Monday, February 1, 2016

A Little Above and More Than Earth

'In those soft tones which are so usual to them, the nuns bade us goodbye. As we came away, the Mother Superior said quietly, with a subdued and gently resigned fear lest we might not look upon the convent as it shone in her eyes and lived in her spirit: 'it is all very old fashioned and plain, but we love it. It is our home on earth and' (hesitating again) ' we think it is a little above and more than earth.' (A Story of Courage; text slightly edited)

Reading these words, I see my own call.

I am to live on earth, obviously, and I'm to interact with others, and I'm to be part of the world around me. All the while, however, I am called by God to rise above the persistent pull of sin. I'm to fix my eyes on Jesus, and to consistently choose His way above all that is contrary to His will.    

Perhaps this is why the idea of a cloistered heart so draws me. I cannot live behind the walls of a monastery, for that is not my vocation. But living fully for God in the midst of the world? That IS my vocation. And after spending a little time behind cloister walls, where God is the absolute Center of every single thing and where everyone lives fully and openly for Him, we just might find it tough to return to the vanity and godlessness and sin of the world outside.
'You put it so perfectly,' I wrote to a friend some years ago, 'when you wrote of returning from your retreat at the monastery feeling disoriented and like someone who had to be convalescing after a long illness. We have a taste of consecrated life and we are never the same - never the same. The 'Motherhouse' of monasticism calls to us while we are out in the world 'on mission.'  It is in some way, purely and simply, home. We are like those in a foreign land, having become acclimated enough to speak the language and to love the people. But sometimes, in the quiet of our hearts, we begin to long for others who can speak our native tongue. We are like refugees who love to meet those of their homeland, to share our cultural stories and sing the anthems of home.' 

'Those experiences were so intense and holy to me,' writes a woman who spent a brief period of time in monastic life, 'that I have never been comfortable in the world since.  It seems to me to be similar to what soldiers experience after being deployed into life-and-death combat in a foreign land - something so alien to our normal existence that it can never be fully explained in words to people who have not had that experience, nor can its imprint ever be erased from the soul.'

My friends have experienced life in a place that is a little above and more than earth. As for me, when I left the monastery after my first cloistered retreat, I wished I could bring the bricks and stones with me. Which is not what I truly wanted to hold onto, of course. I wanted to bring back a world centered on and revolving around Christ. I wanted to bring home a steady routine of prayer. I wanted to bring back others who could share stories of God's goodness, and who would sing with me the anthems of Home.

In my everyday life, I continue the struggle to live fully for God, and I know you do as well. In days to come, we'll be discussing this a bit further. As we do so, I pray that God will help each of us live fully for Him, whatever our states of life.

I pray He will teach us to live a little above and more than earth.

'From this valley of tears, turn your gaze continually to God, ever awaiting the moment when you will be united to Him in heaven. Often contemplate heaven, and fervently exclaim: 'What a beautiful abode there is above! It is destined for us!' Sigh longingly after its possession. Sometimes say....  'Nothing on this earth pleases me; I no longer care for anything but my God. Yes, I hope, yes, I wish to possess Him, and I hope this is the mercy of God, through the merits of my Saviour's Passion and the dolors of my good Mother Mary.'' (St. Paul of the Cross).

Text not in quotes

For now, we will say so long to the book A Story of Courage, although more quotes will be inserted as they are found to fit various topics.To go back to the beginning of this little 'series' and from there find the posts in chronological order, click this line. 


  1. I hope someday I'll be able to spend some days in a cloistered community and get a true taste of the life. For now, I think of how it felt, when I'd go to pray after dinner in the chapel of a nearby women's monastery. At a certain point, a sister would come out with the keys and tell us visitors that they were closing. Then they'd have their private community prayers and "hour of reparation" before bed. I felt so sharply wistful, driving away from the monastery and thinking of them praying there, driving away from the Eucharistic Presence. . . Wistful and yet warmed by the sister's gentle "good-night." I think she understood.


    1. Monika, I love (and identify with) what you wrote about being "sharply wistful." What a perfect description of the feeling. It actually makes me think back to the first time the idea of the cloistered heart (probably not in those words yet) came to me. I shared something about that here....

      Thank you, Monika!

  2. Nancy thank you so very much for sharing your experiences. I, like Monika, have felt the tug to visit a monastery. I happen to live very nearby to Georgetown, and have been lately thinking about making my own visit to this very lovely holy enclosure.

    I attended parochial schools most of my life, and remember warmly how I would, instead of joining my friends in the lunchroom at the lunch hour, join the nun's prayer group, instead. Those were the loveliest of times, and I have been calling these memories to mind often of late, and I have found that each time I recall these memories, that I'm immediately pulled into in the loveliest frame of mind: my heart-enclosure.

    So, until I am able to make my own visit to the monastery, I'll happily cloister in my heart.

    1. Sabrina, if there had been a prayer group when I was in a Catholic girls' school (in a monastery/convent with semi-cloistered nuns), I think I would have been right there! I used to sneak off to the chapel sometimes after lunch. Not that one had to "sneak," but I always somehow felt I was doing so. Probably because I never saw any other students there.

      I haven't been to Georgetown for a number of years now. It really does appeal to me BECAUSE of its location in a busy area. I feel I have seen the cloistered heart all around me there, in a way I have not in monasteries that are much more secluded. Perhaps the sense of it was captured in words of a friend (now deceased) who was a nun there. She once said, about life in general "the rat race is all around us, but we don't have to join it."

      Thank you, Sabrina!


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