When I was about ten years old, I wanted to be a nun.
On the other side of the playground from my parochial elementary school, there stood the abbey, and inside that building lived the sweetest habit-bedecked woman I had ever met. Unlike the formidable stanchions of respect that taught us five days out of the week and smacked us with rulers upon occasion, this nun (whose name I have completely forgotten, if I ever knew it) was wizened and gentle.
My friends and I used to sneak over during recess and knock on her door. She would welcome us in and give us hard candies and prayer cards printed with saints and Mary. The atmosphere when you stepped into her small kitchen was one of perfect peace, and unnerving quiet.
After a few weeks of banging at her door on a daily basis, we were told to stop pestering the longsuffering sister, that it interrupted her day and that she didn’t like it. At eight years old I was skeptical (I have always been a little skeptical). She had never greeted us with anything but open arms, adjured us to pray, and told us to come back anytime. The conspiracy to thwart my daily escape from the noise of my sweaty and boisterous comrades on the playground seemed patently unfair.
I obeyed, however (I have also always been obedient), and never went back. I missed her. I wonder if she missed us. I am still skeptical that the injunction to cease and desist actually came from her lips. When I think back on it now, I have to think hard as to why, exactly, I thought her life was so incredibly cool; why, exactly, did I want it? And I know the answer.
The little house was always dim, and silent. The noise of the playground sounded far away and faint. She never gave the impression that she had been doing anything but meditating and praying when we knocked. Her life was one of patience and holy stillness, and peace. I didn’t have that in my life. I wanted that.
Instead, I grew up and had 13 children. Peace now is just as difficult to find as it was then, when the canvas of my home life was tension and stress and anxiety, stretched tight over the framework of my days.
I think about that little nun, and her solitary existence, and sometimes I wish I was a cloistered sister in a monastery; sometimes I think there would be nothing better than to escape into silence and vows and daily liturgy.
My life lacks serenity.
And I feel the craving for it, like a pot that’s boiled all the water away and now sits over the fire, burning into nothingness. The stench of my need is acrid like smoke, and it fills my heart.
I don’t want to be catholic, nor a nun, not really. I love my family and the boisterous, obstreperous people that populate my days. My soul, however, needs the quiet assurance that this life, this noisy chaos that dominates every waking hour has legitimacy too, that it, also, is holy in the eyes of God.
In my heart I am still ten, a little girl in need of direction, in need of purpose, in need of a word from her Creator. I sit in my small monastery, my wee house, the little room built with such great love, and I pray. And he comes, and he whispers “be still” and he whispers “courage, dear heart” and he whispers “you are mine.”
And I find peace amidst the strife.