Draconian Stylist asked me this in jest, and of course it got me thinking. Well, not straight away, it was a few hours later on, when I’d woken in the middle of the night and was unable to go back to sleep. My brain being what it is, it started pondering upon why so many people perceive Religious (that is, Monks & Nuns, Brothers & Sisters who live in Religious Communities/Orders) as being somewhat other than normal.
I think part of it is that the life we lead is actually quite intense. Not only are we required to be fixated on God, we’re constantly, throughout each and every day, called back to the object of our fixation. There’s no let-up in the requirement to be open to the call of God, to be in the presence of God and to live as a Child of God.
Firstly there’s the daily routine. Here, we wake at 6am (or thereabouts; some Sisters rise a little earlier than this) and then at 6:25, we have 45 minutes of silent, private prayer/meditation. As a Novice, I have to be in a designated prayer place for this, so I generally go to our Chapel.
At 7:25am, the First Bell goes to call us to Lauds (Morning Prayer). The 2nd Bell is rung at 7:30, and that’s the formal start of this particular section of the Greater Office. Ideally, we have to be in our places in Chapel before First Bell – so this is why I usually do Quiet Time in Chapel!
On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Lauds is followed by a Said Eucharist (Mass/Holy Communion/Lord’s Supper).
From Chapel we go to breakfast, then onto the morning’s duties. As a Novice, I have classes or study time in the mornings on weekdays. On Saturday, I take my turn on the rota for covering the Portress (reception), and on Sundays we have a Sung Eucharist at 9:30.
At about half past 12, everyone is then heading back to Chapel for Mid-Day Office, which is usually at 12:40 – except on Saturdays when it’s at 12 noon, or on Tuesdays and Thursdays when it’s at 12:15 and then followed by the Eucharist. And then we go to Dinner.
After Dinner, I’m usually doing some form of job around the place – helping out with updating the website or something, or study if I’ve still got things to do. We have informal tea and cake at about 4pm-ish, and then Vespers (Evening Prayer) is at 6pm (except on Sundays when it’s at 4:30pm). Supper follows shortly after Vespers, and then evenings are reasonably free time for doing things like personal emails, letter writing, crafting and so on, until Compline (night prayer) which is at 9pm except on Fridays when it’s at 8:30pm and Sundays when we say our own. After Compline, we go to bed.
So throughout the day, we are constantly brought back to Chapel, to gather and to pray for the world (because that’s what the Divine Office is for). The longest time between visits to Chapel while awake is 5 hours.
What’s the point of all this? Well, the Divine Office is our offering, a sacrifice of praise and worship, and of intercession, for the world. By “for”, I mean on behalf of, as well as “for” meaning about. We are all here because on some level, we are called to a life of prayer. Some people – like Blessed Theresa of Calcutta – are called to be very hands-on with their ministry, to be in with the people and helping them in a very practical way. But others are called to be holding onto a bigger picture, and that is by praying for and on behalf of the world, and those who are working to make it a better place. Theresa couldn’t have done the work she did without the prayer support of her community, and of other communities around the world.
As well as all this going to Chapel to pray, there is a lot of silence. We have times when we do not talk at all, except in emergencies, called Greater Silence. This is from the end of Compline (or 10pm, whichever is earlier) until after breakfast. We have times when we only talk in relation to business needs, so if I am in a class or needing information about a particular task I am undertaking, and this is called Lesser Silence. The two times of this are 9am to 12 noon and 2.15pm to 3.45pm.
And then there are other things which constantly and consistently remind us of, and call us back to God.
In the Noviciate study room, there are a collection of icons on the walls, and a crucifix above one of the book cases. In the refectory, there is a large crucifix on one wall. There’s another crucifix in the Community Room. There’s a standing cross in the cloister. Each Sister has a crucifix or small cross and an icon or two in her cell (we call our private rooms “cells” because while they’re where we sleep and keep our things, they’re not bedrooms in the usual sense of the word).
Everywhere you turn, there is something to remind us of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
And then we bump into each other. Every time I see another Sister, she is dressed in a habit, sometimes with a veil, and always with a cross around her neck. Another reminder of God.
If we go out, we still cannot escape. If I were to go for a walk along our Jubilee Trail, I would walk past our beautiful donkeys. I will also walk past the cemetery where Sisters are buried. I will see the shapes of the hills in the distance, hear the cows in the fields, and walk down to the pond where I may or may not see any fish, but I will certainly see the gentle flow of the water as it trickles downstream. I will see the crops growing in the fields, and I will walk through the small wood and past the beehives, where I would hope at this time of year, the bees are safely inside keeping warm.
The colours of the sky, the shapes of the clouds, the creatures we see, are all reminders of creation, and therefore of the Creator Himself.
I can’t go for a walk and not appreciate the wind in my face (well, depends on the wind – sometimes I try to remind myself that if I can feel it, it means I’m still alive) and the sun in the sky. I see these amazing things which God called into being, and I am grateful for it. Creation causes me to give praise, and to be thankful that I am here, and that God created us, and that He loves us.
And then on a cold day, I come back in and I’m grateful for open fires and hot chocolate, and warm clothing. And electricity and the internet. I read my emails, check my Facebook, read people’s blog posts, and in doing so, I lift each person to God, for whoever they are and wherever they are. I use my internet activities as another way of praying with and for the whole world.
It’s clearly impossible to be considered “normal” when the whole of life revolves around being with our Lord and God, the Creator, Saviour and Redeemer of the world.
Am I crazy? I don’t know. You tell me.