A Hike, A Funeral and An Anniversary

Yesterday, I went hiking in the rain. Before that, I attended the funeral of one of my oldest sisters in the monastery. Last summer, this faithful religious woman celebrated 70 years as a professed nun. At one point during her funeral Mass, I found myself contemplating the bright red carpet in front of the altar where two years ago today, I prostrated myself asking for God’s mercy and the community’s before kneeling to profess First Religious Vows. I promised three years and hoped for forever. I never suspected that in the month following my first anniversary, I would request and receive a dispensation, which brings me back to the hike in the rain. The weather app said only clouds. Those clouds poured rain almost the entire time and never harder than at the halfway point where we stopped to eat lunch. We ate standing up, huddling over our food, laughing the whole time. Our shoes and socks were soaked through, as we tramped through puddle after puddle, clinging to images of hot chocolate or hot tea waiting at home. More than once, I jokingly complained about the deceptive weather prediction until I realized that there was reason to be grateful for the inaccuracy. We would have changed our plans had we seen a correct forecast and so missed a wonderful afternoon adventure. In the same way, I would not have given the adventure of religious life a second try, or even a first try, had I known that I was not called to remain in those faithful, loving communities for all my life.

Last Spring, when the Lord invited me to follow him out of the monastery walls on a new chapter of our adventure together, I had come to understand through prayer and supportive counsel that I was not called to that beautiful “until death” in the enclosure, which my dear big sister so powerfully exemplified in her 70 years of religious poverty, chastity and obedience. Yesterday, when I looked at the crimson carpet, where so many vows have been made, for three years or until death, and I thought about the sisters behind the grille, my sisters, I felt peace that I was where I was meant to be, in the front row, on the people’s side of the grille.

February 16 remains a special day for me, even if it is the anniversary of something that is not anymore. In past years, when the anniversary of my first First Profession of Religious Vows rolled around each July 28, I felt sad. I recognize today that the sadness was not so much because I left that community, heartbroken at not being able to renew my vows “for all my life”, but because I have not allowed myself to celebrate what remains a very meaningful and joyful day, one of the happiest in my life. So, today I am celebrating the anniversary of my second First Profession of Religious Vows with great gratitude. The joy with which I glowed that day in giving my life to God is real and lasting. He called me out of the enclosure, but not out of his loving embrace or my commitment to live for Him.

Lent begins tomorrow. My plan is to take these forty days to reflect on and renew the monastic practices that will help me to live holiness hidden in the goings on of everyday life. I took the picture below yesterday on our hike—after the rain let up enough to safely pull out an iPhone. It reminds me of Lent. Lent is not a season of dead branches, but of new growth springing out of dormant wood.

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