Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Contemplative Life, the Cloister and Monasticism

    More and more I am finding myself wanting to live in a cloister. With what is going on in our world and in our country, it is not a surprise that an introvert like myself would want to head for the hills to pray. To reach the wild mountain woods and make my dwelling there would be a dream; except for the bears and mountain lions, which are not part of the dream. I recently went to the local Carmelite cloister to drop off some prayer intentions and dear sweet Sister Therese thought I was there because I was interested in entering! That totally made my day by the way.

    In reality, God is not calling me to that life; at least not yet. So, I have been meditating on how I can live this cloistered life amidst the life that God is calling me to live right now. I am so blessed that my husband shares these sentiments for monasticism so that we can make our home life a place of respite from the world. Now, we do not live our life according to a monastery bell or schedule, although that would be awesome!

    This Lent we changed things up a bit to promote a more monastic home atmosphere. Step one was getting off of social media which for us just meant FB since that is all we had. This step was primarily for me, as JJ could care less about social media or the internet for that matter. Prior to deactivating our account, I would only go on FB when JJ could log me in, since he changed the password. Taking this step prior to going off completely was very helpful for me. We decided to log off of FB for good. There are so many reasons behind this decision, but one major reason is so that we can have less of a distraction from living a more prayerful centered life. I do miss the easy acess to people interaction that comes with social media and the actual people I would interact with, but this has made me grow in intercessory prayer because, whenever I think about how someone might be doing, I pray for them and their intentions.

    The second thing we did was to stop watching television. We do not have cable, but we had an antenna that we would watch basic TV channels with. We unhooked the antenna so we can only watch a DVD when we wanted to. We did not get rid of our TV for Lent because my workouts are primarily on DVD and we still wanted to watch movies. This has made our movie down time with entertainment more purposeful and conscious. We also still watch shows online if we can get them, but if not, oh well, we just miss it. This has given us more time for prayer, reading and just connecting with one another. It has been making us more mindful of how much time we could be doing other things rather than watching shows. We are now trying to exercise temperance when we want to watch television.

    Daily exercise has been another thing to promote a more interior life. How so you say? Well a cloistered life does not exclude physical activity; it is actually a vital part of it. In cloistered life they have recreational time which often includes exercise or physical labor out in the garden. Movement actually helps our mind to calm down, which can help us focus more on meditative prayer. I find that my daily walks are often a time of stress relief and help me focus on mental prayer better the next day, since I often go for my walk after my morning prayer. The more vigorous work outs I do are especially helpful for building up endurance which reminds me to persevere in prayer. Plus, when you are on the 59th walking lunge or 3rd circuit of planks during your work out, it tends to be the perfect time to ask for God's help.

    Another odd thing I have subtly started doing has been to make more vegetarian meals at home. I have incorporated more legumes and fish for our lunches and dinners along with lots of veggies. You may not know, but often times, monastic life includes eating a vegetarian or mostly vegetarian diet. Why? Well, because the idea is to eat food that you can mostly grow yourself since monasteries usually have to be self sustaining and meat can be expensive. Having a garden of fruits and vegetables is easier to sustain than a cattle farm on site and it also takes up less space. Also, the monastic life is about cultivating a life of prayer and penance, so abstaining from meat was a commonly known monastic practice.

    Daily prayer has been key for me to be able to keep up mental prayer throughout the day. I usually take my prayer time right when I wake up, so I keep my missal and bible within arms reach. I usually wake between 6am-7am if not earlier and take about 1/2 hour for prayer time. In the past I have not been a fan of the liturgy of the hours. I have tried, but it is just not my cup of tea. I would like to incorporate the Angelus at 6am, 12pm and 6pm so that I am reminded throughout the day to continually turn my mind and heart toward God.

    It has been difficult to incorporate daily Mass for me, since I am slow to get going in the morning and I have to eat breakfast within an hour or two (at the most) after waking. I usually go for my daily walk after breakfast, which I could do after Mass. I am working on shifting my schedule a bit to be able to go to daily Mass at 7:30am at the local cloister.

    Another very important element of cloistered or monastic life is silence! Sometimes it is so difficult to be in silence without music, television or conversation. I know those of you raising little ones crave the silence and find it impossible to have silent time at home. I have been thinking of how to incorporate silence once we are raising children and all I can come up with is to have a quiet time after lunch either before or during nap time. When I was in a classroom with pre-schoolers and two year olds, we would have silent or nap time after lunch. If the children did not want to nap then they had to play quietly or read. Again, I am not sure how this would work at home, but I guess we will figure that out when we get there.

    Sometimes we are afraid of silence because it feels like and emptiness or absence. We are surrounded so much by noise from the world with social media, our electronics and our own need for self gratification that we often spend our prayer time chit chatting away or fighting the desire to get back to our daily tasks. After about 5 minutes, the silence can sometimes feel like we are alone or shunned by God or we do not know what to do with ourselves. At Mass on Easter, I heard a beautiful homily on the contemplative life and it was a beautiful confirmation for me to keep striving for silence. Here is a tidbit from that homily...

    "Silence is not an absence, it is a fullness.... Silence is the storehouse of prayer...Let us be like the candles we lit tonight. A candle exemplifies the contemplative life perfectly. It is a silent flame that burns brightly. Let us be a silent burning heart of prayer. " -Fr. DiRocco Easter Homily 2017

    Isn't that beautiful! What a powerful perspective on silence with regards to the contemplative life and prayer! God is waiting for us in those secret and silent crevices of our lives and hearts. He awaits to meet us there to love, heal and strengthen us. What a joy we can have by living our lives more closely connected to Him prayer both vocal and mental.

    I am no expert at a contemplative or monastic life, but I feel compelled and wooed to continue to seek it out. Perhaps this is because I will need all the strength and grace I can muster to deal with the foster care system and to continue on our own NaPro journey. I realize that all these disciplines we put in place during Lent have yielded so much fruit for me; and this has made me all the more grateful.


  1. Found this post so interesting... i definitely am attracted to that lifestyle as well and am having an especially hard time incorporating any of these things regularly during this season of my life. I think I need to limit myself on social media again for starters..

    1. That is always the hard part, starting. I found that I was on FB for a lot of the groups because you can get some great advice, tips and support from those walking your similar journey and you can be a source of knowledge/support for others too. Then I realized I was not reaching out to those closest to me for those things or if I was I was exhausted and overwhelmed by ALL of the opinions and information so my anxiety and irritability was higher. Being off FB I started to reach out more to those around me. I actually became busier by being off FB but my time was more well ordered. I think any lay person who desires to live a more contemplative life or is living a more contemplative life will have limited social media if any at all. Sorry for my long ramblings... this subject is just so fascinating to me. I will pray for your discernment :)

    2. Wow, that is a fascinating perspective. Perhaps I will be able to make that transition easier since we are living in Pittsburgh and close to family again, making more friends, etc

  2. Love this, Kat! I have been thinking about how to incorporate more "contemplative" type lifestyle into our home that is chaotic and there are some simple good ideas here.