Sunday, March 05, 2006

Scripture Scribblings -- Driven to the Desert of Vocation

Mark 1:12-15 ~ New American Bible
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
One of the traditions of our monastery is that at Saturday Evening Prayer (which is First Vespers of Sunday), we use the Gospel for the next day as the reading and then one of our sisters gives a reflection on the text. The sister who gave the reflection {her reflection will be posted somwhere here today -- Jeana, can you comment with the real link?} last night focused on the fact that this passage has Jesus being driven out into the desert — how much stronger an image than being led, as you sometimes hear.

But she spoke of being driven out into the desert. Not led, not accompanied. Driven. Pretty forceful concept. Not too much of a sense of "going willingly." She spoke of how, at this beginning of Lent, we are standing at the edge of our own desert, with some hesitation and trepidation about going in.

After all, the desert isn't known to be all that much fun, as our priest this morning was pointing out. It gets romanticized, sure, especially in our monastic tradition with all the stories of the desert monks. And, as I've been teaching my kids Friday and tomorrow ... the early monks went out in the desert to face their demons. Desert — silence, no distractions, nothing to use to procrastinate your inward quest. As we discover in our first experiences with week-long silent retreats here at the monastery, there's only so long you can avoid yourself when completely on your own before you get driven inward to "face your demons" and find God in the process.

Being "driven." Sometimes it's a good thing; you think of musicians, athletes, scholars, being "driven" to work, to succeed. Of course, sometims in those situations people get "driven" to an unhealthy degree. None of that "All things in moderation" that the Benedictines encourage!

Then, as a high school teacher, I keep thinking of being "driven" in the very literal sense — where most of my kids can't go anywhere unless they're driven. Whether it's by mom, or a friend, or the bus driver — there's no action unless they're driven.

And then, of course, there's the sense in which at least I find myself "driven" to the edge of my desert. More in the sense of being forced, perhaps kidnapped (to use my student image). Don't really wanna go to the desert — too much work, not enough Girl Scout cookies {Random: If chocolate chip cookies are made with chocolate chips, and oatmeal raisin cookies are made with oatmeal and raisins, then Girl Scout cookies .....?}. I readily admit it. I'm a big ol' chicken. I am a huge weenie wimp. I live for avoidance. Face my fears? Never! Go into the desert? Wrestle my demons? Yeah, right! I got no demons. Really. Life is great. That pit from before? Oh, that was just a bit of mild indigestion, that's all. Really, I'm quite fine. Peachy-keen, that's me. I find it hard to "give something up" for Lent because I know I don't have the self-discipline to actually stick to it. And with retreat, I'm so used to doing nothing normally that I end up bike riding and wandering and each day wondering "Uh-oh, what am I gonna tell the director about today?" Self-introspection is not always my strong suit, at least not when it's to be done in a positive and life-giving manner.

And I guess that's part of the reason why I still haven't answered those "Why Benedictine" questions from before. Because I don't know if I have an answer. Hearing Anita's reflection last night gave me a little more insight into how to present it, though.

How'd I end up here? I was driven. Kicking and screaming every step of the way.

I'm gonna take the cheater's way out and give you two links that can give you at least a brief nutshell version of my vocation story {because I still have papers to grade for tomorrow!}; I'll say more later, I promise. The first is an article I wrote for my parish Young Adult Ministry newsletter maybe just a month or two before I entered the community. Scroll down to page 5 and read the article that begins with: “So... how long have you wanted to be a nun?” Dunno —
I’ll let you know when I find out. “Are you excited?” Ummmmm....
It's funny, coming back to that article now; how fitting that I call it a "compulsion." Being driven, perhaps?

The second is the "Vocation Story in 200 words or less" for our Vocation newsletter; I wrote it five months after entering in the middle of a lovely round of bronchitis. But, it gives a decent (if brief) overview of my journey to nunhood, and really gives a sense of my inevitable drivenness.

Here's the thing. I wasn't gonna be a nun, never wanted to be a nun, never even thought about it. Church was a nothing thing for me. I went cuz, well, that's what you're supposed to do on Sundays, right? Sure, I lived a good life, did lots of service, that kind of stuff, but religious? Nah, that's not me.

Then, once the inevitability hit, I began my series of "obsess-over-it" periods of time alternating with the "freak-out-run-away-and-hide-under-a-table-in-the-corner" periods of avoidance. But I knew that "whenever I get around to doing this nun-thing, it would be with Sacred Heart." They ran my high school, I worked in one of their schools, I love their system of education ... heck, a friend of mine was calling me Poster Child for Sacred Heart. So I met people from other communities and even thought on occasions that certain things they did were cool but "I'm not looking." The only "looking" I was doing was trying to figure out how in the world I was supposed to be being a nun? What exactly was God smoking?

In the process of trying to figure out "Why me?" — not in the grand dramatic "Woe is me" sense, but just "Why me? What the heck do I have to offer? I mean, me?!? Yeah, right!" — I came across {actually, it wasn't as accidental as that, but that's another story for later ... just remind me!}. And the rest is, as they say, history. {Again, to be told at another point when I'm not needing my bed so soon!}

I thoroughly stunned myself by "buying a plane ticket seven days out to visit a Benedictine monastery in the middle of Nowheresville Indiana where I know no one and have e-mailed the woman twice" .... but I did. And I got sucked in. Actually, to read my journal from the first website hit, it's obvious that I knew even then. But what did I know? I have no idea. What I do know is that I went for that visit. And then another. And then another. My standard line was that "The grounds are beautiful and the people are awesome." I just got sucked in, like The Thing From Outer Space. As I would tell the vocation director, "Praying is against my religious principles" — and yet I would continue to visit. The webhit was December 28; the first visit was Presidents' Day weekend, which began a year's worth of monthly visits. By August I had received the application materials and by the following February I was accepted.

My reason for going forward in the application process? The fact that I was. The fact that I kept coming back. The fact that I hadn't freaked out, spazzed, and hid under a table in the corner. My reason for moving on to the novitiate? Because that's the next step. Because "the grounds are still beautiful and the people are still awesome." My reason for requesting permission to make profession? "I don't have any deep theological and spiritual reasons. But I'm still here, and you all still let me be here. There's gotta be something to that."

And just this past fall, I had probably three solid months of wondering why the heck I'm still here, in a very serious way. One of those "non-bloggable" batches of mental processes, but since that seems to have passed (for the time being, anyway), I figure I can mention it. How I made it through that? Dunno. Happy pills help, sure, but .... maybe I'm too chicken to have left?

When I was visiting the monastery, the sisters always asked me if I had looked at other Benedictine houses; my response was "I'm not looking at communities; I know where I'm going." They'd ask what drew me to the Benedictines; "I'm not looking at the Benedictines; I just got sucked in here." They'd point out that there were Benedictines in Baltimore and Northern Virigina and how come I didn't look there; "Cuz I wasn't looking at communities!" I knew nothing about the Benedictines {which is another reason why I've avoided the "Why'd I Choose Benedictine" question}, and I wasn't exploring communities. I just came across this place, spent a couple months agonizing over "What about Sacred Heart," and then gave up and gave in.

My vocation story has never been one of choice. With Sacred Heart, you spend six months in Rome before making your final profession at the Trinita at the top of the Spanish steps; here, it's among the fragrant cows. Believe me, if I had a choice in the matter .... :-)

Truly. If you had told me six years ago that I would be a Benedictine nun teaching high school religion, I would have said you were crazy. First off, it's Sacred Heart; secondly, I'm never gonna actually do the nun-thing; and thirdly, a religion teacher? Me, Miss Queen Not Religious or God-dy?

And yet, at this point, I can't imagine it any other way. I have grown so incredibly much in the process that I can't even begin to describe.

But, at the same time, I guarantee that I never would have done it on my own. Left to my own devices, my own motivations, I'd still be in that same holding pattern that I had for the eight or nine years previous.

Some things have gotta be pushed. Some things have gotta be forced, have gotta be challenged. Would I willingly go into the desert, even if I had the Spirit kindly "leading" me? I seriously doubt it. Would I go, "kicking and screaming every step of the way," if I were being "driven"? Probably depends on how hard and forceful the driven was. But would I regret it once I went? At least with this one, no, not really.

Yes, we all have the personal responsibility to act on our own, to enter the desert of our own free will. But, at the same time, we are weak humans, prone to fear and avoidance. Sometimes we need a little encouragement; sometimes the "encouragement" might not look so encouraging.

Me, I'm not a grown-up-enough monk to enter my desert on my own. Heck, I still don't even do too good with it during retreat. But, maybe if I get driven there enough times, I'll learn how to get into the driver's seat. Or at least be a good little desert monk and offer hospitality and a comforting and supportive welcome to those others passing through the desert after me.

But, Benedict calls it a "little rule for beginners" ... that "we intend to establish a school for the Lord's service .... [with] a little strictness in order to amend faults and safeguard love." Benedict acknowledges our human weakness, tells us not to run away in fear, and that the narrow road is only just to get us started before it opens wide up.

So we need the prodding. And it's OK, because Jesus did too. Driven into the desert, just as the demons would later be driven out.

May we all make the most of this Lenten desert time; may I make it a true desert.

And may I allow myself to be driven. go to main page


Anonymous A said...

Thanks for this post and the links to the others Steph. I feel like I've just seen deeper into who you are--at the core--than in any other post I've read of yours.

Oh, have given me much to think about.
Peace to you sis

3/06/2006 12:32 PM  
Anonymous jeana said...

Nice post, Steph... you sound more and more Benedictine as time goes on! ;-)

I didn't quite get Sr. Anita's talk posted today, but I'll give you the link sometime tomorrow afternoon.

3/06/2006 7:58 PM  
Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...


I tried to post a brilliant comment this morning but my computer had a brain fart! Let's see if I can recreate it.

I noticed when I read the Gospel that he was "driven by the Spirit" into the desert. That's really how it is sometimes, eh?

Thanks for this post and for sharing more of your story. It's so amazing to see all the different ways that God works to get us where God wants us!!! Even those of who spent so long in nun-denial land!


3/06/2006 8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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3/07/2006 7:14 AM  
Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...

porn spam on a nun's blog ... what has the world come to????

And how are they bypassing the word verification feature?

3/07/2006 11:35 AM  
Anonymous jeana said...

Sr. Anita's reflection is up for general consumption now:

More will be coming each week.

3/07/2006 3:54 PM  
Anonymous jeana said...

Don't know why it didn't come through before, but add this to the end of that link:


3/07/2006 3:55 PM  
Blogger Lorem ipsum said...

My goodness, you can be another Merton, you write such wonderful things. (Okay, I haven't read him, but I think you know what I mean.)

3/07/2006 7:51 PM  

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