Friday, December 02, 2005

Weekend Wonderings ~ Image or Illusion?

I had been thinking about starting a blog for a while, but it wasn't until I had followed Susan Rose's for a bit that I finally got off my tailbone and did it. I was thinking about when I was beginning to finally dive into this whole religious-life-application process, and how nice it would have been to have somebody's journey like that to read, to show me that I wasn't a total freak. (Don't get me wrong, I AM a total freak -- just not because of that!). So, since I've always been so proud of the fact that mine is not the "typical" vocation story, I felt it was that much more important to have my voice be heard. Granted, I've been living community life for three years now, so I'm at a different stage, but it's still nice to have someone who's "been there done that" and understands. Thus, Narrow at the Outset was born.

Very shortly thereafter, I got some publicity from various folks and got the immediate heebie-jeebies about anonymity and would my thoughts reflect badly upon the community. And then, quite obviously, I got over it.


In case you haven't noticed, I haven't said a whole lot about community life, or full-time ministry, or the transition to living "out on mission" like I had originally planned. I've referred vaguely to my vocation story at times, but have never actually sat down and blogged about it. And that's the reason I had started this up in the first place. But it's hard. It's hard to figure out how to share the struggles. Does "family business" stay in the family, or do I share the journey for those who may join me? I really hesitated the other day about the whole carpooling situation, and ended up posting it anyway, mostly because I was so amused at the situation ... but still wondered if that was the right decision.

I've shared the deaths in our community that have touched me deeply, but I haven't ever addressed the ramifications of those deaths, or how they've affected my understanding of community. I've written about the constant back-and-forth that I've had to do between Louisville and the monastery every weekend, but I've not really shared the significance of that in-between space, and how that shapes and re-shapes my understanding of monasticism as lived out by the Ferdinand Benedictines.

And yet, aren't these all important elements of my journey as well? Aren't these just as significant to my "Journey of a (Relatively) Newly Professed Benedictine" as the fact that I'm a semicolon?

I'm very conscious of the fact that, for most people, I am the only "real" nun that they know. For many of my new-found bloggy-buddies, there's a strong potential for me to be even the only Catholic that they know. So I'm extremely aware of the fact that, while I pride myself on "dispelling as many nun-myths as I can," there's also a likelihood that I may be creating some as I go. Does my experience in the monastery define life in all convents? Are all nuns as snarky as I?

People know ministers. They've most likely by now had experience with a variety of different preachers, priests, or other "men of the cloth." So when I read the RevGal blogs, I can separate out what are the elements of that particular person, and what just comes with the territory. Even with all the different denominations, I have some understanding of the basic vocabulary and system within which they work, so I can know the context of their writings. If they talk about someone in their congregation making such a horrendous egg salad for the church picnic that the pastor was on major Ultimate Puking Avoidance for the whole night, I can understand that that's a situational thing. But if I tell a similar sort of story about someone in the community, is it just that person or is that representative of religious life in general?

Benedict says that it will be a hard journey, and it is. Community life is not easy. The "rubbing off rough edges" and all that is part of what makes the ugly rock a beautiful stone. But how much of the struggle do I share without simply confirming people's general opinions that this is a crazy choice and you can always leave?

How much of the struggle do I share without scaring off folks like Susan Rose (who has just officially begun her journey with her groovy sisters), Natty (who is beginning the application process with her groovy sisters), and Seeking_Something (who is on the quest to find her groovy sisters), among others?

So I find myself censoring myself. But is that giving any better image of religious life? And it's not just the anonymity question -- even if you didn't know my name or community, the fact that I'm a nun is the detail that more people would pick up on. Sure, no one says you're required to bare your soul on your blog, I realize that, but if I'm wanting to "dispel nun-myths" -- shouldn't I at least be honest about it? It's not right just giving one side of the picture -- that's the exact same thing that all the nun-stereotypes do, it's just a different angle of the picture.

I guess I'm just feeling very torn between wanting to be true to myself and feeling a sense of responsibility to the image. Because, in all honesty, the only real censoring that I'm doing involves the struggles of community life, and my hesitance to share that reality.

I don't know if I have any real question here for the Weekend Wonderings. There may have been one lurking in my head last night when I was driving home thinking about this, but it's long-gone by now. Besides, in some respects, I feel this is way too big to condense down into a twelve-words-or-less orange soundbite.

I don't know. I don't know what I'm looking for, or wanting to hear. I don't know what the resolution is to this, or if there even is one.
Maybe this weekend's wonderings are just my own.

But ... I'll take any words of wisdom that anyone else has to offer.


Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...

I can only speak for myself. If anyone is going to scare me off, I think I'm the one for the job :)!

Seriously though, I understand the feeling. I'm beginning my experience living in community, and have hesitated writing about any of the (small) growing pains I've been experiencing for fear of reflecting badly on the community or scaring people off.

Until I started going through this, I didn't realize how much the discernment goes on and on and on for everyone. As does the adjustment.

I finally decided it's ok to censor, if that's what I feel more comfortable doing. For example, my recent freak out on obedience was only alluded to on the blog.

But I'm also taking it as a creative writing challenge to try as I feel comfortable to share the journey without necessarily getting into the messy gorey details. I think there's probably a balance to sharing the reality without a) giving away details of other people's lives or b) convincing the blogosphere that the religious life is hell and why on earth would anyone do it. Because we know that's not it ... it's just that people are people.

Hmmm... no real wisdom for you. Just an assurance that you won't scare me off. Especially not with your offer of warm fuzzy socks, which I'm wearing at the moment but can lend you if you need them. :)

12/02/2005 9:15 PM  
Blogger Pink Shoes said...

I think the question you raise about representing yourself or a whole community (ie, are all nuns this snarky...) is one that's valid for many folks -- I think about it every time that I wear a clerical collar outside of worship. Will people see me only as a pastor? Will they think all pastors are like me (clearly they won't since I'm a woman)? But, how do I dispel the pastor-myths without owning up to being one while bellying up to the bar or ordering my frou-frou coffee drink?

All of the spiritual directors I've had have been nuns -- and I thank God for every one of them and the myths that they have dispelled for me.


12/02/2005 9:29 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

I guess the bigger piece that I realized later that I didn't fully clarify is that while, yes, some of the issues are involving other community members (which I wouldn't feel right discussing to any great extent generally), others are more wrapped up in my own journey. Since discernment is all about "What fits for you" and since I am still in this period of discernment .... I guess my bigger question/disconnect is the fact that I'm not sharing any of the "not-fit" aspects. Especially since a big part of what I've discovered out here in BlogLand has been lots of great people -- when I'm at points where I can use a little extra support .... how do I present that?

(Can you tell that the socks might be helpful?)

12/02/2005 10:53 PM  
Blogger Jonathan St.Andre, T.O.R. said...

I've read your blog recently and enjoyed it.

I'm new at the blogging thing and am trying to negotiate the level of disclosure myself. I think there's a certain amount of honesty and vulnerability that is wonderful to display. There's also times where you can't deny the struggle but you humbly admit it in a way that honors the privacy of community.

I appreciate your honesty. I would think that your goal of dispelling nun myths is about breaking negative stereotypes and also reflecting your the love that has brought you to where you are.

Don't know it that helped you much. Know of the prayers of this friar for your journey and those you journey with!

12/02/2005 11:18 PM  
Blogger seeking_something said...

Heh, Heh. From someone who discloses minimally, especially regarding others who never consented to have even the smallest aspects of their lives on the web, I understand the censorship. I also understand your struggle, because you and your community are largely "one." Though you maintain individualism, significant things that affect you also affect your community and vice versa and it makes it difficult to separate your experiences from the community's. Separating the two is not easy, and sometimes not possible.

Have no fear. We who research look to many sources for information. Your experiences will be only one piece in a mosaic. At, for example, we get some more glimpses--and not all flattering. So don't worry, you don't have to carry the banner all by yourself.

12/03/2005 12:50 AM  
Blogger Keturah said...

I think you've touched on issues that many of us in the blogging community go through. You have chosen to let the world (whoever cares to listen) in to see how you work, to dispel myths about your chosen vocation, to discuss issues and, in many ways, to show so eloquently that we are all in the same boat, that we are all struggling with similar questions (however differently they may be worded or manifest).

How we choose to do this without giving up too much of ourself and (especially) too much about the people who inhabit our intimate world, is the ultimate question. I go through it and I work with people who strive to have their image and name plastered across cyberspace. Being in such a community as yours makes the task of separating all that more difficult. Bless you for taking it on, because your writing has certainly opened my eyes to things I've never thought about before.

I go back and forth with how much I reveal about my "real" life and how much I speak about in more vague terms. I think the answer, for me, changes constantly. Like susan rose, I take it as a "creative writing challenge" and hope that someone out there is learning something new about a part of the world they've never seen before.

Questioning is living. It keeps our minds alive.


12/03/2005 1:19 AM  
Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...


Check your gmail delivery for a special sock delivery :)


12/03/2005 1:27 AM  
Anonymous Lorna said...

hi :)

For me it comes down to WHY I choose not to blog about something, just as in real life I often choose to let something go rather than dig my heels in.

In a disney cartoon - Bambi I think - there's mother rabbit talking to her son and she says "If you can't say anything nice say nothing at all" which is a good principle until you realise that sometimes you are to speak out.

As for defending your groovy sisters or presenting them in a good light ... mmm. If you've examined your motives for telling it and the writing is not out of envy, spite etc then I think it's perfectly ok to allow us glimpses of the good and the bad, the funny and the tragic that happens 'behind the scenes'especially those that are part of your journey or general observations.

by doing that you present yourself and your groovy sisters, women who are trying to follow God. They are impefections that come up, there are struggles to go through, and there are laughs along the way.

Above all there is love - and the cracks in the love, like the carpooling thing, when for what ever reason the other treated you in a way that she would not wish to be treated, they ARE part of the journey, and the discernment and how we learn from them is too.

I'm not sure what you decided to do in the end? But the point is that you discussed it here - and I think that's a good thing - because it was what you should do that was the issue, not what she did wrong. (if you catch my drift)

Sorry I'm not with it this morning.

12/03/2005 1:27 AM  
Blogger Sue said...

This is a great post steph, even the reference to Ultimate Puking Avoidance (good times, ok, not so much)...

...anyway....It seems to me that even in our postmodern age, there are still so very many stereotypes about the vocational life, whether one chooses to be a nun or a deacon, a priest or a pastor. The sense among the laity is often that those who have chosen a spiritual vocation are "different" from them, and really, it gets the average pew sitter off the hook in many ways.

If one assumes that they don't have whatever that nun has to live out her faith vocationally, then they can sit back and watch the show.

When we are real and candid about our human-ness, I think we challenge the people around us to see that we are like them -- people who are trying to be faithful in the way that is best suited for us.

Maybe our humanity helps others to see their own.

12/03/2005 11:39 AM  
Blogger Steph said...

Let me just lay the situation out point-blank here ....

How do I reconcile the number of elements that I'm feeling lately in the "not-fit" category with the public persona that I have now claimed for myself as "Sister Steph"?

What does my public acknowledgement of the "not-fit" moments say about me and who I am and how well I am or am not living out this life?

And what if my discernment ends up going "the other way"?

Not that I'm anywhere near that point, mind you ... but it still is something I've been wondering.

12/03/2005 12:06 PM  
Blogger Claire Joy said...

Your questions were very helpful and I can so relate… I often worry about stepping over some imaginary line with my blogs. I try to tell what my experience is without projecting onto others, but I never know for sure. I even wonder who I'd be if not a nun who blogs… then I think that must be the stupidest reason for staying a nun. But it's working for now.

12/03/2005 9:50 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

Excellent questions. I've struggled with these questions myself. When I first started my blog, I got some serious "hate" email and posts that made me wonder what the heck I'd gotten myself into and, honestly, made me censor a lot since then.

I haven't got the answer for you, but I think your instincts are right on. You want to share the difficult pieces as well as the positive ones. This is challenging since community living involves so many other people. And even if sister-we'vealwaysdoneitthatway won't read your blog, it's not "nice" to out her to anyone else.... but the truth is such sisters exist and it is challenging to figure out if living in community with her and the many other challenging people and the blessing people and, hey, yourself (who is at the same time both of those and I'm talking about myself here) is truly where God is calling you.

Whew, I'm not sure if that was clear or just flat out rambling! Anyway, my point, I think, is that the struggle is true, the sharing should be honest and the myths or stereotypes are other peoples' not yours (necessarily) and sharing the Truth as you experience it is a gift you give.

I allowed myself to feel and continue feeling hurt by those who couldn't accept that my blog was "my!" blog (and not the representative one for all sisters) and I still struggle with self revelation on the blog. But am coming more and more clear on what I want to share and what I should share about others. It just takes a great deal of time.

You will be in my prayers, Steph, as you continue to discern this and so many other matters!

12/04/2005 5:22 AM  
Blogger HeyJules said...

I'm not sure if this is the answer you're looking for but as I read this post it occured to me that you could always have TWO blogs - one public where you put out what you thought others should know and one "private" where you let certain people only share in your journeys and where you would be allowed to be a big less "reserved" and just let the transparency of what you are going through show through.

I think you might just find that after awhile you want to write full time on the "private" blog because it will mean so much more to you because of its authenticity.

It's just a thought...

12/04/2005 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey girl, got your email... call me.... number(s) in my reply to you.

12/04/2005 2:04 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I don't know what to tell you but I enjoyed reading your poderings.

I think that writing about a community is a bit like writing about work. As 'Seeking' said, you're not just writing about you. You are part of a collective whole.

Should you reveal the intricacies of your daily life which involve other people as a collective? I don't know. Probably not publicly because you don't have their consent.

I do think 'heyjules' has a good solution if you want to delve more into your everyday life amongst the 'sistahs.'

So, ok, I did have something to say about it. So sue me, aight. Or better yet, cast upon me a good 'little baby Jesus' nun curse. Hehehehehehe.

FYI (your blogging buddies, which I consider myself one because I think you're awesome)... I'm an atheist but just in case you didn't know, I was born and raised a Roman Catholic of the Irish sort. All kinds of statues hanging around when I was young, Parochial school, Holy Communion, CCD...the whole nine yards o’Catholicism.

I believe they call it 'lapsed.'

12/04/2005 7:00 PM  
Blogger Kalanna said...

Dear Steph,

I really enjoyed this post and the couple of comments you've left in the box as well. Two thoughts strike me...

The first is that even in married life, I strive to maintain the sacred bond between Mecandes and I. Some really uncool stuff happened this year in that realm, but I don't feel that it is ok to air on the blog - even if he and I didn't share the crazy thing. Often giving those struggles time reveals a deeper war within myself that I am fighting. Them apples I do talk about.

My second thought is just a continuation of that really. For a long time I conceived that I had to have all the answers to write a blog post, but bit by bit as I've revealed my weaknesses and uncertainties have been immensely blessed by it.

Personally, I don't mind if you struggle with your vocation and air that on the blog. I wrestle with my own vocation and anyone who's honest would have to say the same. I'm thrilled to "meet" a blogging nun and while I've loved reading your stories and thoughts, it's the person that brings me back. Peace.

12/04/2005 9:33 PM  
Blogger AveMaria1 said...

I've been in discernment now for about a year and a half (seriously). Let me just say I've had one negative experience with a vocation director who has seriously caused me to question my faith. I've wanted to share my experience, mostly out of not being able to obtain closure and being angry, but at the same time, like you do not want to share too much or burn bridges. Also, I know that just because you are a religious, does not mean that you are an honest and compassionate individual 100% of the time. Let me just stress one thing, I still question. I am not a vowed religious and haven't learned the "ropes". It's not like you walk in and adapt to the religious life culture! However, I feel that the more we share with one another, the more we can learn. For me personally, I cannot get past being able to be able to fully disclose everything on my blog. And....I know it will help others, but morally, I feel the need to be careful. Hope this made sense. May God bless you on this journey, which by experience, is not easy! ~Lauren

12/04/2005 9:38 PM  
Blogger Lorem ipsum said...

Well, you're human. You're entitled to your thoughts. You have a disclaimer. You aren't even speaking ex cathedra (can nuns even do that?).

Only say what you want to say. I say pretty much what I want on mine, but I do have to worry about some people reading it. Like my parents, who, if they knew I wrote, would say that I'm obsessive and tell everyone they know to call me. Like my husband, who does read it, and so that reins me in from complaining about my in-laws. Like a potential employer, which is why I use initials and an alias. But none of these methods is bulletproof...

You aren't putting down your coworkers, and when you're upset, you don't use identifying information. I don't know how much about community life you wish to write about, but I'd love to read about it. The separate blog is a good idea, if it makes it easier.

And yes, I'm sure most nuns are at least as snarky as you. The sisterhood is, like any other profession, an equal-opportunity place for attitude. And you've gotta have attitude if you're going to be a nun! No two ways about it. And I mean that in the most respectful way. It takes a special kind of person to do what you do; you see the world a bit differently than everyone else. Call it an opportunity for comedic observation.

12/04/2005 10:53 PM  

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