I was recently reminded of something a friend wrote to me some years ago. 'Sitting in a monastery of nuns,' this woman said in a letter, 'I knew I didn't belong in their life and yet I didn't belong out in the world either. The closer you get to His Heart, the farther you get from everything else, which is really as it should be... I felt that the problem with being in the world is that so often you are distracted from loving Him, which is all I want to do. When you are in the monastery, everything reminds you of Him no matter what chore you are presently doing. But His will is mine, so wherever He wants me is what I really want too. What I fear is taking Him for granted and becoming lukewarm.'
My friend's fear is one I know well. Taking Him for granted. Becoming lukewarm. How I wish I could say these things have never happened to me, but I cannot. Lukewarmness can seem normal, even cozy, and I sometimes find myself settling down in it and feeling right at home. Being distracted from things of God doesn't seem like such a problem then, when the world around feels eternal and entrancing and like it must be the forever-world-for-which-I-was-born.
But the truth is: the world around is not The-Forever-World-For-Which-I-Was-Born. 'God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven.' The Baltimore Catechism said it well.
'When you are in the monastery,' wrote my friend, 'everything reminds you of Him.' While monks or nuns enclosed inside walls are not yet in the Forever-World, they live twenty four hours a day inside a reflection of it. Their time is entirely spent on the pathway to Home. They wash dishes on that path. They do laundry on that path. They eat and sleep and garden and pray and laugh and sing on that path. They live in an entrance foyer to Heaven, and everything around reminds them of where they're headed and for Whom they were made.
As a laywoman in the world, I too am called to the pathway. But mine is not so clearly marked. I have no monastic schedules to keep me on the trail. I don't spend every moment of every day with a community of people all focusing in the same direction. If I listen to friends or co-workers or celebrities who don't know or accept why God made them, I can even lose sight of my own awareness of the truth.
Probably this is why some of us can feel more at home in a monastery than in the world.
Because really - we are.
(When I start to lose sight of my real pathway, I am helped by what several saints have had to say about this kind of thing. A few of their exhortations can be found by clicking here.)
Painting: Jan van Helmont