Convent Cactus

On the first morning of Lent, I watched in fascination as the novices and professed Sisters donned their black mantles for prayer.

“The Sisters wear them during Lent for prayers,” Sister Anna had explained to us, “until they cast them aside at the Easter Vigil.”

The floor-length capes, made of thick, flowing fabric, definitely fit the Lenten stereotype. So did the convent practice of waking up ten minutes early to recite the penitential psalms. It’s difficult not to feel penitential when your wakeup time goes from 5 to 4:50 am.


Because I kept silent, my bones wasted away;

I groaned all day long.

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;

my strength withered as in dry summer heat.


The beginning of Psalm 32 sounded gloomy, but it soon ascended from that low place:


Then I declared my sin to you;

my guilt I did not hide.

I said, “I confess my transgression to the LORD,”

and you took away the guilt of my sin.


I felt relieved as I continued reading through the chosen psalms. Although they all talked about sin and suffering, they actually weren't that depressing to read. Every one of them ended on a positive note of praise, thanksgiving, or deliverance:


Many are the sorrows of the wicked one,

but mercy surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.

Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous;

exult, all you upright of heart.


As a child, I’d considered Lent a somewhat depressing experience: no desserts for 40 days! But Psalm 32 and the other penitential psalms shifted my perception. Instead of thinking of Lent as a time of deprivation and penance, I saw it as a time of conversion and deeper prayer. The Sisters and I did make sacrifices and penances during Lent, but we did it with purpose. Every penance drew us closer to deeper union with Christ.


Convent Cactus


During Lent, Sister Anna gave me permission to put on a play for the postulants. I wrote the script myself, and Sister Lucia agreed to act it out as I narrated.

Sister Lucia and I set up a makeshift stage in the front of the Common Room, complete with props. The postulants and Sister Anna gathered on couches and rocking chairs to watch.

"Ah, the convent! Where my thoughts float by like picnic clouds..."

At the beginning of the play, a naïve young postulant is filled with religious fervor. After having received consolation from the Lord in prayer, she affirms to herself, “Now I’m pure of heart!”

"Everything seems to be going well…until the storm clouds come," I narrated. "Living in community is not so easy. The other sisters do things that annoy the postulant, and she struggles to act with humility and charity. Then the Lord begins asking more and more from His little postulant. She has to give up those things that are nearest and dearest to her heart."

I choked up a little on my narration, then continued.

"It is during this time that the postulant arrives in the Lenten desert. All is dry and silent here. Nothing much seems to be happening. But the Lord is working deep inside the postulant’s heart."

“Dear Lord, being a new sister is hard. All I have is You and this little convent cactus,” I said.

On cue, Sister Lucia pulled out a little pincushion stuck through with needles. A sign on it read, “Convent Cactus”.

All the postulants laughed. We had started sewing our habits that month, and since most of us did not come to the convent with domestic skills, there had been a steep learning curve. We were all familiar with this particular prickly convent cactus.

As Sister Lucia knelt down in prayer, I quoted Hosea 2:14: "And I will allure her, and lead her into the desert, and speak to her heart."

“This Lenten desert is hard, Lord. I’m thirsty and hungry and so, so tired. But this is where You are, Lord. I'm going to stay with You.”

When the play ended, all the postulants and Sister Anna clapped. They were surprised that I was the one to have written the script; in the convent, I was known more as an artist than a storyteller.

I smiled to see their joy. I still grieved the loss of my book, but it felt good to write a story again—even if it wasn’t a heroic young adult fantasy novel.

After all, my sister postulants were some of the bravest and most heroic people I had ever met. Spiritual warriors, all. I felt humbled and honored to be among them.

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Thank you so much for reading! Please join me after Christmas to hear more about my convent Lenten journey!




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In addition to my weekly posts for Monastery in My Heart, I am writing for a new blog, Life After Convent, on my author site. Subscribe to receive weekly stories of encouragement and a free e-Book!

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About the Author:

Mary Rose Kreger lives in the metro Detroit area with her family, where she writes fantasy for teens and blogs about her spiritual journey: before, during and after the convent. She writes about her convent experience at www.monasteryinmyheart.com, and about her struggles transitioning to post-convent life at www.maryrosekreger.com.

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