Saturday, October 21, 2023

The World's Greatest Romance

 In honor of Sweetest Day, here are some reflections on the Cloistered Heart, "the greatest romance the world has ever known":

When the idea of the Cloistered Heart first came to me, it was nothing more than a phrase.  A wispy, vaporous daydream involving ivy-shrouded hermitages and candlelit Gothic windows. I told no one about it, because I thought “The Cloistered Heart” sounded like the title of a romantic novel. A few years later, I admitted my reluctance (and the reason for it) to a nun friend. I thought I’d receive a smile in response, perhaps a bit of a chuckle.

Instead, Sister looked at me solemnly and said "Nancy, that's not off the mark." God's call to us and our response, she explained, is the greatest romance the world has ever known.

One thing I knew, during the initial phase of daydreaming, was that monasteries of nuns or monks have special places not open to outsiders. I realized that these areas were called cloisters. It was enough information to get me started. “The whole idea of a cloistered heart,” I wrote during my earliest musings, “is that the part of me referred to as the ‘heart’ – meaning my spirit, who I really AM – should be detached from the world in its attachment to the Creator of the world."

A place of refuge, no matter where I happened to be.  A place inviolate, where I could remain with Jesus in a doctor's office, a traffic jam, the grocery, while refereeing kids. It was an appealing idea. It was also (this being most important), theologically sound. "The heart,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “is the dwelling place where I am, where I live...the heart is the place 'to which I withdraw.'  The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. (Catechism  #2563)

So: what IS a cloistered heart? The analogy, which is multi-faceted by now, has three main parts:

The Monastery, which is the person’s own life. A monastery is a place consecrated to God, a place of prayer, a place where God is loved and lived for and served. Our lives can, and should, become every one of these.

The Enclosure, which is within the will of God. As a cloistered nun or monk lives within a specific area known as the cloister, we can make a specific choice to live within the will of God. We can actively embrace the boundaries of God’s will as these are revealed in Scripture and Church teaching.

The Grille, which is the will of God. As some monasteries have grillwork through which those in the cloister interact with the world outside, we can have spiritual “grillwork.” We can practice seeing and responding to every person and every situation through the will of God.

"I am a laywoman, married,” I wrote when this was just beginning, “yet I have a vocation to the cloister.  Obviously I am not called to the physical enclosure; I am called, rather, to cloister my heart. The word 'cloister' speaks of total consecration. It seems that compromise would not fit well in a cloister, nor would lukewarmness, nor would complacency. The cloistered life is absolute."

I can now say, after twenty-plus years of living it, that the Cloistered Heart has helped me embrace my call to serve God as a woman, wife, mother, grandmother, writer, blogger, homemaker, friend. It has been a “fit” for the various situations I’ve encountered. The Cloistered Heart is analogy, but it’s much more than that. It is a way of life.

It is a way, for me, of participating in the greatest Romance the world has ever known. 


*This is an edited repost from the The Cloistered Heart: Start Here! page.