Monasteries of the Heart

Little Blog for Beginners: Some Thoughts Before a Change

Well, it's really happening.

At the end of this month, the Sunday after Easter, I'll become a postulant with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, starting the process of initial monastic formation. Ever since I met this community, about four years ago, I've been wondering if entering into it more fully was a real possibility for me, and after a lot of praying, talking myself out of it, listening to other people's opinions and stories, and crumpling up pros-and-cons lists, I've decided that at least I'd better try it. You know. Just to see.

There's something here, something I need to put myself in the way of. Something I need to learn, need to make myself live.

I'm a little nervous to write too extensively about my hopes for this process. That's partly because I don't want to sound too lofty, too romantic about all this. I don't want to look back at this (like I look back at so many diary entries) and cringe at my abundant, overt naïveté. And I'm also nervous to write too much about my hopes because I don't want to get ahead of myself: I think I could be in this community for my whole life, but I could also easily find out, in three months or a year and a half, or even later than that, that this was only right for me for a part of my life. I want to stay in the mindset of discernment, of seeing how this plays out, without assuming any particular outcome. 

This afternoon, I had an experience that illustrated how I'm trying to approach this new phase of my life. I was with one of my godchildren at the Lake, giving it a good long look after several months of being kept away by cold weather. She was skipping stones like a consummate professional, I was trying not to cringe as she edged her little cloth sneakers ever closer to the frigid water lapping up on the shore. I spotted a little speck of beach glass, bright bottle green and perfectly oval, and called her over to look at it. 

"Isn't this beach glass beautiful?" I said. 

She gave me the purest, most innocent smile as she took it from my hand and put it in her pocket and said, "Thank you!"

I hadn't really thought of giving it to her; I'd just wanted her to see it. But I loved her reaction. No uncertainty, no pre-adolescent feigned disinterest, no trace of any surprise that she would be offered some small treasure. Just curiosity, and quick, ready, open hands, and recognition that of course she deserved a piece of something beautiful, and gratitude. I watched her and thought, That's what I need to be like as a postulant. Ready to receive the gifts. Ready to pass them along, too, of course––this experience can't just be about my own greed and self-centeredness. But I hope I can bring her kind of openness to this next step, to whatever lies ahead.

 In the meantime, as I transition from my freewheeling apartment-dwelling bachelorette lifestyle to monastic life, I'm trying to let the people around me know that I'm grateful for all the patience and grace they've been extending to me. God, do I struggle through moves, changes, and transitions. God, do I snap at people, roll my eyes, and make snide remarks. God, do I burst into tears easily. And still, whether or not I deserve it, my coworkers, my friends, my mentors have been kind and understanding through it all. Through my jabbing comments and through the ever-unfolding saga of my family's reactions, through my eleventh-hour worrying that this move is unadulterated selfishness on my part, there's always been someone willing to listen, to give advice, to distract, to commiserate. For Sister Carolyn, who lets me lie down on her own bed if I need a nap after work, I'm grateful. For Mary Lou, whose office door is almost always open, I'm grateful. For Breanna, who drove a 10-foot UHaul across the whole state of Pennsylvannia for me, I'm grateful. For everyone who's let me know they're praying for me, or who's asked me, sincerely, how I'm doing, I'm grateful. 

So, that's what I'm trying to bring with me as I enter the monastery: gratitude, an open mind, and a little receptiveness, along with my surly, restless, anxious self. We'll see what happens. Whatever comes next––whether I'm here for my whole life or for a few weeks––I'm trusting in its goodness.

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A blog by Jacqueline Small
What happens when a woman in her mid-twenties begins to work, pray, and share life with a community of Benedictine sisters? What questions arise and what wisdom emerges? This blog will offer peeks into one young seeker’s experiences. Jacqueline is a staff member of Monasteries of the Heart and an oblate of Mount Saint Benedict Monastery. She holds a Bachelors degree in Sociology from Swarthmore College, a Masters in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Masters in Social Work from Rutgers University.