The Religious Life
I only had "one-ish" fantasy for my wedding: it was to be at the chapel (of my childhood middle school) & I asked for time in the convent. Both of these requests were honored. I could enjoy an hour or so in the convent for the three days before my wedding. The convent was a utopia - quiet, peace gushing throughout it, full of women serving one another, and spotless. Before getting ready, I asked for two hours in the convent alone. I'd once imagined myself as an unmarried virgin communing with God in a convent. And I was, on July 28, 2007, if only for 90 minutes.
On the first day of my Sabbatical, I googled "a nun's daily routine." I was convinced that during my Sabbatical, I would finally spend my days like a nun.
Sister Mary Elizabeth
In my humble opinion, there isn't a "slower & more focused" way of life than a monastic one. It's dreamy (from afar). Have you seen the Jeong Kwan episode of Chef's Table?!?
For those new in this space, I have made no secret of my want to be a nun throughout many years of my early life: I wanted to be a nun (2009), A Married Unemployed Sister (2010), "WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE ONE!"(2013), and my personal favorite: LIFE CHANGING "AHA" MOMENT, 2012. I am re-publishing my old stories (just so they are clearer - here is a version of I wanted to be a nun.)
The idea of nunnery entered my heart in fourth grade when I met Sister Mary Elizabeth. She was a nun at my small Episcopal school. This school was spread across acres of green and floral land - many different architecturally sprawling and ancient buildings. There was a long walk outside between every class where we'd see the nuns walking and whispering (it seemed).
The convent was right across from an idyllic chapel (suited for Oxford). Sister Mary Elizabeth was perhaps the calmest and most peaceful person I had ever met. She had a quiet strength and wisdom that I honored. In fourth grade, I was new, fresh out of public school. She was our religion teacher. I remember coloring my picture of Jesus brown & an Italian classmate telling me very factually, "You can't color him that - Jesus is white like this paper." I remember feeling it was bizarre because (although I viewed my classmate as white) his skin was slightly lighter than mine. I told him that my parents, church (black Pentecostal), and my Bible showed Jesus as a black or brown man. A debate and a tattle ensued.
All I remember was Sister Mary Elizabeth standing there. She was a very tall woman. Her eyes were only briefly closed. Not in the way of frustration or an "if you don't get out my face..." but in a consultation kind of way. She smiled at us, put her hands on our shoulders, and said something. I don't recall her response, but when we left the class - our dignity was in place, our beliefs validated, and harmony with all was reinstated. From that moment, I loved being around her; she'd answer all my inquiries - never seeming bothered.
I'd notice her around the campus, typically wheeling one of the older sisters in a wheelchair across campus. She wasn't an outwardly "merry" person - she strolled with a slight hump (of humility or consistent bowing) with a solemn face; even her smile wasn't exceptionally luminous or exuberant, but it was overwhelmingly kind and effortless.
I desperately wanted her sense of calm and peace because as I was experiencing her stability, I was going through a horrendous transition. From public school to private school, for me, felt excruciatingly agonizing. Don't get me wrong, some of my public school experiences are moments I still need to soothe. There is no doubt in my mind now that I needed to attend this private school (4-8). But it was rocky terrain. And so while I was struggling internally with self-identity, anger, self-doubt, consistent parent calls, turbulent peer relationships (b----- written on my desk, etc.), and blatant race-based biases, this human seemed so above it all. She was everything I wasn't, and I wanted what she had. My journals ooze with pain and tension with every relationship during this time; I longed for God to make me like her.
And then, in fifth grade, when telling our school librarian that I wanted to be a nun, she introduced me to Mother Teresa. I was done. I devoured EVERYTHING about this woman. I wrote ALL my biography reports on her. Honestly, she was my ROCKstar. I made a huge commotion when she passed away because I thought Princess Diana's death overshadowed it.
That said, as a "vegetarian" (in eighth grade), I also protested the dissection of frogs in our science class. Protests & commotions were my things!
As many of my "dreams" faded in high school and college, this one remained a fun daydream but not an authentic vocation. I loved my boyfriend (now husband); I wasn't Catholic/Episcopal and didn't see black nuns.
But recently, while in my 5 am prayer, I realized that I could still live a religious life and (in fact), I have lived many of the values in my daily life:
Joining groups of women that dedicate themselves to women's issues
A religious ceremony weekly
Seeking a deep and intimate relationship with the Creator
Aiming for a life without waste and excess
Leaning into rhythms
Cultivating the land & taking care of all of God's creatures
Praying without ceasing throughout my days
Living a (relatively) quiet life
Dedicating myself to living a life of servitude & humility
Making a ceremony & taking a moment of gratitude during every chore, errand, and activity.
And for that, I am forever grateful.