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Sister Prudence on the Beach
Sister Prudence begins her full moon meditation by drawing her attention to the feel of the sandy beach blanket underneath her legs and bum. The sand underneath that. The sound of the waves crashing nearby as the tide comes in. How quickly is the tide coming in? Did she set up far enough away from the high tide line? She shakes her head. Refocuses.
The sea breeze blowing through the small hairs on her arms and the tightly cropped hairs on her head. The slightly chilly sensation of her fingertips. Will it get much colder tonight? Should she put on the big fluffy blanket she brought with her? Hmm. Maybe opening her eyes will help.
She gazes at the full moon in the sky above. Its reflection in the water. She recognizes the grumpy, dissatisfied sensation in her belly but rather than embracing it, she continues to focus on the moon. The night is long. She can get to that feeling later.
The sound of feet trudging through the sand joins that of the waves crashing on the beach. Sister Prudence wriggles a little, getting more settled into the sand. But rather than the footsteps continuing past her, they adjust and walk toward her. She sighs. The footsteps stop next to her. She keeps her gaze on the moon.
“Excuse me,” a young voice says, “do you know where the full moon Sabbat circle is? I wish they’d dropped a pin.” This last muttered in a downward direction. The young one is clearly gazing at a phone.
Sister Prudence inhales, exhales; more exasperation than mindfulness. “The pagans usually meet down the beach from here, but I don’t know which direction or how far.” She closes her eyes again. Perhaps they will take the hint.
The young one sighs dramatically and drops to the sand beside her, “I think if I walk much further tonight, I’m gonna collapse and die.”
Sister Prudence’s eyes open of their own accord, and she turns to look at the young one. They lay spread out on the sand, arms up so their hands cover their eyes, legs splayed outward, hood drawn up over their head. “Young one, it’s still early. Perhaps you just need to rest before you continue. Which you are welcome to do here.”
They sit up, resting their arms on their knees, “Hey, thanks.” Rather than silence returning as Sister Prudence expects, they continue, “You have any food? There’s supposed to be lots of food at the gathering, but…”
Sister Prudence inhales. Exhales. “I’m afraid I didn’t bring any with me.” She resumes looking at the moon.
“Why did you not bring any with you?”
“Since it’s my first time going to a Sabbat circle, I’m not expected to provide anything yet.”
“So why don’t you have anything with you? Most people bring snacks with them to the beach. Even at night.”
Years of training bid Sister Prudence to answer this honest question, “I am practicing my own observations today that require that I abstain from food from noon today until tomorrow morning. This is why I didn’t bring any with me.”
The young one nods. “Yeah, the Sabbat circle I’m looking for, they haven’t mentioned anything about fasting. Just feasting.” They laugh.
Sister Prudence nods.
“I’m Abril. He/they/elle.”
She turns her head to make eye contact while returning the greeting and gentle head nod she assumes he gave. “Sister Prudence. She/her.”
“Sister? Like, a nun?”
“I’m a monastic, although not in the Catholic tradition.” She notes how his mouth hangs open as he breathes. “I do have some water with me, if you would like some.”
She hands him a water bottle from her bag. “You may keep it. I have another.”
“Right on, thank you.” He drinks. Wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “A monastic, is that like a High Sage?”
Sister Prudence considers the question, tilting her head to the side, “Well, both are committed to spiritual pursuits. Some monastics also teach those wishing to follow in similar pursuits. In my tradition, a monastic has made extra commitments in addition to those of what a lay practitioner does.”
“So it’s extra work.”
“More like… a greater focus of practice. Like if you played an instrument as a hobby. You’re a lay practitioner. If you play as a profession, you’re a monastic.”
“Ohhh, that makes a lot of sense.” Abril gazes at his phone again then shoves it into his pants pocket. “I am never finding this Sabbat circle if none of them answer me.”
They sit quietly together, Abril sipping water and Sister Prudence gazing at the moon. The silence doesn’t last long.“So what’s your tradition? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“I’m a Mother Earth Monastic.”
“Shut up. I didn’t think there were any of you left.”
Sister Prudence again finds herself inhaling and exhaling before speaking. “While it has been many years since any new folks joined us, we do still exist. We didn’t simply vanish when the Great Change came.”
“I’m sorry. That was rude of me.”
She turns to look at them and is met by such a sheepish look that her heart softens. “It’s alright, young one. I know the world speaks about us like we’re history.”
“But, like, not in a bad way. You made all of this possible.” He gestures at the night around them.
“We were one of many pieces that together worked for great change.”
“Listen, I’m not walking any further until one of these people texts back and drops me a pin.” They turn more fully toward her. “Would you… would you mind telling me more about it?”
“About what, precisely?”
“Why you became a monastic? What MEMs was like? What MEMs is gonna do now that everything is, you know, better?”
Sister Prudence considers. She’s supposed to wait to be asked three times, but there were three questions within the question. Perhaps that’s three times. Although, she simply doesn’t know the answer to the final question. But does any monastic ever really know the answer to all questions? “All right,” she assents, “I will tell you while you await your friends.”
“Awesome. Thank you, Elder.”
A warmth enters her heart as they say this. It’s been so long. She turns to face them, and the moon brings a glow to their face as she speaks. “When the Earth was dying, my generation was losing hope. Or we never had it to start with. Everything felt very broken. So factional. You know from history lessons, I am sure, of the plagues. The wars. The changing climate. The rising seas. It felt… it felt as if every month a new disaster visited us while the previous one was still upon us. I felt as if the Earth itself was crying.”
She touches a hand to her chest, feels the beating of her heart, centers a moment. “MEMs came from the lineage of the Buddha. There was a monk who saw and heard the pain of the Earth and believed that we could change our trajectory. He wrote a book about it right before he passed away. Three young people read this book and thought the solution was to take the best from the diverse faiths people were born to and combine them with the practices he suggested. One of them thought this would simply help people cope with Earth’s death. One hoped the embrace of multiculturalism would bring peace. One thought it might save the Earth from us and for us entirely. So, that was how Mother Earth Monastics was born.”
She glances at Abril and sees their face fully focused on hers in rapt attention. “I felt only partially fulfilled by my own born faith: Protestantism,” she responds to the question implied by his quirked eyebrow. “MEMs gave me permission to take what I most related to in my own faith and culture—a belief in a personal relationship with God and the long history of the Black church’s role in fighting oppression—and add on to it from the MEMs practices. These practices gave me centering and focus. They gave me hope. They gave me a community of like-minded young people who wanted to work together and unify, not just regardless of our own different faiths and cultures but as part of our own different faiths and cultures. In a way that didn’t only acknowledge our similarities, but that gave us a shared framework while also embracing our differences and allowing them to flourish.”
She smiles. “It wasn’t long before I took my vows. That is one thing different about MEMs. There are… were… very few lay practitioners. We tended to become focused and highly committed very quickly. My family struggled to understand it: How could I both pray to the Holy Spirit and meditate on the full moon? How could I have a sibling in the Monastic group who observed Ramadan? Why was one of the founders who was raised Buddhist okay with this new understanding that didn’t require taking refuge in the Buddha? How could we all just get along? They didn’t understand that what we did agree on took precedence over the rest. We needed to heal the pain in ourselves before we could help heal the pain in the world. And, as you know…”
“It must have begun to work,” Abril finishes, “because so many of the biggest organizers that started the Great Change were MEMs.”
“Yes.” Sister Prudence nods, looking at his face that now glows with both the moon and something from inside himself. “But, we didn’t anticipate that after the Great Change, with the larger looming problems solved, that people would feel so much peace and safety in the day-to-day… the night-to-night… that they would no longer seek us out.”
Abril leans forward and asks, “May I touch your hand?”
Sister Prudence nods, and, as he does, realizes silent tears are falling down her cheeks.
“Can I tell you a secret?” asks Abril.
“I know that what we’re facing… it’s nothing compared to what your generation faced. But I am here to tell you. My friends and I? We’re straight up terrified of this space exploration shit. No one knows if anyone who volunteers will even make it back. But we literally never get a break from thinking about it. Those constant personalized announcements from United Earth saying it’s our duty to volunteer. And maybe it is. But… dang. We just got Earth back! Maybe we could enjoy it for a little while? Anyway, that’s why I’m going to the Sabbat circle. I thought it might, I dunno, help me figure out if I should volunteer or not.”
“Yes, I’ve been getting the public announcements as well.”
Sister Prudence smiles, squeezes his hand to signal he can release it, and he does. She wipes away her tears gently with her sleeve. “You can say ‘but you’re old.’ It’s true. I am.”
“You’re an Elder, and I respect you so much.”
“Yes, but spaceships and space exploration feel like a young person’s duty?”
He looks down, blushing.
“They intend to have at least one chaplain on each ship. And they want a diversity of chaplains available. Mostly pagan Sages have volunteered so far.”
“Huh, I wonder why.”
“Well, as you just pointed out, the clergy of other faiths are largely older. And the older you are, the scarier such a venture feels.”
“Yeah, I mean, it’s scary to me as is.”
“Yes.” Sister Prudence nods.
Abril’s phone buzzes in their pocket. “Excuse me.” They pull it out and read, “Ah, finally, a pin! They’re a ways over there.” They gesture to the right and gather their legs under them as if to stand, then pauses. “Sister… do you have any advice for me? On how to know if I should volunteer or not?”
She nods. “Sit quietly with yourself. Every day. Let your thoughts flow through you. Into the silence, ask for guidance from whatever higher power you ascribe to. If you don’t ascribe to a higher power, ask for the still small voice inside you to guide you. Eventually, the answer should present itself.”
He leans forward, clasps her hand in both of his, then bows his head so his forehead touches them. Another tear comes from her eye. It has been so many years since such a sign of respect was granted to her. “Thank you, Sister.” Then he bounds up with the energy of a youth. “I won’t forget you,” he calls as he races across the sand.
Sister Prudence watches him leave, murmurs, “I won’t forget you either.” She considers calling after him that his going would be easier on the wet sand by the water, but decides against it. She turns her face back to the moon, “What shall I do?” she prays, then sits with the silence for the rest of her meditation, until sleepiness overcomes her and she lays down on the beach to rest.
The call of seagulls wakes her at dawn. She bows to the sunrise, gathers her things, and walks the short distance back to the path through the beach grass to her simple seafront cabin. It was built recently in the style of the 1950s after seawater rise destroyed all the historic seafront homes. A wealthy woman left it for the use of MEM elders. It is small with two simple rooms: a combined living space and kitchen plus a bedroom. Sister Prudence removes her shoes, then walks the three brief steps to the window. On the sill lies her phone. She picks it up, turns it on, and navigates to the United Earth Space Exploration volunteer website. She clicks on “chaplain,” fills in the form, and taps “submit.” Placing her phone on the windowsill again, she exhales as she gazes out at the beach, spotting a group of three young people, including Abril, walking arm-in-arm.
She goes to greet them and invite them in for tea.
Amanda McNeil (she/her) is a queer lady who writes mostly scifi and fantasy. She seeks to bring hope, joy, and a queer sensibility to her writing, while acknowledging challenges and struggles. She currently lives in New England in the United States with her husband and their talkative tortie. You may find her online at opinionsofawolf.com/publications.