The step from world into cloister has long intrigued me. One leaves “here” and goes “there.” But one doesn’t just tiptoe over a threshold into nothingness. Anyone taking such a step has carefully considered the “there” to which they are going.
At this point I need to do one paragraph of defining, in case anyone reading this is not familiar with the set up of monastic life. In every monastery, of nuns or of monks, there is an area normally reserved for residents of the monastic community. This is called “the cloister” or “enclosure.” Some communities observe what is called full (or papal) enclosure. This means that those residing therein live within their specified enclosure for life. That’s right: they go in, and under normal circumstances they do not come out (there are exceptions, of course, like for medical care). This doesn’t mean they never see the sun again; often enclosures are rather vast places, always including some outdoor areas and occasionally even encompassing meadows or streams. The cloistered person also still sees family and friends, meeting with them in parlors and meeting rooms.
It can be awfully strange, for those of us not called to it, to consider a life of full enclosure. But in the analogy of the cloistered heart that we will be using here, the idea of enclosure is extremely important. There IS an enclosure into which we are invited. It is a genuine enclosure, one that goes beyond all of our loftiest mental images.
The fact is: if we’re human beings, we are called to live within the will of God.
In the analogy of "the cloistered heart," I am invited to live within the boundaries of God's will as a nun would live inside her enclosure. A potential cloistered nun does not set the boundaries of enclosure for herself, saying that she really prefers other areas, thank you very much. No, she accepts them as they have already been set up... or she goes elsewhere.
I look around, today, at the boundaries of my enclosure. I don't have to map them out for myself; they are clearly defined for me in Scripture and in 2,000 years of authentic Church discernment.
Sometimes we can fear the boundaries of God's will, worrying that they'll sap all joy and pleasure from our lives. The saints tell us otherwise.
“Our happiness consists in knowing and doing His holy will.” (St. Jane de Chantal)
“Freed from the heavy burden of my own will, I may breathe freely under the light load of love…” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)
“The height of loving ecstasy is when our will rests not in its own contentment, but in God’s will.” (St. Francis de Sales)
“Do you want to be free? Then free yourself by your own act; have no will but God’s will.” (La Trappe in England by a Religious of Holy Cross Abbey, 1937)