27.9.09

Jesus Army Life - At the monastery

I popped in on a nun in a monastery the other day, as you do. She was part of the Carmelite order. A couple of friends and I were passing by so we thought we'd just knock on the door. The friars were away, probably off climbing trees somewhere, so she took us into their lounge and we sat down for a chat.

I'm not sure I'll ever forget the event; it was not so much incredible as simply affirming. Here was this little aged lady happily talking about life and her passion for the church to three young men she'd never met before.

The experience seemed to put so much into perspective. She told us about the history of the order (legend has it they existed before the birth of the Christian church as a group of hermits seeking God, but were converted at Pentecost, but they are more well known for St Theresa for Avila). She recounted her own walk with God, having become a nun at 25 and now, 56 years later, not regretting it one bit. She received our questions with tenderness, godly reverence and not a little excitement. There was so much more I could have asked of this woman who'd spent her whole life in prayer, I wanted to learn as much as possible from her.

Perhaps the most encouraging part was to realise that the values which we champion as the Jesus Army, principles which seem to cast us as radicals among other mainstream churches (shared-community, the choice of celibacy and a lifelong covenant commitment) were the same fundamentals reflected in the nun's commitment to poverty, chastity and obedience. These things which we struggle to explain as a 40 years young church were practices enshrined by centuries of tradition in their monastic order. And it didn't stop there: further features like church run businesses, maintaining a healthy distance between the society of men and women, having some live in community and some in their own place, the leadership of men and the ministry of women -- these were characteristics found in their organisation too. Even our characteristic busyness was reflected as this 81 year old woman suddenly realised she was late and with a firm handshake, bid us goodbye and rushed off to vespers.

Right now I', glad to be back at White Stone house. It's Sunday afternoon, we've had six families here for dinner and the many children have been playing in the garden. As friends we have chatted and laughed together -- it's been a blissful afternoon. But I'm left with fond thoughts of the sister we met. I'm recommending to all my friends that if you want to do something extraordinary before the year out, if you've found yourself feeling flat and wondering what life is about, go and spend an hour or even a few days with a nun or monk at a monastery -- you'll find it a life changing experience.