As I head into my final weeks as a Benedictine Sojourner at Holy Wisdom Monastery, two quotes keep coming to mind. One of them is an inclusive language version of Greek philosopher Heraclitus that says, “No woman ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and she’s not the same woman.” The other is from novelist Thomas Wolfe who iconically asks, “Don’t you know you can’t go home again?”
Perhaps you are sensing a theme here. There are a great many things I am unsure of at this moment, but there is one thing that is absolutely clear to me—no matter what happens to me at the end of this experience, I have been irrevocably changed by it. No matter where I go from here, whether it’s to a “civilian” life on the east side of Madison, commuting daily to my Project Manager job for the Benedictine Life Foundation, or if it turns out that I stay with the sisters and go on to the next phase of the formation process—either way—I will not be the same woman I was back in September when I started this journey.
I knew when I came here there would be changes. How could there not be? I had packed up my belongings and moved in with women who I’d known from work, Sunday Assembly and by reputation, but not a whole lot more than that. In the past six months I’ve rearranged my daily routine, had cause to examine all my personal habits, and, in general, willingly overhauled my lifestyle. It has been a lot like a vigorous spring cleaning—hard work, at times painful, but overall satisfying and restorative.
But the question begs: Now what? And the truth is, I don’t know for sure. I’d like to stay on a little while longer for a time of intentional discernment, which I’m told I can do. There are many things about this monastic life that I simply don’t want to leave behind. The Rule of Benedict, the daily rhythms of prayer, liturgy, work, spiritual formation and community time have all become very precious and essential to me. In truth, I can’t imagine going back to a life without them.
And yet, as the process towards belonging to this community progresses, the pathway narrows. If I were to become a novice, which is the next step, it would mean even bigger changes. I would need to let go permanently of the things I have thus far only let go of temporarily. I would no longer have my own income, or my own car, or make decisions about my future on my own. I can see the advantages of a life of great simplicity and sharing, a life where none of those things are needed or wanted any longer.
But, at the same time, releasing these hard won assets and tools and symbols of my autonomy will require enormous faith and trust. It will require a discernable sense of God’s calling, which I have not yet clearly received—thus, the need for discernment with the guidance of the community and others. I will be listening and doing my utmost to remain present and open. Your prayers for this would be more than welcome as I boldly go forward into an unfamiliar place, stepping into the waters of a whole new river.