Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Sometimes the Same Changes
'The Convent of the Visitation in Georgetown is a large three-sided structure of brick, enclosing a great garden. Across the street is a row of cosy dwellings, standing somewhat back from the sidewalk... The city and the suburb have been gradually welded into one by a continuous and expanding web of streets and houses, so that now they stretch up to the very border of the convent demesne.' (A Story of Courage, p. 6)
This is precisely what I've met with on my visits to this convent. The looming structure, those cosy Georgetown rowhouses in gentle colors of yellow and grey, all surround a garden that I find great indeed. The city has stretched a great deal more since the above was written, so that city and suburb now wrap entirely around the monastic dwelling. Yet reading this century old book, I am sometimes astonished by what remains the same.
At other times, I'm charmed to see what has changed.
'At the southern corner of the convent, the patient horse-car from the heart of Washington plods its equine way.' It is something I cannot imagine, this horse car patiently plodding. Sitting outside in the walled garden, I've been struck as much as anything by noise. But I'm getting ahead...
'The convent proper - or, as it is often called, the 'monastery' - is a long, plain four-story brick house...'
One thing I used to find puzzling was the use of the word 'monastery' for what I was calling a 'convent.' Weren't monasteries for men, and convents for women? When I began trying to learn which was what, I would have been happy to find an 'Internet' (I was still 'patiently plodding' through stacks of library books in my study of cloistered life). Today information is literally at one's fingertips, of course, and I found the following basic definitions (here) at Catholic Online Encyclopedia:
'Monastery: An autonomous community house of a religious order, which may or may not be a monastic order. The term is used more specifically to refer to a community house of men or women religious in which they lead a contemplative life separate from the world.'
'Convent: In common usage, the term refers to a house of women religious.'
'Cloister: Part of a convent or monastery reserved for use by members of the institute.'
As we continue this little adventure, I will most likely use 'monastery' and 'convent' interchangeably - simply because 'convent' is the word most often used in the Lathrop's book.
And I interrupt this post for a bit of news... Thanks to a new scanner, plus a lot of late night digging through old scrapbooks, I can now share 20-ish year old pictures I've snapped at the very monastery we're 'visiting,' as well as in a few other monasteries (convents) over the years.
Along the way, we'll of course be looking into how what we see and read can be applied to our lives in the world, for that is what we do here, isn't it? By the grace of God, that's what we try to do.
Photo: Cloister garden, Georgetown Visitation Monastery, 1990s, N Shuman photo
This post is part of our series 'A Story of Courage.' To continue in chronological order, click this line.