And yet. And yet. The embrace was not wholehearted. Doubts niggled me.
I missed simple things: Stretching out on a couch. Leaving the light on and reading into the early hours of another day. Wearing jeans. Devouring the newspaper to learn what was happening in the Cold War and how the Yankees were faring.
A college picnic when I was a senior—a few months before entering the convent.
I missed, too, going into a public library and selecting historical novels to read. Watching television comedy shows. Discovering if any new comedians had come forward to take the place of the magical team of Sid Caesar and Imogene Coco. Talking with my mother about the conversation I’d overheard on the streetcar. Giggling as my brother imitated Elvis Presley. Going to baseball games.
I missed looking up information in the World Book Encyclopedia. Receiving letters from home more than once a month. Visiting with my old classmates to view photographs of their weddings and first children.
I sorely missed making my own decisions about what to do with my day.
More than anything, however, I missed sitting with Arthur by the wide brook on our farm as it rushed unhesitatingly toward the lure of the Missouri River. Listening then with a heart open to the great Mystery that lay within and beyond me.
Often during those eighteen months in the novitiate I wondered if the prayer life and the life I’d relinquished balanced one another out. In simple terms: Was it worth it?
Three times I asked to leave. Three times I was told that if anyone ever had a vocation it was I. Three times I stuffed my doubts and longings into the inner pocket of my psyche and embraced again the Benedictine life.
I spent as much time as I could in the college and the choir chapels trying to find the deep center of myself where Divinity dwelt. In silence. In solitude. In Oneness.
Trying to divine the way.
I hadn’t made any vows and yet I was inexorably moving toward them. After the eighteen months would come the three-year commitment of first vows. And then, four and a half years after entering, would come final vows. Perpetual vows. Vows for time and for eternity.
That scared me. Did I want this life forever? Did I never again want to sit in an ice-cream parlor, enjoying a hot-fudge sundae? Did I never again want to lie heedlessly on the grass, staring up through a maple's leafy branches at a meandering cumulus cloud? Did I want always to be told what to do and when and how to do it? Did I want to have to live on mission with nuns whose presence I hadn’t chosen?
I knew, even then, just how lucky I was to sit and work and pray next to a novice who shared with me the same sense of the ridiculous. She and I could bet on and giggle at the chutzpah of a grasshopper trying to bound from the mown grass to the top of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima as she stood on her stone plinth in the side yard of the novitiate.
She and I laughed our way through those eighteen months, making culpa often, saying innumerable Our Fathers, doing extra obediences, chuckling even while we tried to weed out our flaws and faults.
We got in trouble together because so much—whether in the choir chapel or class or laundry—tickled our funny bones. We met on the same wavelength.
So there I was—longing to be anywhere but in the convent, laughing at the foolishness of some of the things we did, and lamenting my own waywardness.
And yet smitten by prayer.
That time was, for me, a holy muddle.