15/August/2009 Filed in: Jottings
We have had several enquiries about monastic life this week. One of the themes common to many is "my friends think I'd make a good nun". I often wonder what that means. Many people seem to think of nuns as being essentially "other". Probe a little and you'll find that the expectations they have range from slightly naive to seriously disordered (nuns should be saintly at all times, smile sweetly, put up with the most outrageous treatment, listen patiently to bores, live on nothing, never get tired, irritable or ill, unless they can contrive to die young of consumption, float around in beautiful habits which never require any time spent on them nor hinder them in the performance of any duty, maintain a spotlessly clean and ordered house, library and garden, and above all, be always available whenever called upon by personal visit, letter, telephone or email etc, etc, etc). Here at Hendred we fail on every count, except occasionally and accidentally. Nuns are real people, as flawed as the next person, but possessed of minds, hearts and opinions which can be as dotty or deranged as anyone else's, (even yours). I think it's fair to say, however, that most know they are imperfect beings and are doing their best to live lives of genuine humility and compassion. One cannot come to choir several times a day, day in day out, without being forced to face some inconvenient truths about oneself and others. One cannot live alongside people one would never otherwise share a house with without being forced to learn a give and take that will stretch one beyond what one might think possible. The unity of a community comes from charity and shared ideals, not from similarity or personal liking. It certainly doesn't come from behaving according to some stereotype that doesn't exist outside the popular imagination. Monastic life isn't a soft option, but it is an immensely worthwhile way of spending one's life. And the emphasis in that sentence is on "spend": it is indeed a reality "costing not less than everything".