Thursday, September 07, 2006

"It's like being in love"

From Women of God, by Mary Gordon, in the January 2002 Atlantic Monthly:
Since the days when my father and I had told the world at large that I wanted to be a contemplative, I had been intensely curious about the details of the contemplative life. But I had never before spoken to a real contemplative—the point of the life being seclusion from the world. I was avid to know the details of the schedule, at least in part to see whether it conformed to my imaginings of it. Indeed, the sisters' day is structured around times of prayer. They meet six times a day for communal prayer, and have three daily periods of private devotion and meditation.

"You see, we lead an intensive life of prayer, a pure life of faith," Mother Marie told me. "Prayer is really the center of our day; it's what we devote ourselves to. Originally I entered an active community, but then I understood that I wanted a contemplative life. I was drawn to an intense life of prayer."

There seems to be no time in the day that is meaningless—no slack hours, no residue of triviality or folly or plain waste. Of course, it is also possible to say there is no spontaneity and little individual choice. It is a schedule that seems outside history: it is not much different from religious life before Vatican II—and not much different from monastic life in the Middle Ages.

I asked her if it was difficult to pull herself away from her prayer life to do practical tasks. "You see, it's like being in love," she said. "When you're in love, you really don't want to be anywhere except alone with the person you love. If I have to go out to Eighty-sixth Street, to buy a pair of shoes or something, I'm always eager to get back. It's the spiritual atmosphere I love, and so I miss it. Since I'm the superior, I suffer a bit from not having as much solitude as I would like. But part of our vocation is living in community. For example, if during my free time I wanted to take a walk and say my rosary, and one of the sisters said she needed to talk to me, needed my help or my support, I would feel that my first duty was to her. Community life is a great challenge to virtue. I believe it's in community that you grow. In patience, in generosity."

I looked at her face, which had the sweetness, the calm, the quiet assurance, of a woman happily married to her high school sweetheart and still amazed at her own good luck. Her ease of manner made the life she lives seem un-extraordinary; but, of course, it is extraordinary, because it is a hidden life, quite foreign to most modern imaginations. So I asked her what misconceptions about contemplative nuns she would like to clear up. "First," she said, "we're women, we're humans, and we experience everything a woman does, but we experience a very deep call from God—and the call is captivating—to a life of intimate prayer. We're not stoic, we're not afraid of life, we're not afraid of responsibility, we're not cold fish, and we're not afraid of marriage. We're not that different from other women. Being a contemplative doesn't make you less of a human being. Saint Iraneaus says, 'The glory of God is man fully alive.'"

1 comment:

John said...

Hi Im from Melbourne. These 2 related essays give a unique understanding of the emotional-sexual dimensions of our being.

And the Sacred Space within which these qualities can only be cultivated/nurtured.

Plus a related essay on The Divine True Love