Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Yes. God Really Said.

As we continue to revisit the very basics of the cloistered heart analogy, I'm reminded that our "call" is that of every Christian.  The analogy we use is simply a way of helping us envision it.

Each of us is called to live according to the will of God.  Our Creator placed us on this earth and gave us instructions on how to live (Genesis 2:16-17).  It was pretty simple, really, and absolutely do-able.  God said, in essence: here is all you will ever need.  A splendid bounty.  You don't even have to work for it.  All I ask is that you trust Me, trust that I know what's best for you, and just do not eat of that one single solitary tree. 


All these millenia later, we still face the same basic choice.  Because of that first ooops, we were not born into Eden - but thanks to Our Savior, we do have an eternal garden of glory awaiting us. And the way I look at it, we also have an opportunity to live, even on earth, in the best location possible.  A place from which we can look with anticipation toward our eternal Home.  A place in which we can be assured that God is ordering our circumstances (even when we see them as painful or murky) toward nothing but good.

Of course, I'm speaking of the will of God, the boundaries of which are mapped out for us in His Word and through His Church. 

Yes, this is very basic stuff.  But oh, how easy it is to lose sight of basics!  Which is why I'm grateful for the imagery of enclosure, and of grillwork, because these help me as I try to practice the basics day by day.

In circumstance after circumstance, we are presented with the question:  "Did God really say?"  This threads through our culture, often as a general assumption that He said no such things.  "In this enlightened, scientific, sophisticated age, do you mean to tell me you think all that stuff in the Bible is really true?!  You think God really said?  Why don't you just open your eyes and judge for yourself!?"

"The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom..."  (Genesis 3:6)

The woman saw.  The woman judged.  She could see no reason not to eat from that particular tree except for one little detail, surely a small matter that could be overlooked. 

God said.  

This Post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup Blitz  

Monday, April 29, 2013

Through the Grille Again

As we "revisit" the basics of cloistered heart analogies, we immediately come face to face with the grille.  Again I am reposting (and editing) something written earlier, because this is all very basic. 

The grille is, in the analogy of the cloistered heart, the important symbol. It is a place of separation and, just as importantly, it is a place of encounter.  It is only through a grille that some cloistered individuals (in a number of communities) connect with the world.

And the truth is:  every human being has been given, by God, a way to connect with the world.  A way to see situations correctly; a way to interact with others appropriately.

God invites each one of us to view and respond to every person and every circumstance through His will.

We do not have to guess what that will is.  God has revealed it to us.  Scripture and the authentic teachings of the Church show us God's will.  These make up the bars of our grille. 

Am I facing a hardship?  I can face it through the grille.  

"God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him…”  (Romans 8:28). 

"God keeps his promise. He will not let you be tested beyond your strength.  Along with the test he will give you a way out of it so that you may be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13) 

Do I want to know how I'm to treat others?  I can choose to interact with them through the grille.  

"Do not... speak ill of one another."  (James 4:11)

"Love is patient, love is kind.  Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish.  Love is never rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries.  Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth."  (1 Corinthians 13:4-6) 

Indeed, it's all very basic.  My challenge is:  will I face the persons and situations before me today as God asks - or not? 

"We do not fix our gaze on what is seen but on what is unseen…” (2 Corinthians 4:18).


Click here to leave comments in the Parlor

Friday, April 26, 2013

Back in Another Form

"Because spiritual perception is dulled by the pressures of the world, the world, with all its natural excellences as well as with all its false sanctions and ephemeral attractions, must give place to the spirit... 

"The trouble with renouncing the world is that it comes back in another form.  You bar the window of your cell against it, and it comes up through the boards of the floor."  

                                  Dom Hubert Van Zeller, the Yoke of Divine Love, Templegate, 1957, p. 29

Click here to leave comments in the Parlor
This Post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup Blitz  
Painting:  Joseph DeCamp, The Window Blind, in US public domain

Thursday, April 25, 2013

We Wake up to Find...

"We... afraid of being left behind in contemporary thought, assent too readily to the conclusions of a humanist and materialist society...

"The movement of the world slides over our preference for spiritual things, and we wake up to find that we have accepted earthly things at the world's valuation.  

"It is only the wisdom of the Spirit that can show up the more hidden errors contained in the world's propaganda, and to possess our share of this wisdom, we have to pray.  

"Prayer alone assures both the light to see and the strength to resist."

(Dom Hubert Van Zeller, the Yoke of Divine Love, Templegate, 1957, p.  36)

Click here to come visit in the Parlor

This Post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup Blitz

Monday, April 22, 2013


The thing that draws me most about monasticism is its absolute totality.  The person entering such a life gives ALL.   

As I've written before, a potential postulant does not  stick her head inside the enclosure and leave her arms and legs dangling outside.  It just won't work.

Yet how often do I give God "only so much," holding little corners of my life in reserve for myself? 

I might happily obey some of His commandments while ignoring a few that are, well..  inconvenient.  I can easily trust Him to take care of this thing and that thing... but I'm more comfortable managing this other one myself.  After all, I'm not sure what He will do if I put THAT into His hands.

Absolute totality is a process.  It's a process even for those in the physical monastery, for while they've pulled their bodies inside, surely parts of their hearts linger for awhile outside the walls.

Continuing with our review of what it means to live with hearts cloistered for Christ, I'd like to spend a few days revisiting quotes from those who know monastic life from the inside.  These are men and women who know this totality, for they've truly lived it.    

Can I identify with what these people have written?  

Can these goals of monastic life apply, in any way, to me?  

"The Christian life is nothing else but Christ; the monastic life is nothing else but Christ.  The requirements for the Christian and for the monk are in substance the same; the difference lies only in the particular kind of stress that is given to them.  The Church exists so that souls should lead the life of Christ; the monastery exists for the same purpose.  Whether it is union with Him in the world or in the cloister, it is union that is the soul's purpose." (Dom Hubert Van Zeller, the Yoke of Divine Love, Templegate, 1957, p. 182)

"All who have put on Christ have heard the call to seek God.  The monk is one for whom this call has become so urgent that there can be no question of postponing his response to it; he must accept forthwith... in every Christian vocation lies the germ of a monastic vocation. (Louis Bouyer of the Oratory, The Meaning of the Monastic Life, PJ Kenedy and Sons, NY 1950, from preface)

"The monk is the man for whom God is a Person:  a Person whom he can meet, whom he longs to meet...."  (Bouyer, pp. 61-62) 

"One cannot give Christ a limited place in one's life."  (Bouyer,  p. x)

"Monastic life is nothing else, no more and no less, than a Christian life whose Christianity has penetrated every part of it.  (Bouyer, p. 13)

"The monk is precisely the Christian who has recognized in Christ 'the way, the truth, the life' and who intends to act logically over this discovery, a discovery of such a nature that it should not leave any of those who have made it tepid or indifferent."  (Bouyer p. 68)   

This Post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup Blitz 


Painting:  Kovács, Stairs at Subiaco, 1844 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Looking for His Lights

Again I am reposting something written here earlier.  This time it's slightly "updated"..... 

Some years ago, during a torrential thunderstorm, I found myself alone in a tiny chapel.  Except for flashes of lightning coming through a stained glass window, only the glow of a sanctuary light provided illumination.  Yet how secure I felt.  How secure I was.

In the midst of the storm, I was in the Presence of Christ and I was safe. 

Thinking back to that night, I find myself comparing it to times of personal storm.  Where do I go, at such moments, for security?  When adversity strikes, when fear bares its fangs, where do I find refuge?

In the chapel, a sanctuary light stood as a reminderIt assured me: “Christ is here.”  Golden Tabernacle, glowing light:  “Christ is here.” 

I saw no visions, felt nothing out of the ordinary.  But my faith assured me: “Christ is here.”

Jesus is with me.  But how easy it is to forget this truth, especially when the pressures of life bear down hard upon me, darkening my hopes and clouding my mind.  Are there ways in which I can help myself remember that Christ is really, genuinely here?   

What reminders, what "sanctuary lights," might be right before me.... if I can only learn to look for them?  

It is a challenge I feel like taking on, starting with a prayer that God will open my eyes to see "markers" of His presence, protection, and love.  

Yes.  I think I will try to remember to look for His markers, His lights.  It is a perfect project for the weekend.  

Anyone care to join in? 

"Faith tells us that our heart is a Sanctuary, because it is the Temple of God, the dwelling-place of the Holy Trinity.  Let us often visit this Sanctuary, and see that the lamps are alight - that is to say, Faith, Hope and Charity - and frequently stir up our faith when we are studying, working, or eating, when we go to bed, and when we rise, and make aspirations to God.” (St. Paul of the Cross)

Click here to come visit in the Parlor

This Post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup Blitz 


Thursday, April 18, 2013

First Things First

Revisiting the basics of what it means to be a "cloistered heart," we must begin (again) with first things first. 

There is ONE reason for the cloistered heart.  ONE reason for the analogies, for the strivings toward holiness, for faithfulness to prayer. 

Our analogies would be nothing more than “nice thoughts” (perhaps even illogical ones) if we did not keep sight of the Reason for them all. 

The Reason is a Person.  Without this Person, cloistered life (whether physical or spiritual) would be pointless and empty and fruitless and vague.  If we know and remember nothing else about the monastery or consecrated life, we must remember this:   

Jesus is the Reason for it all.  

Click here to leave comments in the Parlor

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

For the Parts Wounded Now

You who looked at our Candlemas Day post have seen this painting here before.  However, I've just had a request to re-post it, and my wholehearted discernment is that yes... it goes along quite well with what I'd had in mind for today.   This is actually a perfect "cloistered heart picture," in my opinion.

Along with her request for a re-post of this painting, our friend Anita writes:  "many miracles are needed now for so many wounded physically and mentally in Boston....  The Body of Christ is wounded.....we need to grasp our rosaries and pray for the parts wounded now."


And why do I consider this the perfect cloistered heart picture?  Because it illustrates some key elements of what I think of as the cloistered heart's "apostolate."  Namely:

Prayer.  The woman holds a prayerbook (perhaps it's a small Bible, a missal, a breviary).  She also holds a rosary.  As a cloistered heart, I know that my primary apostolate is to pray.  I have the task and the privilege of forming a habit of prayer, of engaging in this apostolate throughout the day and in various situations.  My outward actions are (ideally) based upon prayer, for in this way I am carrying the love of Jesus (not merely my own meager love) to the world around.

Grillwork.  The woman stands beside what represents, to me, a grille.  As we'll talk more about in days just ahead, we are invited to view and respond to every situation through the "grillwork of the will of God."  We do not have to see situations such as the recent tragedy in Boston with only our human understanding unaided by grace.  Scripture and the teachings of the Church bring things into the proper perspective. 

Fire.  We have written here several times of "carrying the Fire of God's truth and love" into the world around us.  Rather than repeating what we've said about this, I will again provide this link to an earlier post:  "To Carry the Fire"

Serenity.  Note how utterly serene is this woman as she practices the apostolate of prayer!   If any painting represents, to me, the look of someone enclosed in the most secure "cloister" of all... the Heart of Jesus... it is this one.

Yes, Anita, the Body of Christ is wounded, with a few scars we can see...  and so many we cannot.

It is our task, our apostolate, our call to pray for the parts wounded now.

Click here to leave comments in the Parlor


This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup Blitz  

Monday, April 15, 2013

As in a Fortress

In light of today's events, I feel drawn to concentrate on one particular aspect of heart-cloister.  So I'm re-running an earlier post looking at what can be, for us, a place of refuge.... 

There is change in the air as a storm approaches.  The wind picks up, clouds gather, there may be a distant clap of thunder.  As lightning flashes around us, we race for shelter.

Monastery grounds and walls are as subject to storms as those of any other building.  They get slapped with rain, pelted with sleet, covered in snow.  Inhabitants of the cloister might find themselves standing at a window looking out, maybe with a touch of concern.  What are those chunks of hail doing to the roof?  Are the windows secure against the wind?  

The monastery of my life is vulnerable, too.  I face storms, at times, of great magnitude.  Sickness, sudden disaster, an unnerving news report.  It helps me then to remember that I’m in the strongest cloister possible – the cloister of God’s loving embrace.  Everything that touches me must first come through His hands, through His “permissive will.”  I can do as St. Francis de Sales advised, and say amid my contradictions: “this is the very road to heaven.  I see the door, and I am certain the storms cannot prevent us from getting there.” 

"The Name of the Lord is a strong tower; the just man runs to it and is safe.”  (Proverbs 18:10)

“Happy is the soul established in God ... The winds of the storm are powerless to shake her.” (St. Jane de Chantal)

"We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his decree." (Romans 8:28)

"I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)

"God keeps his promise. He will not let you be tested beyond your strength.  Along with the test he will give you a way out of it so that you may be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)

"You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ appears."  (1 Peter 1:6-7)

"When you hear about wars and threats of war, do not yield to panic.  Such things are bound to happen, but this is not the end.  Nation will rise against nation, one kingdom against another.  There will be earthquakes in various places and there will be famine.  This is but the onset of labor.  Be constantly on your guard.... because of My Name, you will be hated by everyone.  Nonetheless, the man who holds out till the end is the one who will come through safe."  (Mark 13:5-13)

"O Jesus, I am locking myself in Your most merciful heart as in a fortress, impregnable against the missiles of my enemies.” (St. Faustina Kowalska, Diary, #1535)

Click here to leave comments in the Parlor


This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup Blitz

This post is linked to New Evangelists Monthly 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What's it all About?

The following has been posted here before.  If we're going back to cloistered heart basics, however, how can we not have another look at this?  It's about as "basic" as we can get. 

Looking at this material today, I've had a few surprises.  Mainly:  specific words and phrases have seemed to jump right off the screen and grab for my attention.  Words like "tangible," "consecration," "decision," "my call" .....

My call is to be in the world but not of the world.  This is not a new or different idea; rather, it is an emphasizing, a kind of "underlining," of every Christian's call.  The uniqueness of this emphasis is in its monastic imagery.

I find it helpful to recognize that within me is a "place" set apart for and consecrated to God.  This place of consecration is sacred and inviolate, for the God of all dwells therein.

The word "cloister" speaks of total consecration. Those who enter a traditional physical cloister make a tangible break from the world.  Compromise does not fit well in a cloister, nor does lukewarmness, nor does complacency.

The cloistered life is absolute.

A nun living in a cloister has made a decision to live for God.  She has made a break. A Christian living in the world is also called to make a decision to live for God, but the break for us is not so clean.  The world is persistent in its tugs on the heart trying to live for God.  We need support in our struggles to surrender our lives to God and to resist the world's allurements.  This is where the imagery of the cloistered heart can be of help.

"It is best not to consider whether or not one is called to the cloister; that is not the point.  If the cloister is in a man's heart, it is immaterial whether the building is actually there.  The cloister in a man's heart means only this:  God and the soul."  (from Warriors of God by Walter Nigg, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, 1959, p. 13)

My cloister is not made of bricks and stones - but of God's holy will, in which I can choose to live.

The will of God, in fact, forms for me a "cloister grille," through which I may view and respond to all people, all circumstances, all things that make up the world before me. 

We will talk more about these "basics" in the days just ahead....   


Painting by Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael 

click here to leave comments in the Parlor

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup Blitz 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

That First Monastery

When “the cloistered heart” first entered my mind in the 1980s, it was nothing more than a phrase.

Beginning this blog a year and a half ago, I wrote of the monastery I'd envisioned back when  the phrase first occurred to me.  This was not a monastery constructed (yet) of analogy, but simply an imaginary building made of weathered stone.   Moss and vines crept up the walls.  Trees were evergreens, maples, birches.   Smells were of cedar and pine, and freshly dug moist earth.  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 rustled in a gentle breeze; birds twittered above, there was a distant rustle of deer in the underbrush.  From a tower overhead a bell pealed, its voice deep and throaty.  It did not shatter the silence; it enhanced it.  Inside the walls, the gentle rustle of soft shoes shuffled, along with a swish of habits.  And then came the song.  Chant rising, falling, soothing, praising.  I listened from outside and felt that first hint of longing.

I wanted to flee to that monastery.  I was drawn to the holiness I imagined inside its walls, to the silence that did not speak against God or mock Him or live in ways that brought Him displeasure.

This was a confusing desire to me, a happily married woman and a mother who loved her life.  It made no sense.  I enjoyed homemaking, had wonderful friends, was blessed with a prayerful, loving husband.  Plus:  my social nature and love of freedom and night owl tendencies would have lasted three days, tops, behind cloister walls.

So what, really, was going on?

I pondered this for a number of months, even for a few years, and always in secret.  My journal "heard about it" a few times, but even there the subject lay mostly dormant.  Like a seed hidden in the dark, however, "The Cloistered Heart" made tiny, undetected movements toward the light of day.  I thought of the step a person must take to enter a cloister, to make a specific decision to live totally - not just mostly - for God.  I began to envision my actual body as a monastery, a place where God could be praised in the midst of the world.

"The world is not safe from sin and evil," I wrote in 1990, "even the body is not safe from harm.  But within the cloistered heart there is refuge.  The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  In the cloister, I am always safe..." 

Tomorrow, God willing, we will talk more about what the analogy of the cloistered heart has become.

Painting:  Ernst Ferdinand Oehme, Burg Scharfenberg bei Nacht 

Click here to leave comments in the Parlor
This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup Blitz 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Time for a Re-Visit!

I think it's time for a re-visit.  I would like to take another look at "the cloistered heart," at its basic analogies, at the whats and whys and wheres and hows.  Oh, I know that's what I technically do here on a regular basis, but I personally could use a back-to-the-very-basics-refresher.  Besides: new people come here on a daily basis (welcome!), and it's easy to get lost when we're trying to make our way through a blog like this one.

This is another of those "things-that-will-take-several-posts."  Because much has been covered in the past, I'll be quoting some earlier writings and perhaps even re-posting a few things.  But I have a feeling there will be new thoughts stirred into the mix along the way... new "areas of the monastery" we have not yet explored. 

For now, I will leave us with a few questions to ponder - and, ideally, to take to prayer...

  • Do I find the idea of a cloistered heart appealing?  Why or why not?

  • Probably I live in the midst of the world.  Maybe I'm married.  I might have a stressful job, a busy life, a house filled with children.  How can "monasticism" have anything at all to do with me?

Tomorrow (or later today, technically, for I write this after midnight), we'll look a bit more into what the cloistered heart is.... and what it is not.

Hope to see you then!

Painting:  Nannette Bleuler, Rheinfall; in US public domain due to age

Click here to leave comments in the Parlor

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fly For a Moment

'Fly for a moment from your affairs, 
escape for a little while 
from the tumult of your thoughts. 
Put aside now your weighty cares
and leave your wearisome toils.
Abandon yourself for a brief space
to God
and rest for a little in Him. 
 Go into the inner chamber of your mind.

Shut out everything save God
and whatever may help you in seeking God.  

Then, having barred the door of your chamber,
seek Him.'

St. Anselm
Painting:  Harold Knight, Morning Sun, 1913

Friday, April 5, 2013

Come, Visit the Joy!

If we are at all interested in cloistered life, we're likely to love the following video clip.  I know I did. 

"Our labor here is brief, 
but the reward is eternal.  
Do not be disturbed 
by the clamor of the world, 
which passes like a shadow." 
(St. Clare of Assisi)

Painting:  Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, 
St. Clare Tending Plants, in US public domain

Click here to leave comments in the Parlor

This post is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Linkup Blitz

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Shattered Wall

We've spent Lent (on this blog) slipping, sliding, grasping, flailing, glimpsing, climbing our way up several kinds of walls.  We've looked for ways over and around and through.  We've encountered locks and bars and ropes.

And then there was Easter.

Now, suddenly no lock is keyless.

Now, there is a way through walls.

Basically, it all comes down to This......

"Suddenly the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom..." (Matthew 27:51)

To return to the beginning of this 'mini-series' on walls, click here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Come to Me

'It is You, O divine risen Lord, Who come to me; You Who after having expiated sin by Your sufferings, have vanquished death by Your triumph...

'Come to me to destroy the works of the devil, and to destroy sin and my infidelities; come to me to detach me from all that is not You; come to make me a partaker of that superabundant perfect life which now overflows from Your sacred Humanity.

'I will then sing with You a hymn of praise to Your Father, Who has crowned You as our Head upon this day of honor and glory.'
                                                C. Marmion

Click here to leave comments in the Parlor

Painting: William Adolphe Bouquereau, Prayer at St. Anne d'Auray