Back in the summer of 1963, the convent celebrated its centennial. Sister Chrysostom, a fine musician, wrote the words and music to a glorious song we sang that day. Its first stanza proclaimed our jubilation.
The Lord had given us a song to sing.
From the summit of our mountain we will sing it.
The glory of His praises, the glory of His praises,
who has shaped the overflowing years,
the overflowing years to peace.
Let there be laughter in the songs we sing.
Let it be measured to the lilt of prayer,
old in its beauty and in beauty new,
with gladness fair.
Much has changed and yet much abides as the convent now nears its celebration of one hundred and fifty years. The nuns are still drawn to a celibate life of service. And they remain steadfast in the living of their vows.
So here am I back in June of 1958. Twenty-two years old, just graduated from college. An idealist who longs to serve others by becoming a nun. As I said in last Saturday’s posting, I felt giddy with the possibility of embracing this life.
For last Saturday’s posting, Rita commented that I’d attempted to explain “the sensation of being nothing and everything simultaneously.” Young and impressionable, I felt I’d experienced the Oneness of being fully Me while simultaneously becoming totally Other. In a real sense, I lost myself. It's why I entered a year later. Through prayer I hoped to become both Self and Selfless. Does this make any sense? Probably not. Yet it was what my idealistic soul sought.
In another comment, Manzanita reflected the romanticism of my youth. She said about herself: “I had raw yearnings for something to satisfy my soul, be it the unrequited adulation of a troubadour or wandering the world in a saffron robe with my beggar’s bowl. I wanted to make a difference in the world, I wanted to save. I longed to be one with God.” That is an apt description of who I was. I wanted to meld the idealism of Don Quixote with the selflessness of Philip Neri—a saint who appreciated laughter.
For the first six months after entering back in 1958, I was called a postulant. During that time, I wore black lisle hose and oxfords, a pleated black skirt that fell a little below my knobby knees, a long-sleeved black blouse, a white-collared black cape that fell to my thin wrists, and a black veil sewn to a comb anchored in my flyaway hair.
As a postulant, I lived in the novitiate. A paved road separated this rectangular, two-story, brick building from the main convent where the scholastics and professed nuns lived. I attended classes on the first floor of the novitiate. In the office of the Novice Mistress I made culpa. That is, I admitted some flaw or fault—like losing a straight pin or talking while doing dishes.
I slept in one of the second-story dorms of the novitiate. The rule allowed no speaking in those dorms or in the halls and bathrooms. Both day and night, I practiced custody of the eyes by not staring at whatever or whomever I passed. The hope was that by doing so, I’d center my mind on spiritual things.
Each morning, a bell summoned me to the choir chapel. During the remainder of the day that same bell announced meals, classes, prayer, and recreation. In the evening it rang for Compline, the final prayer of the day.
Afterward, the eighteen postulants, I among them, and the sixteen novices returned—in silence and in single file—to the novitiate. We untried postulants would live in the novitiate for eighteen months; the sixteen novices had already been there for a year. They now wore the habit and a white veil. They would be making first vows in six months.
In profound silence, we climbed the steps to the second-story dorms—one for the postulants and one for the novices. We each filled a basin with water and set the ceramic bowl on our individual bureaus. All sound was muted: the tread of house slippers, the drawing of cubicle curtains, the finding of a comfortable position on the lumpy mattress. When all was still, the Novice Mistress turned off the light. During the summer all of us were asleep before the sun set.
The next morning the routine began again. The bell rang. We drew the curtains around our beds, washed in the basin’s water, emptied it, donned our clothes, and began the day.
My life was one of obedience steeped in prayer, work, and silence with a goodly dollop of laughter. Living in that convent, I knew moments of lighthearted camaraderie and profound felicity. I also knew hours of doubt and loneliness.
(To be continued on Thursday . . .)
PS: In reading other blogs, I’ve noted that when a reply to a comment appears on that blog, a thread is formed. A conversation begins. There’s an exchange to which other readers can be privy. A fellow blogger helped me reach this realization and I’m grateful to her for pointing it out. So beginning with today’s posting, I’ll respond to comments here on my own blog instead of individually by e-mail or on the commentator’s blog. Hope you find this engaging!
The photographs are all from the following site: