You may have had the experience of making casual reference to your former “cell” in a conversation with a friend or family member, only to be met with a surprised look and that inevitable comparison between convent cells and prison cells. You laughed gently and patiently explained that the word is derived from the Latin word “coeli” for “Heaven”… On the outside, you look cheerful and unaffected. On the inside, something tugs at your heart as you recall the peace of the place and that intimacy with the Lord that seemed more possible there than anywhere else.
You don’t need to be a former Dominican to have stumbled across the notion of the “inner cell,” a little gem from St. Catherine of Siena. An interior recollection that persists even through our daily comings and goings, an inner place into which one can retreat to find space to be with the Lord, even when one is at work or at a social gathering…
…yet when we leave the convent or seminary, most of us quickly lose our habit of recollection, as we are overwhelmed by the “noise” of the outside world, the constant barrage of commercial stimuli and information overload. To protect our capacity for recollection in Him, we need to learn how to be at home in our inner cell, how to abide in Him and allow Him to abide in us.
So what on earth do we do there? What does it mean to be at home in our inner cell? I’m sure there are as many answers to that as there are people, because each one of us has such a unique relationship with the Lord! However, Teresa of Avila teams up with our Blessed Mother to offer us a tip with universal value. How do we acknowledge the reality that we are in the presence of God in a given moment? How do we continue to abide with Him? Meditate upon Scripture. Ponder it “deep in our hearts” whether or not it also happens to be in our hands and open before us.
Every now and then, I thought I’d offer some of my own reflections where I have considered aspects of leaving religious life through the lens of Scripture. I offer them as conversation-starters for your own time with God.