Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Revisiting The First Bell

When I was twenty, I had what I now think of as a 'cloistered heart foreshadowing.'  In itself this was a startling occurrence, for my level of interest in monasteries at the time was zero. I was an active, single, compulsively busy young woman, and religious life was possibly the farthest thing from my mind.

I was taking a semester off college and working for an insurance company. Our office was located on an upper floor of a building in the center of town. One day, as I bustled about filing papers, I happened to look out through a large wall of windows. My view went over the tops of shorter buildings across Main Street, to an old church a block away.

The church, with its weathered gray stones and one large round window, made me think of a monastery. Without warning, I suddenly envisioned rows of black-habited figures walking through a kind of 'enclosed garden' in the middle of that building. There was no such garden in this church. Yet I had a sudden mental picture of black-habited figures walking along silently.

My sense was that this was a place of prayer right in the middle of the bustling, busy, noisy city.  It was as if the garden inside high walls was not known to anyone scurrying by outside, and although those inside could hear noise all around, they were largely unaffected by it.

Never mind that buses rumbled, tires screeched, horns blared. Inside the walls, hidden from the view of people rushing by, there was a secret place of prayer. Even now I can picture the silent figures I 'envisioned' there, with a soft autumn wind teasing the edges of their veils.

This mental picture was suddenly there and suddenly gone, leaving in its wake a thought most unexpected. This was:  'I’ll probably belong to God someday.' The belonging would be, I felt, as total as the belonging of a nun. I remember going on with my work in the office as though this unusual scene had not crossed my mind… but I never, ever forgot it.

I now look back and realize that the sense of people in an enclosed garden, right in the middle of a busy city, captures exactly the essence of 'the cloistered heart.'  Mine is not the call to withdrawal into a silent hermitage. Mine is a call to interact with the world and live in the midst of it. To be in the world while not being of it. 

Mine is a call to be a 'place' where Christ can be adored, met with, and honored - no matter where I happen to be.

This is a slightly edited repost from 2011. 

Text not in quotes

Painting: Ferdinand Wagner
Photo of street via Pixabay


  1. This was lovely. It reminds me of the church where I was confirmed (after decades away). It stood on a roundabout or rotary and had big clear windows as well as stained glass ones. During Mass, I used to delight to look out the clear windows at all the traffic whizzing by, completely unaware of the miracle happening right inside the church, and say a silent prayer for all those motorists whose hearts might be turned away from God.

    1. How perfect to pray for the motorists going by! And I love what you said about people being unaware of the miracle happening right inside the church.

  2. Again, wonderful writing! "Mine is a call to be a 'place' where Christ can be adored, met with, and honored - no matter where I happen to be." And you do this so beautifully. I am always amazed at your consistency with your gifts of these published posts! We are privileged to freely open these monastery doors and receive the blessing of sanctity; to be refocused on our Lord. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and haphazard cloister!!

    1. Mine, too, is a haphazard cloister - you have named it perfectly! And thank you again for your kind affirmation. Frankly, I've felt that my writing has all dried up and blown away lately. A few weeks ago, I was wondering if I'd ever write another word. Thank God for sending nudges just when we need them.

  3. I love DJL's gift of prayer for the motorists!! How loving!!!


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