cell doors open two or three inches to admit it was rather less than dazzling. The light that was washing down our habit skirt this morning and gleaming on my bare feet was something different. Then I saw it -- the snow! Snow whirling, singing, laughing everywhere! Snow insistent on the window ledge, snow fitting great ballerina skirts on the elm trees. It tore the last cobwebs of sleep form my eyes before the cold water in the pitcher followed to shiver me awake. I swept down the dormitory stairs and across the community room to the east window.

"There was the big field. But, no, it was a huge lake of light! Thick masses of stars reached down arms of light toward our new little monastery. The white grounds reached back. Evidently our Lord had decided to tear up the weather forecasts for Roswell this year of our first coming. I looked at the light streaming up from the snow and down from the sky again; and I walked slowly into the choir, a little shaken with the beauty of the embrace."