Friday, January 8, 2016

The Right Address

Arriving for my first-ever retreat inside an actual monastery, I could not find the building. Nor could the friend who'd come with me, and who was doing the driving. We were at the right address, looking at the spot where the monastery should be, yet for the life of us we could not spot it. All of the buildings in the neighborhood looked, to us, the same. Most were rowhouses, standing shoulder to shoulder along the narrow city street.

There was no sign reading 'monastery' or 'convent.' Brick sidewalks stretched almost to the doorways. There were no front yards. The only monasteries I'd been to before this were miles away from towns, separated from the 'outer word' by fields or forests. Could we have been given the wrong address? I wondered.

Eventually we found an entrance to our destination and yes, here was the monastery - just a few feet from the street. It sat surrounded by cars, pedestrians, and lots and lots of noise. Its outside blended in perfectly with every other building.

'Their thoughts are fixed on God, not on the world; still less on the casual street that runs by their door.' wrote the Lathrops of this spot. 'A narrow strip of grass, railed in by a light iron fence, separates their dwelling from the sidewalk, and gives them an added safeguard in their retirement. All this is in accord with the aims of a community like that of the Visitation. Their object is … to prevent the intrusion of careless, worldly, noisy people, who may be inclined to invade the seclusion and sanctity of a life wholly ordered and consecrated to spiritual purposes. (A Story of Courage, p. 7)

'The countenance, then, if one may so describe it, of this building is calm, neutral, neither repelling nor inviting... it is in no way demonstrative. From a distance you cannot even distinguish it from other buildings. It does not dominate them. It does not tower up, or threaten, or warn you away...  It simply stands there, and waits..' 

As one striving to live 'cloistered in heart,' I look upon my life, even my body, as a 'monastery.' I can be a place where God is loved, served, lived for in the midst of the world. I do not stand out from people around me. I look like members of my family, dress like other women my age, talk like everyone else. No one passing me on the sidewalk would cry out 'why, look at that - there goes a walking monastery!' Yet my prayers and babysteps toward holiness happen, in large part, right in the midst of everyday life.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with others, in the middle of the world all around me, I'm situated precisely where I need to be.

I am at the exact right address for a cloistered heart.

Photo at top: Georgetown Visitation DC, 2002, N Shuman 

Photo of crowd from Pixabay

Text not in quotes © 2016 N Shuman


  1. This gives me a lot to think about, Nancy. Our Christmas season has meant a lot less 'alone' time for prayer and reflection but I see here an image of how to live prayerfully in the midst of a crowd. It seems that the outside must become more ordinary while the inside becomes more extraordinary, something that might happen naturally during the ageing process if we don't embrace it first, I guess.

    The picture you present of the cloister seems to be full of deeper meanings - I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

    I hope you are enjoying the new year, Nancy.
    Love and prayers xx

  2. Thank you both! Vicky, I love what you said about the inside/outside and the aging process. It's a process I going through at present, and I do hope the inside is becoming better as time flies along :)!


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