O send out thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me,
and bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy dwelling.
Psalm 43:3, Opening Sentence, BCP Morning Prayer Rite I
I have been treading rather quietly these past few months.
Our lives are perpetually in discernment and we make discerning choices on the regular. Yet, there are moments in our lives–certain decisions, even–which we mark formally as discernment (take, for example, a couple’s engagement or the months preceding a political election.)
During these periods of formal discernment, we endeavor in many ways to be particularly intentional about our choices and the ramifications of those choices. We gather all the facts. We weigh the options. We sometimes go with whatever our “gut” is telling us. We talk to others–trusted others who have a good ear for listening and a good heart for guidance–and take in their counsel. We pray, asking God to reveal God’s intentions for us and trusting that God will be able to make a way regardless of our choices. We ponder what life might look like if we made one choice or the other, practicing what some might call Ignatian discernment (for more on Ignatian discernment, click here.) At the end of the day, we hope and pray and trust and dream that, through our decisions, we are responding faithfully to God’s nudgings in our life.
I find myself in such a period of formal discernment right now, listening as intently as possible to God’s movement in my life, trying to make sense of the nudges, and relying ever on the kind support of others in helping me find clarity.
It became clear to me in December that I could not continue to ignore a call to monastic life. I have long heard the call, but have never been able to answer the call fully. I ended a very loving romantic relationship with my best friend Kayla and began to think more seriously about how God might be calling me to the monastic way of life. I also stepped out of the diocesan ordination process, sensing that a call to monastic life is more pressing at the moment.
Almost everything in my life has been pointing to this choice, although it took some deep listening and even deeper soul-searching to figure that out. As with any shift in relationship, there is a certain amount of loss which must be confronted. With loss naturally comes mourning. It is difficult to mourn, of course, especially when the source of mourning is ultimately a cause for rejoicing. Those who have lost loved ones to cancer or some other life-draining illness have a sense of this happy mourning: grateful that new life is promised, but heartbroken that death was necessary for that new life to come about. I find myself living into the profound heartbreak and unsurpassed joy that comes with this transition.
One of the vows professed by Benedictines is one of daily conversion of life (“conversatio morum“.) Each community variously interprets this vow, assigning meaning and nuance as best fits the experience of the community. Generally it is taken to mean that one must daily recommit oneself to the monastic way of life. Monasticism is, indeed, a life which must be chosen–and chosen daily.
If monasticism is chosen–indeed, if any vocation is chosen–then it has the power to change lives. Lives, plural. Vocation always points outward, away from the individual and into the world. If one lives one’s calling–priest, monk, doctor, musician, sexton, maintenance professional, parent, whatever–the world is better for it, because it directs the world to the one making the call: God, who calls all of us to greater fidelity, to truer justice, to lasting peace.
It is hard to predict the next steps, for it is surely steps. I am in conversation with a monastic community of the Episcopal Church and hope to make another visit this summer (I’ve visited several times in the past and know the brothers well.) I have changed my degree from Master of Divinity (a theological generalist suited well to pastoral ministry of either a lay or ordained manner) to a Master of Arts in Theology with a concentration in Monastic Studies (an academic degree focused in the spirituality, liturgy, and discipleship of monastic women and men historically and contemporarily.) Kayla and I are on very good terms, all things considered. We were best friends before anything romantic surfaced, which makes the transition more manageable. We are working out together and individually what a new “normal” looks like.
I covet, as always, your prayers–for my discernment, for Kayla, for those leading and guiding me, for those in monastic life, for renewal, for the variety of vocations, and for the whole Church of God. Know that I am praying in a special way for all of you, even those whose names and identities I do not know.