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 

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