By Sackcloth Dreams.
Recently, I was part of a discussion about theology students wearing the roman collar. One side said that seminarians shouldn’t wear the collar because it confuses people and they think a guy is a priest when he is not. But the former seminarian at the table explained how wearing the collar helped him feel more committed in his studies and the path he had embarked upon. It was interesting to hear.
The fact is, our bodies and our clothes matter, whether we like it or not. The outside reflects the interior, but our interior can also be shaped by our exterior. When I feel yucky in the morning, my initial reaction is to put on something comfortable and well-worn. I don’t want to put forth the energy to look nice. I want easy. But yet, if I stop myself and make the effort to look nice on the outside, it makes a difference in my attitude. There have been many days where I felt down but my usual clothes were in the laundry. As a result, I had to “dress up” because that was all I had. And it made a difference.
The day I entered the convent and changed into my postulant outfit was intense and most of it is a blur. But I do remember wanting to stand up tall and have proper posture to almost show respect to my new life and community, represented by my clothes. This feeling continued during my time there. My attire almost commanded me to carry myself a certain way.
When I returned to lay life, clothes were hard to come by. I don’t have sisters and I didn’t have any friends of the
same size/body type. As a result, I was given some ill-fitting clothes by people in order to get through and I used them for a long time (too long). I hate shopping with a passion and I didn’t have the money to get a new wardrobe. But I also didn’t feel like making the effort because I thought I wasn’t worth it. This created a cycle which I am still battling.
In “Searching for and Maintaining Peace” Fr. Jacques Philippe demonstrates the importance of the body and our actions. He says, “I should begin to strive to this peace in the easier situations of everyday life… to avoid excessive hurry in my gestures and the way I climb the stairs! The soul is often reeducated by the body!” (pg 82).
Haven’t we all experienced this? Don’t you pray differently when you are kneeling as opposed to sitting or lying down, for example? We have many times throughout our day when we sit, stand, lean, lie down, etc. But in Western culture we very rarely kneel or prostrate ourselves. This makes these postures meaningful. In regards to my surroundings, when I am in a beautiful church it is much easier to raise my mind to God. Furthermore, when I used to work in the Capitol I was often tempted to genuflect in the legislative chambers because the architecture was beautiful!
I had noticed this when thinking of postures in prayer, the beauty of a church and other more obviously “spiritual
matters” but I hadn’t ever thought about it in regards to my appearance. I am blessed to have a spiritual director who has been helping me grow and pray through my struggles with my exterior. He has constantly encouraged me to pray with these difficulties and be open and honest with the Lord. It is humbling to realize how much of our identity is wrapped up in our exterior. I tried to deny this reality for so long and now I am forced to surrender. It does matter.
So how about you? How did you feel about clothes? Was it hard to give up religious garb because it saved you from clothing decisions? Or did you immediately go to the trendiest store after returning and run up a big bill?
Advent isn’t just a time of hope – it’s a reminder of in Whom to place that hope!
That seems pretty intuitive – almost “Captain Obvious,” really… but there’s a reason why we get an annual reminder of this!
If you work in any kind of commercial enterprise you’ve probably encountered the notion of “expectations management” before. Keep expectations reasonable (or lower) and exceed them. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver! The idea being that disappointment is the result of unmet expectations. If we extrapolate this, we come to the conclusion that if we hope too much then we’re sure to be disappointed.
Some of the things that can disappoint us at Christmas are:
- the food you’ve painstakingly planned and prepared doesn’t turn out as well as you had hoped it would
- some members of the family didn’t manage to make it to (or prioritise) the family gathering
- that the same two members of the family who are always at each others’ throats are at it again!
- that you’re too tired to enjoy the day, much less the season
- the music at the Christmas Mass is sub-par
- the neighbour’s party is loud and there are excesses of drugs and alcohol and their behaviour on the other side of the back fence is disruptive and so NOT what you think Christmas should be…
and… and… and…
See what I did there? Where was Our Lord in any of that?
These things ARE irritating when they happen. But if we place ALL of our hope in Jesus and His coming, we should be able to be peaceful amidst the chaos of life in our fallen world.
Not in an avoidance sort of way, you understand.
I mean REAL peace, all the while acknowledging inconvenience or unpleasantness and experiencing how those things feel. Living life, but keeping things in perspective.
Yep – we live in a fallen world.
Yep – at least SOME of our best laid plans for our Christmas gatherings and celebrations will invariably go wrong.
But I reject the idea that hoping for too much is the source of disappointment. Rather – hoping for things in anÂ inordinateÂ way is the source of disappointment.
It’s great to have plans, and natural, human hopes for our upcoming festivities – but these should all be subordinate to the coming of Our Lord, and what that truly MEANS for each one of us. If we’ve spent any time in prayer or meditation at all this Advent, we’ve somehow been confronted with our profound NEED for Jesus. We KNOW we need to let Him into our daily lives more. Our hearts are crying out for Him from the depths of our fallenness! (Who knew the De Profundis was such an Adventish prayer?!?)
Expectations management may well be applied to client relationships in industry, but it does NOT belong in our faith life! We have an INFINITE God who has adopted us as His children! We have an INFINITE Saviour, Emmanuel, God among us!!
When He in whom we hope is infinite, and His love and desire to draw us to Himself is ALSO infinite, how could we ever be disappointed?
If the family is fighting, or someone just doesn’t show up – it’s hard, but it’s just an example of the fallen reality that Christ’s coming is intended to heal! When the fight breaks out, or you get word that someone isn’t coming… give it to Him. Really and truly make that act of your will – surrender it to Him and ask Him to help you be that person in the family to lift everyone else’s spirits!
If the turkey is a little too dry, or something burns, when you’re preparing the Christmas meal? I don’t believe even that tiny (in the scheme of things) annoyance is beneath the notice of the infinite King who became small, became an infant, for you. Look over at the little nativity scene that is set up in your home (or in your mind’s eye, if you don’t have one) and imagine the baby Jesus being such a cute and cuddly little bundle of baby that your heart just melts, and look, there, you’ve already found something more meaningful than whether or not the food is perfect.
Etc. etc. My point: invite Jesus into EVERY ASPECT OF THE DAY. Sometimes, ironically enough, it’s these little things that can help prompt us to remember Him, whose day it is. We might forget to even THINK of Him if everything went perfectly! See it for the invitation it is to include Our Lord in the feast of His own Nativity!
I truly hope you and your family have a very blessed and joyful Christmas! I hope you can find your peace in Him – the fulfillment of your hopes in Him! Be gentle and patient with yourself, be gentle and patient with others, drive safely if you’re travelling, and include Him in every aspect of the Christmas Season that your creativity allows!
I have a confession to make. My name is not really “Guadalupana.” However, Our Lady of Guadalupe played a role in my name in religious life and I am going to pray that she guides me in this blog post; to share what is on my heart!
Near the end of postulancy, I had a “home visit”. During this visit, my beautiful maternal grandmother whom I was very close to gave me a book about Our Lady of Guadalupe titled “Am I Not Here?” This encounter and book are special to me. It was the last time I saw my grandmother alive; she ended up passing away during my first year of novitiate. As my grandmother pointed me to Mary, Mary would want to point us to Jesus. Am I not here? This is true for Our Mother but also for her Son, Jesus. He is here with us and wants us to more deeply know of His love and for us to receive it.
God is Love. We hear this phrase often. I’ve said it often. Yet, here is confession: A part of me struggled with this even though I’ve had many graces that should lead me to do otherwise. I won’t go into the details why, but off & on during the past few months when hearing Gospel passages where it sounded as if Jesus was “yelling” at the Pharisees, fear & worry would surface and a question which was semi-hiding in my heart would come out. How would Jesus treat me? Would He have treated me, for instance, in the same manner as a sister who at times had lost her temper at me over little things? Were they little things? Is God displeased at me? Does He look at me like His beloved daughter and treat me gently or does He look at every mistake I make waiting to “pounce”?! This uncertainty that was in my heart would cause me to lose my peace when “bad things happen” or when someone would speak harshly or when hearing certain Gospel passages. Uncertainty can lead to a cycle of questioning God’s love, being hard on self, & being unforgiving towards others when it arises.
A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with a priest for spiritual direction that had a really good impact on me as well as a meditation and talk on the topic of “Forgiveness of Self.” This brought greater clarity, peace, and healing to my soul. This post would be too long to share everything (and it is probably too long now!), but here are five main points from this night that may be of help to anyone else who has been in a similar situation (religious life or not) or who has had similar questions lingering in their hearts.
- I tried, I desire to love & serve the Lord, and I need to enjoy His Company.
The priest told me how he had suffered through novitiate. Novitiate is a drastic shift. We are not sure what to do. He reassured me that I had given it a sincere try. He said that I love God a lot (I do?!) & God appreciates it (yay!). He told me that in my desire to love & serve God, be careful not to get over analytical. Drop it when I start to worry & analyze. Worrying is a cross that is self-afflicted. Enjoy God’s company. I’m not a Pharisee. I need to distinguish shortcomings from hypocrisy; which entails not trying & only being interested in the facade. Let God love me. I cannot earn God‘s love but I don’t have to; He just loves me.
- I am not closing the door on God & He will make something beautiful out of all of this.
The priest assured me that by closing the door to religious life, I am not closing it on God. Rather, God has closed the door on religious life for me. (In the past, being told that would have bothered me…I would have felt rejected by God. However, now it brought me comfort. God has not rejected me. God knows what’s best for me. As I typed this, I recalled something a religious sister shared with me after I had told her that I was not called to make first vows. This sister told me that while she was before the Blessed Sacrament & telling the Lord that she didn’t understand why I wasn’t called to vows, she heard the Lord say: “I know better. I will take care of her.”) The priest also told me that I had a rough journey and it’s a mystery why God allowed it, but He would only allow it if He can draw something good & beautiful from it and it was not a punishment. Confide in God’s mercy & grace. He is a loving God.
- Have a healthy social life & be open to God’s will, which may be to marriage.
Have the freedom to enjoy self without worry. Also, we love Jesus by doing His will, such as getting married. If it’s not His will, He’ll let me know. God willed me to exist and He is involved with the dating process because He is involved in my life.
- Let go of shame and welcome “DTC”
In Luke 5:1 (the calling of St. Peter), St. Peter told Jesus to depart from him because he’s a sinful man. (Peter was hard on himself. Jesus instead told Peter to not be afraid and that he’ll be catching men. Jesus held Peter still. Peter could have given into great shame. Shame: “should have mastered everything”. We tell ourselves that we should have been better by now, etc. Rather, I belong to the “deserving of tenderness club” (DTC)! I deserve to be affirmed and to affirm self. Self-inflicting torture can take up room where the Lord wants to dwell. Don’t go to bed without forgiving yourself. Wrap yourself in your Father’s arms and let the Lord affirm you. Let Him show you how He sees you.
- Accept God’s mercy and love.
One way to accept God’s mercy is to accept Him looking at you. Look at Jesus crucified & take the time to let Him look at you, to accept the gift of Himself on the cross. He loves you by giving Himself to you. It’s done. You’ve been forgiven. We can use a crisis to reaffirm our identity: I’m a beloved daughter of God; You gave Your life for me. It’s an opportunity to go deeper through the struggle. There may be lies such as “I’m not worthy to be loved” or “there are so many things I didn’t do well.” Reality: You are a beloved daughter of God and He loves you. St. Therese of Lisieux offered herself to the love of God, not to His justice. God has a lot of love to give but not enough to receive it. St. Therese’s Little Way, confidence in God, acceptance of His love, being His child. She accepted to be loved. Receive His love.
We can always go deeper into the reality of God’s love for us. “Am I Not Here?” Yes, Mary is with us. Yes, God is with us. Yes, all those in Heaven are with us. They want us to know that we are not alone in our struggles AND that God wants to set us free from the worries that stop us from enjoying His Company and to be at peace. “…the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflict you, is nothing. Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. Do not fear… Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you…” – Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego (1531)
aka the Should Syndrome.
noun: The anxious/nagging/unsettled/perturbed feeling that arises when one experiences tension between current reality and where they think they ought to be
synonym: “Should Syndrome”, examples may include:
I should be ready for a job. I should be ready to date. I should be ready to go out with friends on a Friday night. I should be able to pray like I used to. I should be able to stop crying. I should be ok with shopping in stores or being out in large crowds.
Taming the Transition Time(line)lion and, consequently, Should Syndrome is no small feat. Often it rears its roaring head or utters its almost inaudible growls at the most inopportune times. This concept is in no way specific to the unique experience of transitioning from religious life to the lay state. Those who are going through the process of grieving a loved one’s death experience this, stay at home moms as the size of their family increases, those who struggle with infertility, professionals changing jobs or careers; all experience this phenomenon at some point in their life. The focus of this little reflection, however, will be directed toward the specifics of what you and I have been uniquely called to – continuing our relationship with God after discerning a different path to Heaven outside of religious life.
Three years later, with some time to process and a bit of distance, I offer these thoughts. In the early days after leaving the community I discerned with, almost every moment was a reminder that I wasn’t there. Not a day went by that I didn’t think of the sisters, that I didn’t have dreams that I was supposed to be in habit and wasn’t and that while there was great freedom without an horarium, being devoid of any schedule was ultimately offsetting. The only prayer I could utter for months was simply the name of Jesus. The mere sight of a Breviary broke my heart in two and the Transition TimeLion growled, “It’s been 6 months already, I should feel more stable than I do. I need to re-enter the workforce, but I feel incapable of entering the previous career I had. Surely, I should be ready by now.”
The interesting thing I found with the Transition TimeLion is that the expectations I felt pressured by or the things I felt I ought to be doing were not coming from anyone other than myself. I was the one disregarding the need of my heart that simply called for time and space to transition. The roaring and growling were insecurities that arose because I felt uncomfortable in this place of utter vulnerability that I had never encountered before. I wanted out! I wanted the fog to lift and the heartache and the unknowing to be over. However, this was an invitation to something deeper, to a new stage of my relationship with the Lord – to suffer being patient with myself. To trust, truly trust, that He has my greatest good at heart. I often am not able to see it in the moment, but those grueling, agonizing moments are the “stuff” of redemption. So are the moments of great joy and peace that follow.
Many times in the last three years, the TimeLion has appeared and reappeared in my life. So, what does one do in these moments and how does one tame this creature? I offer only the aids I have come to know through personal experience. You perhaps also have insightful wisdom which I welcome you to share for the Timelion can be tamed in a multitude of ways.
- Laugh. Yes, even if it is a forced laugh. I envision Beast from Beauty and the Beast when he is getting gussied up for his dinner with Belle and dons ridiculous curls with bows as one of the possible hair do’s. Puts the whole roaring lion of the interior life into perspective.
- Enter into beauty. Beauty allows us to encounter new aspects of our Creator that surprise us and almost immediately lift the soul, in delight, out of itself. Beauty will look different for each of us (and our Creator knows that). For some it will be a majestic sunset over the mountains, for others the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies out of the oven, the giggle of a niece or nephew or a blossoming wild flower we unexpectedly encounter on our path. Whatever it is, He created it for you.
- Recreate. I apologize if even the sight of this term we encountered in religious life makes you cringe, but stick with me. Engage in activities you loved doing before you entered religious life and do them just for the sake of doing them (and because you can). Paint, play your musical instrument, go for a run, canoe, drink a cup of coffee while you’re getting ready in the morning. Utilize some of those new gifts/skills you learned in religious life for fun now. I learned to sew and now thoroughly enjoy making all of my niece’s gifts by hand.
- Trust. God has never been, is not now and will never be in crisis about your vocation. All of what He allows us to experience in this transition is part of Plan A. There isn’t a Plan B. It is not the case that we discerned incorrectly or failed. In fact, this discernment was actually successful despite the possible feeling that the Lord duped us (and perhaps, like me, you let yourself be duped). He loves us infinitely and has given us a particular grace specific to only those who transition from religious life to lay life. There will be a time and a place when He reveals the details of our vocation to us, but for now, He is simply calling each of us more closely to Himself.
So, when the Transition TimeLion begins to roar, know that you are already infinitely loved by the Triune God who loved you into existence and desires to be in relationship with you regardless of how quickly you get back on your feet, what you do or don’t do, achieve or don’t achieve. Let us rest a bit, be gentle with our hearts and take our time discovering who we are in the eyes of the Father.
When I was in the convent as a postulant we were in charge of cooking. The kitchen sister would tell us the menu for the day and then we had to execute it. As a result, I learned many new recipes that I hadn’t ever encountered before. Some sounded strange initially but ended up being surprisingly delicious. We also had many special desserts for feast days and holidays that were truly amazing. And then of course kitchen accidents or sisters trying to make due with limited resources resulted in some interesting creations. I though it might be fun to share recipes that we experienced in the convent. Here are a few of mine to get us started:
Sr. Katie’s Saltine Dessert
We needed dessert and the baking cupboards were bare. An industrious classmate of mine pulled this together using what was available and everyone enjoyed it! Lay out saltines on a cookie tray, (over wax paper makes it easier to get dessert out and to clean.) Pour homemade caramel, (1 cup butter and 1 cup brown sugar, boiled until thick and bubbly,) on top of saltines. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and melt in the oven. Spread the chocolate evenly over the top and then harden in the freezer. Break into little squares.
Please share your favorite recipes and cooking stories below!
Here’s one thing that works to my advantage: I’ll never need to pay a psychoanalyst to decipher the hidden meaning of my dreams. Last night, for example, I was kneeling in my parish church when the Sisters from my former community unexpectedly walked in. They didn’t see me, but I watched them as they genuflected and took their seats near the front, and I wondered whether or not to go over and join them, since I wasn’t wearing my postulant uniform. Then I woke up.
Nearly two years out of the convent, my subconscious clearly still hasn’t quite let go of what might have been. Thankfully, it’s better than it was: at around the time I would have received the habit, for example, I started waking up in the middle of my Clothing ceremony several nights a week. (At least my community had the understated custom of giving the novice’s religious name at the start of the ceremony rather than the end, so I always got that far!) After about a year back in the world, I’d dream myself standing outside the convent in twilight, just as I had stood in real life while wheeling out the bins each week during postulancy, looking up through a window into the brightly-lit community room where the Sisters were gathering for evening recreation. Now, I wonder what that dream means?
For a long time after returning to the world, I slept a lot, but badly: going to bed at 8.30pm, waking up as late as possible the next day, and getting dizzy with tiredness sometime in the late afternoon. A number of times, I was appointed designated driver home from outings when, despite being stone-cold sober, by 10pm by I was definitely no safer to drive than anyone else in the car. (If I make it to heaven one day, I confidently expect that Saint Christopher will be waiting just inside the pearly gates to deliver a lecture on the subject that I’ll never forget.)
Not being a doctor, I can’t offer medical advice, but if you’re in this situation I can tell you a few things that have worked for me:
1) For a short-term rescue if you’re getting faint during the day, forget the sugar and eat a salami stick. I started carrying some around with me (the individually-wrapped ones), and found that the salt, fat and juices gave a much better energy boost than chocolate.
2) The biggest one: no screens for an hour before bed-time. No phone, computer or even TV, as the bright lights apparently interfere with the brain’s sleep cues. (Well, minimal screens, anyway. I cheat. I’m cheating as I write this now, in fact.) This one actually fixed most of my sleep problems in one go, and drastically reduced the dizzy spells next day.
3) Chamomile tea. If you’re like me, the challenge, waking or sleeping, is to find a channel in your mind that’s not playing repeats of Life in the Convent. Slowly drinking a cup of chamomile tea just before turning out the light can help gently disconnect those loops of thought and take you downward into sleep.
And then there’s the 2am demon: what if I’d…/perhaps if I’d…/if only I’d… (Or its evil twin, what if they’d…/perhaps if they’d…/if only they’d…) The only thing that helps here, unfortunately, is time and a conscious effort to understand and process the grief. It’s as though every memory of life in the convent, good or bad, is a sharp edge that needs to be gone over with sandpaper a certain number of times before it gets dull enough that you can handle it. However, it’s 2am and you’d really like to go back to sleep, so what can be done for some relief in the meantime?
Here, I’ll pass on three suggestions from the wise and patient priest who suddenly found a wildly unhappy recent ex-postulant in his confessional back in 2013.
1) If you’re playing certain scenes over and over, perhaps making magnificent speeches where you actually once stood mute, bring your sense of the absurd into play. Imagine the scene with Bert and Ernie in the background reacting to what’s going on, or Mr. T providing a running commentary. If it sounds extremely stupid, that’s because it is… but I actually laughed out loud the first time I tested it on one of my painful convent memories.
2) Or, if that’s just too silly for words, how about this? Imagine you’re sitting at a table so long that the far end disappears into the distance, and slowly, gently slide the people you’re angry with down the table away from you, further and further until they’re so small you can’t see them anymore. Keep them there and turn your mind to something else.
3) If all else fails or – worse – the person you’re angry with is yourself, then turn the light on and write down, very specifically, what is bothering you. Then (my own later addition), decide on something concrete that you will do in the morning to move on from that situation. I will say a decade of the Rosary for someone’s intentions. I will put $5 in the Saint Vincent de Paul box. I will make coffee for my parents/housemates. I will say the Office of the Dead for the souls in Purgatory. Anything, as long as it’s clear, charitable and constructive. Then turn the light off and, for heaven’s sake, go back to sleep.
And me? Self-evidently, I’m not “over” the most vivid months of my life just yet. But two years out is a hell of an improvement over two months out, no longer bittersweetly receiving the habit night after night being but one example. The Sisters still walk through my dreams sometimes (do I ever, I wonder, walk through theirs?), but slowly, a couple of years behind schedule, my heart and mind are catching up to my life in the outside world. Thanks be to God.