Saturday, June 11, 2011

Entering the Convent

The convent I entered has stood high on a hill in a river town for nearly one hundred and fifty years. When I mention this convent, strangers often ask, “Why’d you enter?”  “Why’d you leave?” “Why’d you stay so long?” “What was it like?”  “Do you miss it?” “Are you sorry you entered?” “Are you sorry you left?”
            Those last two questions are easy to answer: I neither regret entering, nor leaving. The others require explanation. Let’s attempt the first.
            My family never encouraged me to think about entering. Nor in sixteen years of Catholic schooling had I ever felt drawn to a nun’s life. Their habit looked hot for summer wear. Their shoes old-maidish. Convents had no sofas or easy chairs. No going barefoot. Always being in the company of another nun when leaving the grounds.
            It seemed to me—when I thought of that life at all—to be too much togetherness and no coziness. No comfort.
            I was used to my own creek and spending long summer days there. Listening to the stream’s burble. Dangling barefoot toes in water cascading over strewn rocks. Feeling the sun’s warmth on my eyelids. I liked leisure. It seemed to me that nuns had none.
            On April 10th of my junior year in college all those negatives became as nothing to me. I had, some would say, a mystical experience.
            I came into the math class that day ready for differentials. I sat down, opened my textbook, and settled my mind on increments.
            Suddenly I knew Light. It inundated the spaces between my pores. Light within light. Prepositions describe that Light and me. Above me. Below me. Before me. Behind me. Within me. Through me. 
             Yet there was no me, only Oneness. I was one within Light. Light was one within me. We were One.
            I may have breathed during those fifty minutes, but breath wasn’t necessary. Lost in Light, I felt no passage of time. It lost itself in Now. Nowness dwelt within and about me. Nowness became All in All.
            The next thing I knew was a tap on my shoulder. A voice saying, “Dee, are you all right?” Then the tap became a shaking. The voice more urgent. “Dee? Dee? Are you okay?”
            It was then I breathed. A shudder. I came to slowly as if from deep sleep. All movement, all moment had stilled within me. I had no desire to regain momentum. I welcomed timeless silence.
            Her voice persisted.  My eyes focused and I saw my friend’s concerned face. Awareness pressed upon me. I was in a math classroom. I was a junior in college. It was the 10th of April. Wednesday.
            Yet all had changed.  
            As we walked down the hall, Barb asked, “Dee, do you need to go to the infirmary? Your face is flushed.” I assured her all was well. I needed only to walk on the campus and find breath again.
            My senses seemed finely tuned. The shimmer of sun on tulip yellow. The richness of pine-scented loam. The sough of wind riffling ginkgo leaves. And on my lips the taste of gratitude. “Thank you. Thank you for Mystery.”
            The next day I asked Sister Imogen, the college dean, what I needed to do to enter the convent that stood next to the college.            
            A year later, after graduation, I entered. Giddy, I walked with the other eighteen postulants into the refectory. There I witnessed the beaming faces of novices and scholastics. I wanted to shout, “I’m here! I’m home!” The Light shone bright within me. I felt beautiful that day. I had known—I did know—Joy.


  1. Dee,

    You describe a wonderfully profound experience… Light and plumbing the deep mystery of life, of experience and consciousness. Are you familiar with Karen Armstrong? She, too, was a nun; and she describes her life as a nun in her memoir, "The Spiral Staircase." Hers was not a happy experience.



  2. Lovely post, Dee. And magnificently described. I understand the Light. Often experience such Light in my meditations. It's a strong sense of Oneness, Father and child.

  3. I want to comment but it's difficult to express in words! What a powerful and earth shattering experience for you! I hope to learn one day what Sister Imogen had to say to you ...