Thursday, November 3, 2011

An Example of Being Immoderate

In my Tuesday posting on moderation, I admitted that “during my eighteen months in the novitiate I swung between being scrupulous about making culpa for my faults and ignoring the practice completely.” All eighteen of us were probably scrupulous at times, but one novice seemed to think that scrupulosity was a virtue.
            This particular novice was Number Three in our class. That is, she was the third person who’d ask to enter the June 1958 class. I was Number Six. The novice with whom I shared a sense of humor was Number Seven.
            She and I sat next to one another in chapel and across from one another in the refectory. The obediences of washing dishes and table waiting were done in groups of six, so she was in one group and I another. Had she been in my group, I’d have wiped, clattered, knelt, and then broken out laughing at her expressive left eyebrow, raised in astonishment.
            Novice Number Three was in my group of six. She was on my case constantly. I’d been the college student body president in my senior year. Therefore, she thought I was a born leader and should set an example for the younger novices.

A photograph of me standing on the steps of the college chapel in 1958.

            Only two novices were older than I—Number Two and Number Three. Number Two smoked and had a laissez-faire attitude toward all the rules. She was probably the most mentally healthy of all of us. Number Three, of course, shook her head over the antics of those of us who, in her opinion, should guide the others toward perfection in all things.
            Here’s an example of how seriously she took the strictures of the convent.
            Once a week, a monk from the abbey across town lectured us in the common room on the Benedictine life. We eighteen novices sat in a V. He sat behind a table at the wide end of the V, never looking up from his notes.
            Most of us, sitting there so seemingly serenely, simply pulled our veils forward so that he couldn’t see our closed eyes. I never made culpa for falling asleep. Who could expect us to stay awake before such a monotone?
            However, Novice Number Three must have thought she was duty-bound to remain alert. She sat, a straight pin between the fingers of one hand, and pricked the fingers of her other hand whenever she began to nod off.

            Even then, this seemed extreme to me. As immoderate as I myself was, I still recognized her behavior as excessive. She seemed determined to be a model nun. And, the truth is, that while fourteen of our class left during and after the eight and a half years I was there, she was one of the four who stayed. She did much good and was greatly treasured before her unexpected death a few years ago.
            I never again saw her after I left, so I don’t know if her sense of humor was ever allowed free rein. I hope so. I hope that she came to know that laughter is part of wholeness.           

Photo Credit for pins:


  1. Beautiful photo of you! And I hope Number Three found her funny bone!

  2. Amazingly unreal world, the world of a convent. I used to think that they kept children against their will. (I've just remembered that in my memoir)

  3. I loved this post. I'm sure even Christ laughed--after all, His mother was human. Watching humans, I believe His father must laugh a lot!

  4. Number three sounds like a lady I used to know. I still don't think she ended up laughing--I guess we can hope though :)

    I love your stories, and that picture of you is so pretty!

  5. It's easy to see why so many of the nuns eventually left. I know you said that things have changed over the years. So glad they have. I cannot even imagine living my life without laughter. I don't think I would survive without it. Life would be a misery to me.

    I feel so sorry for that young nun who was trying so very, very hard to be perfect. It's a failing proposition for us humans. I tried, but I never was good with balance and consistency, either.

    Don't ever lose your joy, lady!! I can see it in the lovely picture of you. ;)

  6. I definitely would have liked being around #2 and of course, #6. I am pretty sure #3 was my teacher in the 7th grade. It was a difficult year and I never seemed to do anything right.

  7. A sense of humor is essential. It's sad to think some people go through life without any semblance of such a thing. Her use of pins to poke herself awake sounds like a masochistic tendency more than a desire for holiness. It seems there can be such a fine line between the two, for some people.

    I always enjoy reading about your time spent in the convent, a world of which I know almost nothing.

  8. I prefer the broken & splendid to the perfection-seekers. ~Mary

  9. Oh, wow. When I picture what kind of nun Number Three may have become, a sense of humor doesn't seem very likely. On the other hand, she may have gotten some advice along the way to help her realize, as you say, that laughter is part of wholeness.

  10. It amazes me that you came out of this environment with such a wholeness and with your sense of humor totally intact. Not to mention compassion. I really enjoy hearing these stories but they do seem to have happened in a world I can only barely comprehend.

    Thank you for sharing them.

  11. Oh Dee, It's hard to imagine resorting to self-induced physical pain in order to keep yourself awake! Oh the misery of it all!

    Love the photo of you, and the picture in my mind of a prim and prissy nun with a hidden pin or two in hand truly makes me smile . . . especially imagining her efforts to restrain herself from showing pain!

  12. New follower! Just your profile had me going and then I read your post! AWESOME! You are one amazing (for my lack of knowledge for better word) person. Love your blog!

  13. Ah, Dee, I, too, have trouble with moderation. It is good to see you back and your words today and in the previous post call to me (especially when it come to blogging). I like your idea of tempering how long you spend on blogs. A few today, a few tomorrow. . .

  14. Hello, Dee! I'm a bit later than usual, but I'm here now and I'm giggling on two the old monk who never (dared) look up from his notes...he was probably saving himself from the smiles of the pretty young novices...keeping carnal thoughts at the same way that Number 3 was doing, with her very definitely extreme-bordering-on-masochistic behaviour! Whatever did her parents do to her, to make her so 'wound-up'? I do hope she did experience some joyfulness in her life before she died. Once again, a very amusing (yet sad!) account of life in the convent. Thank you for sharing with us.

  15. First, I love "scrupulosity." That is my new favorite word.

    Second, I suspect that #3 either was in her last life or will be in her next a rule-breaking comedian. Such are the lessons we are here to learn.

  16. I wonder what fear lived behind #3's need to be such a stickler for the rules.

  17. The photo of you is a treasure. I do shutter to think that #3 would resort to pain in order to make sure she maintained her reputation. I guess athletes do that also. I suspect the pain gave her joy. How sad.