Monday, November 26, 2012


Through the early 1980s, the Sisters I referred to in the last two posts held prayer meetings in their monastery.  Because these nuns were semi-cloistered and once ran a girls' school, they had a number of  "uncloistered" areas in their buildings.  One of these was a parlor, where the meetings were held.

This parlor was painted in pastels.  Its chairs and sofas were overstuffed, the lighting was soft, there was an old (unlighted) fireplace.  Everything contributed to a gentle feeling of home.  Sisters and laypeople gathered to pray in low voices; the singing was heartfelt and serene.  There was often a bit of conversation about our efforts (in and out of cloister) to bring glory to God.

After one of these meetings, I tiptoed out with a friend to begin the hour's drive back to our city (we always seemed to tiptoe, as if not to disturb the hush).  We decided to stop for pizza on our way home, at a little place not far from the monastery's grounds.

Stepping into the pizzeria, I was startled by the stark, sudden contrast.  My senses were assaulted by the twangy blare of a jukebox, by shouts and insults and bawdy jokes yelled across the room.  I wanted to flee, rush out, race back to the quiet of the monastery.  The "wanting" was a literal ache inside me.  I yearned to be back in the quiet, gentle, holy presence of ones who had given their lives utterly to God.

I began to think of the step it takes to walk into the cloister once and for all, to leave everything on one side of the grille and take up residence on the other.  It was a "break" I suddenly found enviable for its totality.

I don't know when the phrase "the cloistered heart" actually came to me.  But I look back at that night, and that visit to the noisy pizzeria, as the time when the cloistered heart was truly birthed in my soul.