After taking my first of four final exams, I figured I deserved a bit of a break from studying. I reclined on the couch and read a few chapters in Kathleen Norris' The Cloister Walk, which had its usual effect of making me want to be a Benedictine nun.
I have been pondering becoming a nun for a few months now; not specifically Benedictine, but definitely entertaining the general idea of entering religious life. If someone had asked me even a year ago if I thought I would even want to become a nun, much less think seriously about doing so, I would have laughed them off and said, "Heck, no!" I wanted freedom, and independence, and spontaneity; and I imagined the life of a nun as confined, hemmed in, and subservient.
For the last few years, I have been trying to live with an ear toward God's will for me. The operative word, of course, is "trying" -- to varying degrees of success. I am far from perfect. Very, very, very far from perfect. Sometimes I look on my actions, both past and present, and think if God was not reserving judgment until my death, I would be smited where I stand, especially while kneeling in the pews. Who am I, such a painfully flawed human being, to say that I strive to do God's will? The chasm between my actions and God's will seems infinite. Yet in my glaring frailties, in the depths of my shame, I find God's love. When Jesus died, he descended into the deepest realms of existence -- past sin, past shame, past even death. And He brought us, those of us existing in the deepest throes of sin and despair, to God with Him.
I have a bit of a problem with the theology that says no matter what I do, God loves me. That seems to somehow cheapen God's love. This is where it gets tricky, because I do not believe we must do anything to deserve or receive God's love; and I do believe He loves us all, and that His love is unconditional. So, yes, in that sense I do believe God loves me no matter what I do. But I also believe God's love is manifested in His wanting the best for me, and that I will not encounter what is best while turning away from Him. God loves me regardless, but this does not mean He always approves of or likes what I am doing. Apologizing is meaningless unless my actions change. No good will come if I mistreat people when convenient, then suffer pangs of remorse and confess my sins later -- unless I actually cease mistreating people, and cease mistreating myself. While I will always be a child of God, I will never be in true communion with Him until I consent to His guidance and to his love. God is always there, waiting for me -- but I must take the final steps.
Lately, it seems as though those final steps have been leading me closer to religious life. Through conversations with friends and mentors, I have acquired more tolerance and appreciation for patience. As Teilhard de Chardin wrote,
"We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of progress
that it is made by passing through
some states of instability ---
and that it may take a very long time."
Full text of his prayer for Patient Trust here.
With this in mind, I know I need to allow myself ample time for discernment, to sit with my thoughts and emotions. There are many paths that could lead me toward a life of devotion, not all of which require becoming part of a religious community. Yet even while I remind myself to wait patiently -- or impatiently, as the case may be -- I search out information about religious orders in an attempt to get a sense for what is available, and what sorts of orders exist.
As an aside, there is, of course, part of me that dreams of glory and of starting my own religious order. That would not be inherently bad, but for the moment my motivation is purely self-serving grandiosity; so I gently place those thoughts to the side.
This evening, I found information about the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny (more information here), and am blown away by their mission and spirituality. Because any description of the order's appeal to me would deserve more care than I can take at the moment, given my falling eyelids and desire for sleep, I will save my affirmations for a later date. For now, suffice to say they have what I want.
Striving to do God's will,