Divided Allegiance

When I told my colleagues and family that I would be living in a convent for one year as a Companion to the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, I got some interesting reactions. This was the first question I was typically asked: So . . . are you going to be a nun? The answer was usually obvious. (No!) Still, I can understand their instinct to peer in that direction. I mean, why would a 21-year-old in the 21st century, with little church background and a perpetual bout of the jitters, choose to spend her time doing such a thing if she has no intention of joining a religious order or even studying theology?b

For most Christians, I presume, the opportunity to take a break from the chaos of the modern world and self-reflect through the lens of the Scriptures is important and eternal. Every day I try to consciously observe the Sisters. In other words, I get the chance to witness and internalize the pulses of whole lives which have been fulfilled because of the monastic way. I’d like to believe that, at some level, the wisdom and secret insight I gain from living out my Christian faith in intentional community will ultimately contribute to the fulfillment of my individual hopes and desires as well.

I know – what’s so liberating about following rules, attending chapel services four times a day, not having an income, and having to share stuff with others? Well, it’s not all black and white. St. Benedict[1] challenges us to shift our focus away from these things, and instead, to look inside. The key word being “challenges.” Community life is tough, not necessarily because you live amongst so many people, but because it is through interacting with these people that you meet yourself. It will be interesting to see how empirical lessons in community living will change the ways we, the companions, socially and spiritually operate in the context of our contemporary lives. Or how practicing ancient traditions/methods of prayer might help to fill up the void in my chest where “spa spirituality” and exercises from Rhonda Byrne failed.

Remember the parable of the sower’s seeds that fall on good soil? The Companions program is like a seedbed. The Rule of Benedict, which we are studying, was developed for monks living communally, but it can also be interpreted as a guide by anyone who wants to follow God. Yes, some things are written in it that will make you do a double-take, but it’s meant to encourage the discipline of our minds and softening of our souls, so we may become sensitive to the needs of others and eventually become full humans.

One of my prime objectives is to build a life on the foundation of the rock (Jesus). So, when I do go on to pursue endeavours like school, a career, or a family, I’ll know I won’t be so easily swayed like a person who builds their house on sand.

In response to that first question, the religious life, which requires a vocational calling and years of discernment, is a very specific (and not the only) form of devotional expression. It’s irrelevant to many in today’s seemingly godless age, but I’ve realized it still has its place, serving a purpose not only for those who want to become priests and nuns, but also for the 21st century girl looking to further define her own personal rule of life.

A. Samuel, SSJD Companion

[1] St. Benedict, who lived in the sixth century, is often called the Father of Western Monasticism, and his “Little Rule for Beginners” still inspires Christians who want to follow a rhythm of life that is different from the chaos of modern society.

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