We sometimes hear it said that “Everything is relative.” Philosophers and theologians can debate about whether this is true or not, but I think that everyone will agree that everything we know exists in relationship. Everything has some kind of relationship with something else. Each person had a father and a mother, a rock rests on the ground, animals eat some kind of food, planets attract one another, clouds move through the sky. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Even God has been revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Everything and even more, every person exists in a relationship.
Not only do we exist in a relationship, but we are made for relationship. The Bible says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; …’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” We human beings were created as a relationship, and this relationship is in the image of God. Relationship is built into our very being.
This is why loneliness is such a terrible thing. To be lonely goes against our very being. Solitary confinement is the worst form of punishment. Isolation is recognized as a psychological disorder. Someone who can’t relate to others is a deeply damaged person.
We can’t even conceive of a being who does not exist in a relationship. In “The Lord of the Rings,” Frodo, the central figure in the story, asks who another person is. He is looking for the conventual kind of description, but his interlocutor knows that such an answer is superficial. In return Frodo himself is asked, “Who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?” Outside of our relationships, we really do not exist.
Relationships are essential, and yet we so easily take them for granted. How often will an adult regret that they never got to know of their parents better while they were growing up. As children, the relationships we grow up in are simply part of the world around us. Until something happens, it never occurs to us to go deeper, to discover what it is that really unites us to another person. It is too easy to go through life with only superficial relationships.
Our relationships define us. They also challenge us to grow. I cannot come to know another person deeply without growing in my knowledge of myself. As I react and respond to the other person and they react and respond to me, I am given the opportunity to discover depths within myself which I never suspected to exist. I discover in myself depths which delight me and others which distress me, but even the distressing discoveries are still a growth in the truth of who I am, and I would never have discovered them were it not for my relationship with another person. In the same way, I enable the other to discover themself in their relationship with me.
This personal discovery of who I am and who the other is, is the essential challenge of religion, and those who enter Carmel accept this challenge, for in a poem, St. Teresa of Avila, puts these words in Jesus’ mouth:
Such is the power of love, O soul,
To paint thee in My heart.
No craftsman with such art,
Whate’er his skill might be, could there
Thine image thus impart!
‘Twas love that gave thee life :
Then, Fairest, if thou be
Lost to thyself, thou’lt see
Thy portrait in My bosom stamped :
Soul, seek thyself in Me !
Why a Website?
May 16th, 2018
Recently, the directors of our web design program made a policy change which forced us to re-design our website from the ground up, with the result that you now see. It was a learning curve for our Sister Webmistress, and there is still work to do to get the site to correspond to what we want. It also caused us to consider anew why we are doing this. Why do we have a website? Should we have a website? What made cloistered contemplative nuns decide to have a website, and to have this website?
People have questioned the whole idea of nuns posting on the World Wide Web. Aren’t cloistered nuns called to live a hidden life? A life of silence and solitude? Why have an enclosure wall and shutters and Turns so that we are not seen, and then post our thoughts and photos on the internet?
The answer is simple: we are called to be witnesses to the world of the power of hidden and silent prayer. Yes, we live a hidden life, a silent life, a life of prayer and communion with God and with one another. That is our vocation. And as religious, we are called to witness to the world that this life has the power to radiate God’s grace into the lives of other people. All religious are called to be witnesses of God’s love and power, and we are not excused from that call by the wall which enfolds our hiddenness. This is part of the challenge of the cloister.
The cloistered life has always had a certain mystique even within the Catholic Church. In past centuries, however, most Catholics knew about nuns and the vocation they were called to live. Most Catholics had heard of St. Therese of Lisieux or had read her biography, “Story of a Soul.” In this way they came to have a certain understanding of what she was and of what she was called to live. People knew about monasteries and they visited them and talked with the Sisters at the Turn, or they wrote to them, asking their prayers. Cloistered nuns lived a hidden life, but it was not an invisible or unknown life.
But this familiarity with the cloister has greatly diminished and almost disappeared among American Catholics. The ordinary witness of our lives given in the past to family members is greatly reduced. This however, does not excuse us from witnessing. We just need to discover new ways to do so. A website is one of those ways. Like the Turn, where we converse with visitors without being seen, we can express our thoughts and make known our lives without losing our hiddenness. It is a powerful means of witnessing and that witnessing is all the more needed as people find their lives sliding into meaninglessness.
Pope Francis understands the importance of cloistered nuns and the witness we are called to give. In his Apostolic Constitution, “Vultum Dei Quaerere,” he writes, Dear sisters, …The world and the Church need you to be beacons of light for the journey of the men and women of our time. This should be your prophetic witness.
A beacon is meant to shine out and radiate light. We hope that our website will help to accomplish this.
Relationship – The Carmelite Charism
In the Catholic Church, there are a vast variety of religious orders and congregations, and each one manifests a different facet of our religion. To consider only the long-established and well-known Orders, the Benedictines show the Church at prayer and praise of God. The Franciscans reveal joy of Gospel poverty. The Dominicans manifest the contemplation of the Truth. And the Carmelites? What is the essence of the Carmelite charism?
Our Father General, Fr. Saverio Cannistrà, said in a conference that St. Teresa of Jesus, our Foundress, created a life based upon this: a life made up of relationships, deep relationships. Primarily, a deep relationship with Jesus Christ, and then, in Him, deep relationships with our Sisters in the Community, relationships which help a person to grow and which bring her along the path to union with God. Carmelite life is very simple, even austere. We do not have the beauty of the Benedictine liturgy, or the intellectual richness of the Dominicans, or even the exuberant community life of the Franciscan Poor Clares. All we have is a very simple life style, our relationship in prayer with Jesus, and our relationships with one another. If I move outside of these relationships, there is really nothing left in Carmel. One can truly say that the essence of the Carmelite charism is relationship.
This can sound paradoxical because aren’t Carmelite nuns enclosed? How much of any kind of relationship can a woman have shut up in a cloister? What kind of a relationship can you have with an invisible, intangible, inaudible God? In subsequent articles we will look more deeply into these questions and into the realities to which they lead us.