‘So that your essential gaze may become focussed on God…’ Words from the CSMV Rule.
In the Convent I was enveloped in the ‘beckoning silence’ which I found profoundly healing and stabilizing.
I was a former Roman Catholic, now an Anglican priest. My first priority in ‘alongsiding’ was to find an Anglican catholic setting where silent prayer, the Divine Office and the Eucharist would be the priority of each day. After a term of serious illness and disability I felt I needed to re-anchor my life in a deeper awareness of the love and goodness of God.
The second component was, for me, the love of God mediated through the Sisters, through their welcome, openness, kindness and sensitivity. As alongsider Di has previously mentioned – see below – the wide and diverse experience of the Sisters, in addition to their deep prayer life, has resulted in an accepting and non-judgemental atmosphere which I found very welcome. Among the many joys for me was getting to know the Sisters, each with their unique gifts and talents and unique sense of calling from God: a calling which they have followed faithfully through immense challenges and continue to do so.
I would heartily recommend the experience of ‘alongsiding’ to all with an openness of mind and spirit, a desire to learn and a sympathy for the traditions of Religious Life. I am reminded of the Westcott House motto: ‘Faithful is the calling One, who will do it.’
1) Response to living alongside the Sisters from DI:
‘So out of my comfort zone yet so comfortable.’ A paradox but those words sum up my nearly 4 month stay at CSMV as an Alongsider. Was this my idea? No, that of someone wiser than I, who knew just what would be right for me at this time of my life. My idea of spending that amount of time somewhere would have been more in the line of adventuring to foreign climes, volunteering with some project. In fact, it was like visiting a foreign country, ways of being & doing so very different from my experience; a new liturgical language to be learned too. Initially I felt like an alien, struggling to understand the culture, and new ways of doing things and generally adapting. The first challenge! The tiniest taste of what it must be like to move to a foreign country in great vulnerability, something so pertinent in the world at this time.
So what made it the positive experience it was?
The welcome, the generosity of spirit, openness, sensitivity & tolerance of the Sisters to a new fish in their waters. The freedom to ask questions about absolutely anything, but with a willingness to listen respectfully to the answers. A willingness to enter fully into the experience, let it transform me & influence how I order my life in the future with balance. The right amount of silence, solitude & simplicity & rooted in prayer. A deep sense of being surrounded with the prayer & care of the Sisters.
So would I recommend it, & to whom?
This is an experience that would benefit anybody of any faith background or none, any age & for however long one could spare. The varied life experiences of the Sisters over the years of serving world-wide in different cultures have given them a non-judgemental love & compassion such as I’ve seldom experienced before. I saw in action & experienced a disciplined rhythm of prayer & the principles that guided their way of living, a ‘scaffolding’ that, far from inhibiting their lives, gave life & energy to all that they were involved in. My ‘scaffolding’ tended at times to be a bit wobbly, insecure & inconsistent, especially at times of stress when it needed to be exactly the opposite!
The peace & silence of the convent allowed all the ‘chatter’ going on within to subside. It enabled one to hear oneself & God, a Higher power or whatever name you would care to use & so experience the force of that someone/thing rooting for you. I found that experiencing that name urged me 0n to life in all its fullness, whether that meant a change of life focus or readjustment of ways of living & being. It enabled a general review of life & was incredibly healing.
You do need to be open to the fact that life might change in some way afterwards!
I left, with my soul having had a good polish, recalibrated & ready for a new life in a new city. When life is in danger of getting out of balance I will head back, if not in body, in mind & spirit, to all that I learned at St. Mary’s Convent.
A deep & heartfelt thank you.
2) Response to living alongside the Sisters from LORNA:
My stay of nearly 5 weeks with the Community was such a precious time for me. They welcomed me so kindly as I joined them in Chapel for the daily Office, for meals in the Refectory, for their morning Conference as well as for conversation & sharing over tea.
I had thought I would spend much time in the library reading & studying, but in fact, apart from some daily practical tasks, I found myself a lot of the time in my room in quietness. ‘Be still & know…’ became very clear to me. I felt that I was being absorbed into a great vastness of power & love & peace, to which I could put no words. Not only was I absorbed into, but also knew that I was absorbing into myself some of that mystery. ‘Truly, the Lord was in that place’ & at that time I knew the truth of it.
Since coming home I have had times of weeping, for grief because I am no longer directly part of the Sisters’ life, but also for joy & thanksgiving for all the Lord’s goodness to me, both now & for all my long life. I also thank God that the Holy Spirit is truly at work here on earth & pray that God will bless the Community by enabling them to carry their long tradition of Christian love, worship & service well into the changing times of the future.