Thursday, January 9, 2014

Toward the Cloister Door

For years I have imagined the scene.  I see myself right in it, firmly planted, almost as if frozen in time.

Here I am, ready to place my foot on a path leading to the monastery.  It's a winding path, quite narrow, and I don't step onto it right away.  I stop.  I consider.  I pause.  The way is open before me, nothing blocks it.  Once I reach the heavy, ancient door, I won't even have to open it.  All I'll have to do is knock.  

I hesitate.  I stand.  I am alone, looking at the silent gray building just up the hill.  A chill wind stings my face.  

I took one last look at myself before catching the bus here:  one last glance, for I know there are no mirrors in cloisters.  My face looked good (may the saints forgive me), although a bit pinched.  I dabbed concealer over this morning's undereye circles.  My dress is midi-length, modest.  Over it is a long wool coat, its collar turned up.  Just the right touch of sophistication, a concession to my almost-former self.  

I had been told what to bring, a few garments I'll need as a postulant.  Now I stand, ready to set foot onto this narrow, unpaved pathway.   Inside, the Sisters await me.  Outside, here I stand.  

The stiletto shoes, my highest ever, may not have been a good idea.  I liked their steady click click across pavement, the very sound boosting my confidence.  But here (I realize), there will be no sound.  The ground is damp and soggy on the grassless path ahead. 

I step onto the pinstripe of mud.  Immediately, a pencil thin heel stabs into the ground.  I take another step, and shoe number two meets the same fate.  I am suddenly anchored in a place of perpetual indecision.  Forever on the path, ready to make the journey but unable to let go of all that holds me to the earth. 

"St. Teresa's starting point," writes Father Thomas Dubay about Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle,  "is the absolutely basic condition for a serious prayer life: an earnest, continuing effort to rid oneself of sins, imperfections and attachments."  (Fire Within, Ignatius, 1989, p. 81)

These shoes were, in my opinion, gorgeous. I paid way too much for them, but oh, they have served me well.  They've carried me into business meetings, boosting my height and self-confidence.  They have taken me dancing, showing off my balance and unexpected grace.  They have served ME well.

I am attached to the shoes; of course I am.  They're a symbol of what I've achieved in the world.  They represent (suddenly) all I'll be giving up if I step onto this narrow, sloppy path.  I stand for just a moment, listening to a train rumbling in the distance.  I could go back now and there would be no shame in the turning.

I step out of first one shoe, then the other.  I lean down and pluck them from the ground.

I make my way, barefoot, toward the cloister door.    


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Painting:  Johnson Coombe Abbey