In my blog last month, I started reflecting on my 13-year journey as a sister at Saint Benedict’s Monastery. I ended by suggesting that today’s blog might be about why I stay but, as I started writing, I realized that a lot of the pull to leave centered on who and what I left behind, and that it’s hard to understand why I stay if I don’t analyze what pulls me in the other direction.
I first came to Saint Benedict’s Monastery for two weeks in the summer of 2005 as a scholar in the Studium program. I came from England, and it was my first visit to America. I had no thought of coming to live here or of entering any religious community. Yet August 2007, following a longer visit to Studium and extended time spent at the monastery discerning what God was calling me to do with my life, saw me ready to take the first step toward becoming a sister. The months and and early years that followed were a time of great joy. I was so sure that this was the life for me that I gave very little thought to what I was leaving behind. It’s a big job packing up your home, selling it and going through all the red tape to establish residence in another country, but I was so convinced I was doing the right thing that it all flowed over my head and didn’t really dent my mood of joy and eagerness to get started on my new life.
After final profession, I came down to earth. Nobody back home had ever really tried to stop me entering. The general tenor of responses was, “If it makes you happy, then I support you.” I started to suspect that people said this because they were being selfless and wanting the best for me, when I was simply thinking of myself and what I wanted. I began to wonder: Did I hurt people when I left? Did I make a big wound in their lives? As I listened more carefully to people back home, I realized that, indeed, I did, and I began to question why I’d left such a loving community of people for what was now feeling just a very ordinary life in which God was no more present than before.
Another issue that started to exercise me was coming to terms with the fact that having first set foot in the monastery at the age of 49, there was no one here who knew anything about the people, places and events which had formed me; I didn’t share any common memories of the first half century of my life with a single person. Now, I wouldn’t want to give the impression I felt lonely and misunderstood because I formed some very significant friendships here, but they are relationships of later life which have a different character from those that go way back. It was lack of a mix of friends old and new that was the problem.
All these negatives would, I think, have been okay, if God had come through the way I wanted. I expected that because I’d made such major step, given up so much, that there would be some huge revelation. I was primed for this to happen because the journey to the monastery was filled with a sense of God and a wonderful personal relationship. I felt that after profession, this should get better. Instead, it seemed to go blank.
And, on that depressing note, I will end for now, and begin the explanation of why I’m still here next time.
Karen Rose, OSB