Christmas brings us back to that day when God took us by the hand. When that young mother first held the small hand of God in her smooth, trembling hands, man's path through life would never be the same. Like the rest of the world, we held the comfort of His presence to our hearts as we prayed for our brothers and sisters who have had their lives turned completely around by the disastrous earthquake and tidal waves. And while we prayed and suffered with them, we thanked God for the gift of the Incarnation: that having seen Him entrust Himself to our hands, we could now entrust ourselves into his even in the face of so much suffering.

Then we need to offer an apology and explanation of sorts about why the monthly newsletter suddenly turned into a bi-monthly newsletter. Well, first of all, this won't happen again, please God. It is just that our path to Bethlehem and back --oh, why did we come back?-- took a few unexpected turns.

December began just as expected: we gathered around the enclosure door in the front hall to give our Sister Maria Saskia a final hug and promise of prayers for the coming operation. After waiting almost a decade, she was finally going to have a much needed knee replacement. Of course she felt a little frightened by the prospect, particularly since she would be conscious during the operation, but the courage that saw her through ten years as a missionary in Belgium Congo brightened her smile when she turned for one more wave before stepping out the door.

When one sister is absent, community becomes a very fluid thing as sisters shift here and there to fill the empty spaces. Spaces still remain that can never be filled, since each brings more than an array of acquired talents, is more than one more voice at the Divine Office. Her three week absence -a nasty fever, perhaps the aftermath of bouts with malaria during her missionary years, kept her away a week longer than intended - was a time of pilgrimage for those left behind. Pilgrimages to a favorite statue of Our Lady to pray for our sister's speedy recovery and pilgrimages to the hospital by Mother Abbess or one of the portresses to check on sister's progress, and to bring her fresh clothing, small treats of fruit and home-made cookies. Most important were the updates family news: where the latest battle field with our 'friends' the squirrels was, those bushy-tailed bandits who look upon any newly planted tulip bulb as a prospective feast for the holidays, and reports on how the Gregorian chant practice went. Nothing escapes our Sister's interest. However, there was one song of which we did not tell.

When at last, two days before Christmas, our sister walked --yes, walked!-- through the door, we were all there, singing the newly discovered 'missing' verse of Joy to the World.

Joy to the world,
'cause you are back.
We missed you very much.
And yes we were united,
In prayer and thought all day.
But you know that's not the same.
But you know that's not the same.
We are happy, so happy,
To have you back!

The composer, our youngest, merits a prize since English is not her native language, and her face simply beamed as she played the flute to cover up our rather emotional rendition of her creation. Standing outside the enclosure door were two of our best friends. Having helped Sister make the trip home, they now looked on, mirroring our joy, and when a copy of the music was passed out to them, a strong masculine baritone shored the singing up. Every good Dutchman knows the music!

Thus Christmas Midnight Mass found us truly a united family again, with an added familial dimension of Sister Theresia's brother offering the Mass for us. All of our labor at decorating was amply rewarded by the continued "Magnifique!" of our patient as she toured the monastery. The wheelchair that had been provided for her stood abandoned in a corner,and we watched in amazement as our sister moved about with more alacrity than we had seen in a long time.

The wheelchair. A good doctor had loaned it to us, saying it was the one he used for the sick during pilgrimages to Lourdes, and he was quite pleased to lend it to us. There was a certain urge to decorate it with a bough of holly or two to celebrate an operation so successful that no wheelchair was needed. It never saw that holly. The new year began with our sister cook taking a nasty fall. She sprang her right ankle and did considerable damage to her pride, considering that not even a year had passed since a similar accident had left her in a cast for several weeks. The doctor's prescription was wheelchair and crutches. Again work schedules were adjusted: sister cook is also sister portress and part-time baker.

The New Year has begun. Sister Maria Saskia, while being full of compassion for her 'wounded' comrade, has nevertheless relished the fact that she bounces around the monastery waving her one cane while the other totters on two. There have been rumors of dueling, but no one is confessing to it. Perhaps they ended in a draw. By the end of this month we should all be back to normal, although we have never yet figured out exactly what that state would be. Life in a monastery, life with God is just too unpredictable…and too wonderful. This brings our prayers for each of you, that the new year will be one of grace, joy and peace.

United in Our Savior,
your Poor Clare sisters in Eindhoven

St. Claralaan 1
5654 AS Eindhoven