I reread, over and over, “Prologos” from Hymns to the Church. I cannot move beyond that first poem, which reflects my own melancholy. I’m not sure why I’m uneasy with taking vows. Three times in the past eighteen months I’ve spoken with the Novice Mistress about leaving the convent. Three times she’s assured me that if anyone has a vocation I do.
Yet why this dis-ease?
In a few minutes the community will gather for prayer. I sit in the choir chapel awaiting them. The stained-glass windows cast their jeweled light on the book lying open on my lap. Perhaps, I think, this poem, which touches the ache within me, offers the key to my release from doubt about the taking of vows.
Lord, a dream of Thee lies on my soul,
but I cannot reach Thee for all my gates are barred!
I am besieged as by armies, I am locked in my everlasting solitude.
My hands are broken and my head is bruised in trying to escape.
All the images of my spirit have become shadows.
For no ray falls from Thee into the depth of my loneliness.
It is lighted only by the moonbeams of my soul.
How did you come in to me, O voice of my God?
Is it only the cry of wild birds over the waters?
I have carried you to all the mountains of hope,
but they too are but my own hilltops.
I have gone down to the waters of despair,
but they are not deeper than my own heart.
My love is like a stairway in the soul—
but ever and forever I am only in myself.
I can find no rest in my many chambers,
the stillest of them is like a single cry.
The last of them is yet but an antechamber,
The holiest of them is like an awaiting.
The darkest of all yet like a song of day!
The words that leap from page to heart are “My love is like a stairway in the soul—but ever and forever I am only in myself.” I’m sure there’s a clue there. I gaze at the chapel windows. Those on one side illustrate the life of Benedict of Nursia, whom historians call the Father of Western Monasticism. Those on the other side reflect his Rule for communal living. That ancient treasure has guided the lives of innumerable women and men since he first wrote it in the early sixth century.
Those windows prompt me to ask the questions that might guide me through the quagmire of myself. “Why did you enter, Dee?” “What have you found here in this monastery in Atchison, Kansas?” “How does it differ from what you were seeking?” “Are you content here?” In the next two postings, I’ll share with you what I discovered while on retreat all those long years ago.
Some of you have expressed amazement at the memory I have of this life in the monastery. I tell you, I, too, am amazed, but I suspect that the very life I lived then makes memory palpable. As you know from past postings, in prayer, peace pervaded my innards. Despite that, I lived constantly with the stress of resisting communal life. A battle waged within. That stress, I think, is the reason I so well remember those long-ago days and the conundrum of them.
(Continued on Thursday . . . )
All photos from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net
gates by Simon Howden/moon by Dr. Joseph Valks/castle by prozac1