Friday, September 30, 2011

the first bell

When “the cloistered heart” first occurred to me in the mid 1980s, it was nothing more than a phrase. 

Today, thinking over all that has developed in these years, I’m surprised to suddenly feel inspired to “think BACKWARD.”  Back to the earliest monastery I envisioned:  one not constructed (yet) of analogy, but simply an imaginary building made of weathered stone.  This “monastery” was deep in a forest, trees shrouding it so its walls could barely be seen.  My initial impression was of green, the dark dark green of flora huddled together.  Moss and vines crept up the building’s walls.  Trees were evergreens, maples, birches.   Smells were cedar and pine, and freshly dug moist earth.  A clean whiff of lavender might be coming from the garden .  And incense; certainly there was incense, curling out through chapel windows.  I knew the walls inside would be permeated with incense and the scent of beeswax candles, smells that had seeped for decades into plaster and wood.  

Sounds of leaves rustling in a gentle breeze…  twitters and caws from above... a distant rustle of deer in the underbrush.  And suddenly, a bell.  From a tower high above, the peal of a bell;  its voice deep and throaty.  It did not shatter the silence; it enhanced it.  Somehow this bell belonged here, its tolls as natural to the scene as a dove’s coo.  Inside the walls, the gentle rustle of soft shoes shuffling, a swish of habits, the quiet of souls who’ve learned to gather in silence.  And then the song.  Chant... rising, falling, sweeping, soothing, celebrating.  I listened from outside and felt that hint of longing.  That first drawing, wooing, cloistered heart longing…

In the midst of my busy life, I heard the bell call.

Text not in quotes

Thursday, September 29, 2011

a cloistered welcome

"I am a laywoman, married...yet I have a vocation to the cloister.  Obviously I am not called to the physical enclosure; I am called, rather, to cloister my heart.  The word 'cloister' speaks of total consecration.  It seems that compromise would not fit well in a cloister, nor would lukewarmness, nor would complacency.  The cloistered life is absolute."

I look at the above words and am amazed that I wrote them twenty years ago.  Twenty years!  Today these sentences provide me with a ... well, a kind of challenge.  Have compromise, lukewarmness, complacency found spaces in my cloister in which to hide?  O yes.  O yes, indeed.  Looking at these words now, I wonder if I'm "cloistered" at all.

And the instant I start to wonder, I'm positive that I am.  By the amazing grace of God, I am as "cloistered" as I was then; probably more so.  My prayer has gone through droughts and seasons of change, my life has had challenges and triumphs and surprises.  But in the 'cloister,' I remain.

One thing I've discovered is that "the cloistered heart" has many facets.  Like a precious jewel whose gleam is spotted by a treasure hunter, "the cloistered heart" is still being dug out and examined, turned about and exclaimed over, loved and cherished and LIVED.  If you happen to be one of those who has explored along with us in the past, I welcome you to this new kind of "newsletter."  We will continue through the rooms of the cloister as we did in "Cloistered Gatherings," and I expect we'll wander about in them more freely.  There is an informality and a "randomness" about blogging that I think I'll find appealing and easy to deal with (although I warn you that I'm totally new at it!).

If you are someone who is joining this exploration for the first time, we welcome you to our "dig!"

As we continue, we will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  "If Christ is not the alpha and omega of the life," wrote Dom Hubert Van Zeller, "there is no particular point to monasticism."  Jesus is the reason for our cloisters, and with Him as our focus - we begin.

(public domain photo)