Since September saint ben’s member Sarah Moesker has been living at St John’s Convent in Toronto, taking part in a program called “Companions on an Ancient Path”. We asked her to do a bit of writing on her experiences.
The “Companions on an Ancient Path” is a pioneer program initiated by the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine in Toronto. It is similar to their pre-existing “Alongsider” program, but it caters specifically to younger generations of women, aged 21-39, in the hope that the participants will form something of their own community within the community of the Sisterhood. It is a year of discernment, with emphasis on rooting one’s life and decisions in prayer, amidst all the joys and challenges of intentional proximity to others. Five women have accepted the invitation this year, and I happen to be one of them.
One might wonder why a young woman would take a year off from her ordinary routine and lifestyle to live at a convent in 2016. Well, you are not alone in wondering that. I think all five of us have questioned at some point or another what we are doing here. When I was accepted into the program and began to have to tell people what my autumn plans were, I received a lot of raised eyebrows and the only conceivable response, “So… are you going to become a nun?”
I would laugh in response to this, using the joke as a bit of an out for avoiding the confession that I really wasn’t sure why I was going. I had experienced a weighty and immoveable sense in my chest that it was what I needed to do, so I did. I spent much time in prayer and discernment, but the inarticulate certainty about it remained. It is only now that I’m here, in my fourth month with the Sisters, that I have been slowly unwrapping the purpose of all of this.
Let’s just say that this is not the sort of place you will want to be if you are determined not to face yourself. It is a vulnerable environment, with few distractions and a significant amount of time for reflection (due more to the pace and type of activity rather than the absence of activity—my schedule has never been more full in my life!). These things were difficult to adjust to at first, naturally, but the contemplative lifestyle is pretty conducive to my personality so it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the rhythmic variety of silences.
Surprisingly, what has begun to reveal itself as my challenge—perhaps my purpose, even—of this year, is to actually engage in the intentional, structured, communal living. It has become apparent to me, here, how much running away and hiding (in one subtle or not-so-subtle form or another) are part of my way of dealing with feelings of inadequacy in relation to others. It is sort of embarrassing to admit that I only noticed this laughably obvious pattern now, when it has existed for as long as I can remember, but so it goes.
And so it seems that this year is a re-education (or perhaps revelation) of my identity. An identity that exists in relation to others. Which is really a significant part of ‘the journey’, isn’t it? This movement from illusions of independence and self-sufficiency to eyes wiped clear to the reality of our inherently social and developmentally reliant selves—as well as the reality of the Triune God whose very nature is communal.
However, what I find most strange is that this discovery of my identity, despite it being in relation to others, is actually requiring me to tap more deeply into my introverted, contemplative, and highly introspective personality. I am at once learning how to be with others intentionally, while also learning that I am absolutely not an extravert or, really, all that sociable a person—and that I don’t have to be. I find it odd that I would be learning, both at once, how to live and love in relation to others and how to be true to my more solitary personality. How are both of those things possible at once? I do not know. But I think I will find out. How fitting, to wait for such a thing in this prelude to Christmas.