Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Was It Worth It?

As both postulant and novice, I keenly embraced the Benedictine way of life that for fifteen centuries had been centered in prayer. Being beckoned to pray the Divine Office seven times a day was, for me, always, a joy. Chanting those ancient psalms, bowing, kneeling, raising my voice in praise and thanksgiving, petition and sorrow for myself and all people everywhere hollowed me. I became One with all creation.
            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.         


  1. I have not come across any blog like this. Your soul comes through in each sentence that you write. It is amazing writing and a story tht captures and grips the reader.

  2. What a beautiful writer you are. I love how you describe the things you'd miss in the "real" world, outside the convent.

    Ah yes, the holy muddle. I've never faced the choices you have, yet it vexes me still...

    What a wonderful read this was. Thank you.

  3. I can understand being part of a convent and when I was younger often thought about joining an ashram, but somehow knew I didn't have that inner fortitude it would take to dedicate myself to God or the One or Nature. Having a friend such as you did with the novice is like a trip with God or nature in that much of what we seek is to be able to touch another spiritually and that laughter is so much a part of that kind of mysterious kinship.
    I enjoy the honesty in your writing. You give your reader a strong sense of you are in this world.

  4. A "holy muddle", indeed. Longing to be anywhere but in the convent--& yet smitten by prayer. And, I assume, also feeling some guilt because you made a promise to God that that you could not wholeheartedly keep. I could not even imagine myself living life as a nun. With what I have learned of you since I started reading your post, I feel that leaving the convent was a soul wrenching--but CORRECT--decision for you.

    Do you know if your friend ever took her final vows?

  5. Yes, I wondered what happened to your giggle friend?

    I can't believe that when you had asked to leave three times that it didn't dawn on them that maybe you should be allowed to leave? That you knew yourself better than they did?

    I know I couldn't do it. I couldn't give up the freedom no matter how much I might have wanted to please God or put my spiritual path first in my life. God is everywhere--in your brother imitating Elvis, in the library bookracks, in the maple leaves, in the grasshopper's struggle, in the sky...I know I couldn't do it. But it must have felt like failure to leave?

    You share from your heart and soul. Your time as a nun has helped to form who you are today. We are the sum of all we have been, so I am glad you were there--and everywhere you've been--so you are the woman I love to visit today. :):)

  6. You describe this time so expertly. I felt not only what you must have gone through, but what the world beyond you went through as well. Times (then) seem so different from how they are now.

  7. I have been circling around your blog for a few weeks now, finding myself more drawn to your words and your story each time. I wanted you to know how much I enjoy your posts.

    Your writing and style are so beautiful, heartfelt, and something else I am having trouble expressing at the moment. You also are very witty and make me chuckle when I least expect it.

    Thank you for your continuing story as a postulant, who giggles and is smitten by prayer. I know hearing more of your journey will be something I will want to continue to read.

    Thank you. Penny

  8. "Smitten by prayer" Wow, what an excellent three words.
    Your conflict was so well worded, and intensely felt. Thanks you for sharing something so personal.

  9. The people who lament their waywardness never turn out to be all that wayward. ~Mary

  10. Your gentle soul shines through the words you write, Dee. I too wonder if she ever took final vows. Never does one door open but another one closes, and vice versa. The convent door closed but the world still came in through your longing. I selfishly am glad you left the convent so you can be here, write here, and share that sweet soul with me. Hugs to you...

  11. Dee, I loved this post. I could feel your yearning for both lives, and the clash of those lives not being able to meld. "Holy muddle" is a great phrase-I will have to say that I often feel that way myself!

  12. Dear Dee,
    I can't help but laugh a little when I read about your antics, and your "holy muddle". I'm as amazed as others that you were held literally against your will for so long. Asking to be released, and denied that release, must have truly been an entirely different kind of muddle . . . I can imagine you doubting yourself, as surely those who you accepted as "wiser" must know better than you.

    I'm with DJan, so glad you escaped to bring your story to us, and wrap us up in your lovely words.

  13. Dee, I am finding it hard to know what to write, for the simple reason that my own words feel so inadequate. Every single blogger who has commented ahead of me has expressed all I feel. Their words are deep and rich matching the astounding beauty of the way you express yourself. You are such an incredibly talented and gifted writer. Your ability to bring the intimacy of every emotion to life is miraculous. I sit here, dumbfounded at your depth of perception and understanding, at all the delightful nuances of the wonderful person you are. You have occasionally used the expression, "standing on hallowed ground" in comments you've left on other blogs. That is precisely what I feel here, today. Your spirituality and other worldliness, that marvellous innocence and zest for life, your reverence for life, is tangible in everything you do, share and say. I know I am not alone in feeling the great blessing you are to all who meet and get to know you! My apologies for seeming to be rambling on, but although my heart is so full, I struggle to express myself on any level that would do justice to your beautiful writing. Thank you for offering the gift of yourself to the world. This is one of your most exquisite pieces of prose, akin to a glorious painting from which I am unable to withdraw my gaze.

  14. I echo all of these sweet, loving words! So good to get to know you this way!

  15. I love the freedom you gave yourself to even begin to ask these questions and the wide-eyed way you chose to embrace whatever you were doing while you were doing it, whether it was praying or giggling.

  16. I can not wait to read your past posts!..and your future ones!

  17. What a struggle -- between the freedom of life as you had known it and the blessings and challenges of the religious life. Looking at the situation at this time and age, I'm simply amazed that, even though you asked to leave three times, you were not granted permission. It just doesn't make sense now. But in that place and in that time, I can so see that happening. My friend Sue said she knew the second day after she entered the convent that it was a big mistake, but it was eight years before she was given permission to leave. You write so beautifully -- truly from the soul -- Dee.

  18. How hard that must have been on you ..... wanting to leave, asking to leave 3 times and each time, being told that being in the convent is the right thing for you. That is a muddle and lays a great guilt trip on you. You don't need reminders as I imagine you have your own set of guilts. This is so well written and that is for easy reading.

  19. You, my dear Dee, are a very special person.
    To be so utterly sincere and honest in your dealings with yourself and others is a rare phenomenon. I don't think I've ever come across another person who can truly say that they have spent much time in exploring their own core in such depth.

    May I say (without offence to the Church) that I am very glad that you decided to come back into the world.

  20. Those times were so different. Our relationship with the church could so often contaminate our relationship with God. A clergyman I know says, in riposte to anyone who dares disagree with him, I am a professional, therefore listen to me I know a lot more than you do. But, I ask, are you a man of God? The church and its 'professionals' often seem to forget that we are all open to God. Their rule of obedience seems to have nothing to do with God, but with them! Ah wisdom!