During that time, I saw no television. Listened to no radio. Read no magazines or newspapers—except the ones I sneaked a look at when I did my lavatory obedience in the main building. I saw my family twice. Once a month, I received letters, as did we all.
Dad and Mom visiting me
the summer of 1958 when I was a postulant.
The ceremony of taking first vows was just a few days away. I’d entered to escape the “messiness” of family and its obligations and commitments. And the truth was that I’d landed myself not in nirvana or in Dee Ready’s idealized home but in a community of very human women, myself among them.
The poem “Prologos,” which I read during my vow retreat, revealed to me that I couldn’t leave myself behind no matter where I went. And it was myself, more than anyone, I wanted to avoid. I found my dark places ignoble. I couldn’t accept them. And if I stayed . . . surely if I stayed . . . those dark places would become enlightened by my living with so many holy women. Surely.
I made another important discovery during that retreat. I realized that the narrowness of my life for eighteen months—the physical boundaries of it and the lack of varied stimuli—had made me even more aware of what was lacking within me.
And so, suddenly and surprisingly, I found myself wanting to make the vows for two reasons: To find myself by serving God through serving others. And to get out of the confines of the monastery and meet a whole classroom of students.
In my mind the two were inexorably fused. I’d attended a Catholic grade school, high school, and college. The teachers and professors I knew were all nuns. It was nuns who taught.
Soon I’d take a train to wherever I was sent to teach. I’d be in a new place with new sights and sounds. Maybe I’d get to shop in a grocery store.
I’d meet children and hear new stories. I’d see Victorian houses with bric-a-brac. I’d hear the beep of car horns and the squeal of brakes. I might hear a student sing a song from a recent Broadway musical. I’d smell bodies washed with perfumed soap. I’d touch a clothesline. I’d taste tea again after eighteen months of coffee. The wonder of it! I’d know the wide world again.
You see, during that retreat I discovered something else: that prayer had become a way of avoiding life and that, after the narrowness of my life for eighteen months, I wanted broader horizons. More stimuli.
But right now I wonder if perhaps what I really wanted was not to be “up close and personal” with myself and my own darkness. Maybe more stimuli would mean that I wouldn’t be so aware of my own failings. That I could get out of my mind.
And so the night before making first vows I lay in bed, unsure of the next day or the journey I was about to undertake.
It seems to me this Friday evening as I write these words that I thought the only path to wholeness and holiness was through the convent. And so, frightened, yet excited. Joyous, yet sorrowful. Confused, yet expectant, I accepted what I was going to do the next day. I would put off the white veil of the novitiate, make my vows, and don the black veil to show my commitment to being a member of this monastery in Atchison, Kansas.
It’s 10:36 p.m. now. I’ve thought about this posting all day. I’m not content with the writing for it seems jangled to me. Convoluted. Muddled. But perhaps that is as it should be for that is how I was on December 31, 1959, the night before I made first vows.
So be it.
I invite you to visit this blog on Tuesday, when I’ll share with you the celebration of taking first vows and the end of this series of postings on the novitiate.
(Concluded on Tuesday. . . )
Photo by Ambro at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net