THE SEVENTH GRADER'S
face expressed fascination, intrigue, and at the same time, apprehension as she held the beef heart in her gloved hands. This heart was my visual aid for a junior high school talk on the veterinary occupation. I bet only a mortician could come up with a better prop! While watching them marvel, approach, and hesitate, it occurred to me that's what people considering religious life for themselves might feel about my life right now.
I made my first profession of the Benedictine vows of stability, obedience, and conversation (ongoing conversion) in the summer of 2001. It could have been yesterday. When I was a novice I used to consider myself a neonatal nun, intensely learning our values of communal and private prayer, work, study, leisure, and hospitality. Today, I'm trying to take what I have learned and actually apply it to real life.
Maintain a diet of balance
This first year since making profession is best characterized by juggling. My biggest struggle has been in trying to maintain the balance of prayer, work, leisure, and study. Prayer is the anchor that keeps me focused on why I am here, thousands of miles from home and family. I came here to seek God. I remain here because I still want to seek God and this is where I feel I can best do that. I struggle to keep a regular private prayer schedule, but as I've slogged through my spiritual journey, I now recognize lectio as a basic need, much like food for nourishment. (Lectio divina is the traditional Benedictine style of praying scripture through meditation and contemplation.) Something's missing from my day if I don't do lectio. Listening to the Word speak to me in prayer has enriched and deepened my relationship with God.
This year I also have the opportunity to learn about God with my head in addition to my heart. I'm taking basic theology classes at nearby Saint Meinrad School of Theology. I'm grateful for this, because it seems that people assume the "Sister" title means that the holder has authorized and superlative knowledge of all things pertaining to God, the pope, and the Roman Catholic Church! Yikes!
And I've started working as a veterinarian again. I'm working part-time while taking classes. I had some real fears when it came to job re-entry. I wasn't sure I'd remember which end to stick the thermometer in! While I was a postulant and novice--our first two stages of incorporation--I focused on prayer, the inner work of uncovering my true self, learning about and integrating into this community, and taking on our Benedictine values. I kept up my professional journal subscriptions, but frankly, they seemed irrelevant and even insignificant when faced with the task of chasing God. As much as being a vet was my life before I entered, I was so busy I didn't even miss my career those first two years with my community. I'm grateful that my community sent me to a continuing education conference recently to refresh my knowledge and skills. (It didn't hurt that it was in "cha-ching!" Las Vegas!).
Face age-old differences
Another adjustment I've had to make is moving off the formation floor, that is, the neonatal nun unit, as I like to call it. It's the living group comprised of postulants, novices, directors, and a few model sisters who've made their final vows (we call them ring-bearers). Now I live in a group comprised of 16 people, in ages ranging from 80 to 35 (moi).
It's been a fascinating, eye-opening experience for me. First, there's the generation gap and the expected different experiences of music, movies, and pop culture in general. Second, we have different experiences of the church and worship. We occasionally chant Latin pieces in liturgy that many older sisters learned by rote. Most sisters here remember what the church was like before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Most younger members know only the post-Vatican II church. Even our understanding of religious life differs among the community. Before the renewal of Vatican II and the reclaiming of our Benedictine heritage, this community focused mainly on ministry and service. Sisters functioned as teachers or nurses. We were out in the world doing things. Since then, we've reclaimed our contemplative roots, emphasizing the seeking of the presence of God at all times, in all persons, and in all situations. Our work flows from this source. We are now meant to bring the presence of God to others. Or at the very least, as our dear Sister Mary Charlotte says, "The fact that 230 women can live together and not kill each other is proof that there is a God!"
Play your heart out
The last piece I juggle is leisure, an absolute must to maintaining balance, especially in the workaholic culture inside and outside of the monastery. I continue to learn the piano, organ, and violin, which has opened a new world for me. (This is totally a gift from God since my right index finger was bitten off by an angry dog--but sewn back on--two months before I entered the community.)
Music is another way to pray. I love that I can plunk or screech for God because God made me with that capability to begin with. It's truly brought me closer to God, although I can't vouch for others within earshot! An added perk is the mentoring I receive from my music instructors, Sisters Helen and Theresita. They embody the monastic values. When I have a bad day and wonder why the heck I'm here, I look to them. They convey serenity, acceptance of self and others, openness and graciousness. They're so close to God that there is no discernible line between them and God. I hope that fidelity to this way of life might lead to my transformation into something similar. I'd settle for being in the ballpark.
The music is relatively new for me, but outside of that I do the same things I did before. I still keep up with favorite musicians (Dave Matthews and Lenny Kravitz), see movies (matinees are cheaper and we can get back in time for evening prayer), and occasionally go out for pizza or Mexican.
I have good days and bad days like everyone else. Recently, another sister about my age who was in formation left the community. The question "Why do I stay?" confronted me. Her departure forced me to reflect and be starkly truthful to myself and to God. My answer today: I best seek and find God here.
Today I continue to live intentionally, chasing God with and in this group of people that is my community. In the rhythm and sought-after balance of private prayer, the Divine Office, work, study, play, solitude and silence, God is within grasp. This life nurtures the answer to the question I ask myself every day, "What do I desire?"