It has been a while since I last posted. Perhaps just a bit of winding down from the family celebrations combined with any number of tasks here in the monastery. And it does not make sense to post unless there is something meaningful to say. One never knows where meaning is to be found. Interestingly, these thoughts were brought into motion by a pleasant surprise from someone outside the monastery.
I have been the vocation director for this community of contemplative nuns for only eight months or so. In that time I have responded to over 150 inquiries. I rarely receive a response of any kind. I can count on one hand the number of follow-up communications or just notes of thanks. One of the rare few came yesterday - from a young woman of only sixteen years. She thanked me for the information I sent and and for links to our web site and this blog, noted how much she liked them, but said that she believed she was called to minister "in the street." She also fairly gushed over contemplative life: "To be able to stare at Jesus all day long...Contemplative life is so beautiful...To just be locked away with your King forever...It makes me smile for you all :)." Although I kind of cringed at the notion of being "locked away" I was touched by the enthusiasm of the language of youthful crush and utter desire. I read this language on many of the websites and blogs dedicated to young seekers of the right place to live out their religious vocation. They speak in such romantic terms. It may seem saccharine but there is a love energy, a level of affect we cannot afford to ignore within ourselves and in vowed religious life.
Somehow this seems to fit in with contemplation of Jesus' question in today's Gospel (Matthew16: 13-20): "But who do you say I am?" Jesus seems to be asking Peter, "Now, after all of this time with me, what is our relationship, who am I to you? Am I getting through to you?" Peter responds, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." With that Jesus declares Peter blessed because flesh and blood has not revealed this to him but the heavenly Father. By this I understand that knowing Jesus is more a case of affect, of mysterious interior response, of mystical insight or, can we say, the saccharine sensibility of the young woman who wrote to me. It is not the head but the "stony heart" replaced with a "natural heart" by God, the Father, that will truly know Jesus.
An enthusiastic spirit leaped out of a teenager's words, full of love and joy at the very thought of Jesus, and communicating an attachment to the person of Jesus Christ. It is that personal attachment, attachment leading to intimacy of mutual knowing, that I hear in Jesus' voice as he poses the direct question.
The spousal metaphor so frequently used to interpret the vowed life is to conjure the image of the ultimate in mutual human knowing; knowing each other inside and out; the intimacy of the marital relationship. At some time or another in its development or at any time in one of the myriad aspects of human relationship the energy of the teenage crush has its proper and vital place. Just as it pulses in so many seeking religious life today, it pulsed in the heart of each one of us here in the monastery at some time or even now, if we dare to let it surface. It was in my heart when I pronounce my first vows and when I pronounced my solemn vows, my voice filled with emotion, my hand fairly grabbing the hand of my Prioress, Sr. Paula Schmidt, OSsR and her eyes brimming over with the remembered gushing of her own heart. When Jesus asks me the question, "But who do you say I am?", it is in the context of all my experiences of Him in my life, of the degree of my daily intimacy with Him in contemplative life and in the context of that gushing relationship of intimate love that flowed out of me on the day of my solemn vows.