22 January 2010

Does not compute

This is an article I've just written for our parish magazine, to start the long process of explanations of what I got up to in Advent!

I am a nun. I am Anglican. I’m also married, a mum of one, a full time health and safety consultant, and a part-time student.

Yes, you did read that right: a married Anglican nun. Does not compute?

I am a member of the Community of Solitude, a group of Benedictine Camaldolese solitaries scattered around the world. We are genuine monks and nuns. Some of us are Anglicans/Episcopalians, some of us are Roman Catholic, and we are open to other denominations too, including Orthodox. When I say we are genuine monks and nuns, we have all heard a call from God to dedicate ourselves totally to God’s way – a vocation to the monastic way of life. That means we dedicate ourselves to a life of prayer in the midst of “ordinary things” – delivering health and safety training, doing housework, making meals, doing the washing, reading my daughter stories – all of that for me forms part of my prayer life.

Prayer is also a more formal thing for all of us: we all keep the Divine Office, which is prayer at set times of the day. Because we all come from different denominations, the Community does not have a particular set form: I use the Roman Catholic Morning and Evening Prayer (which includes Night Prayer) as it uses the Psalms and canticles on a four-week cycle, with specific variations for major feasts. I also pray the Anglican rosary most days and spend time in contemplative (silent) prayer daily. We meditate on scripture, particularly the Gospels, and spend time reflecting on where God has been at work in each day (prayer of examen).

Our particular calling, or charism as a Community, is to be love in the heart of the Church. Our Bishop has also specifically asked me to pray for the Wellington Diocese, which I do daily, following the Diocesan cycle of prayer. I also pray for our parish and any particular concerns I am aware of within our parish. My Divine Office helps remind me to pray for others as well as trying to draw closer to God myself, as there is a section of intercessions in both morning and evening prayers. My Anglican rosary also reminds me to pray for the Diocese as I have one of the sesquicentennial crosses as part of my rosary.

Benedictines make vows of stability, obedience, and conversion of life. In the Community, our vow of stability is to a life of prayer, with our prayer as our “cell”: the place we meet God (rather than stability to a particular Abbey, as with enclosed monks and nuns). Our obedience is to both our leaders in the Community and to our local church leaders, so I made a specific promise of obedience to the Bishop when he issued me with his Letter of Authority. Conversion of life is to always allow God to be at work within us, changing us into something more like God’s own heart of love. One of the Benedictine priests I know explains our vows as:

Stability: God is not elsewhere
Obedience: When my will is cracked open Grace comes in
Conversion of Life: Why not be transformed into a living flame of love!

You may wonder where my wonderful family comes in here. Yes, I remain married to my husband, fulfilling all parts of the vows I made to him nine years ago. Yes, I am still Mum to our daughter, and no, I have no intention of running off to a convent. My convent is here, where I am and where you are. I am living a monastic calling right in the midst of that thing we call life, finding Life and Love in it.

Yes, I do have a habit (you’ve probably spotted it), and no, I don’t wear it all the time. It is worn “as and where appropriate” so I don’t wear it to work but I do wear it to worship. Sometimes I wear it at home. I have chosen to express my vocation by only wearing black, white, and grey when not in my formal habit as a way of concretely living more simply.

So how should you call me? At church and for church things, I am Sister Therese, or just Sister (monastics don’t use a name without the title). My family calls me by my given name, and so do my work colleagues. I know there will be some confusion for a little while, as you’ve known me as something else for a long time! I have chosen my name in religion for St Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, who fought to enter a Carmelite convent as a young girl (15!) and died at 24 of tuberculosis. While in the convent, she realised that the best way for her to draw closer to God was to live the “little way”: doing everything as lovingly as possible, treating everyone with graciousness and caring, even those people she didn’t like! That is my goal too, and I would love your support and prayers. You are always in mine!

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