OK, I know I’ve said here in the past that I thought I’d make a good nun (except for the small issue of me not being Catholic, OK, yeah and there’s the celebacy thing), but, after this past weekend, I’m pretty sure I would go bat shit crazy if I ever tried (and that’s aside from the unwieldy doctrinal and moral theology). Not that this was a serious risk, mind you.
This past weekend, I decided to get away from it all. I’ve been feeling a bit wound around the axle this week, and the nearby Benedictine Abbey promised just the right distance and solitude that I needed. A friend had gone there on retreat years ago and her recommendation stuck with me, especially her recounting of the nuns trading chant verses in the resonant chapel. I was not disappointed. I joined Vespers at 5 and Compline at 7, and the sound of the voices in slow, repetitive unison mellowed me right out. When I left to walk back to the retreat quarters in the dark, the stars were out in force and two owls were trading calls of their own. It was sublime. I liked the whole experience so much that I thought might get up for 6:30 AM Matins and Mass as well. But, out there in the middle of nowhere, sleeping in a bedroom labeled “Queen of Peace”, with nothing to disturb me, I thought wrong. 🙂
Saturday, I rolled out of bed and helped myself to breakfast by the crack of 9. A nun (and biblical scholar) from a Benedictine Abbey in Kansas was visiting and offered a program on women in the Old Testament. Now, I’ve heard that the folks who are really in the know in the theology world are actually quite hip to the debatable historicity of the Bible and the ambiguity of its directives and the general magical thinking of the characters and authors (yes, authorS). But I was pleasantly surprised when she also took up a feminist stance as well, pointing out that pretty much any time a woman appears in the Old Testament, it’s because she is taking on responsibility for something that was often the joint or sole responsible of an ineffectual male and then she gets found guilty for it. Her whole approach to the teachings of the day was really one of “Where would Jesus and the other heroes of the Bible be without all these women intervening of behalf of their destiny?” In fact, the only really eye-rollingly close-mindedness I saw came through on the anti-abortion issue. (She suggested that Pharaoh’s daughter saving Moses was a pro-life argument. Uh, yeah, hmmm, and I suppose then that the next time your husband violates any commandments, you should probably circumsize your son with a sharp rock and rub your husband’s penis with the leftover foreskin, just to be sure that God doesn’t come and kill him in the night. Yeah, that line of thinking holds. Riiiiiiiiiiight. Talk about heresy.)
As much as I find religion fascinating and relevant, I was really turned off by just how much Christian scripture, at least the Old Testament, speaks from a victim mindset. “Oh, Lord, save me from my enemies here” and “Banish the evildoers who tell falsehoods about me there”. It has been a long time since I really have sat down and read the Bible–I think when I was younger, I got thrown by the strange grammar and vocabulary. So, I was kind of re-disheartened to realize just how much the Bible harps on justice and mercy. Not that justice and mercy aren’t virtuous. But when that’s what is focused on and the way it’s presented, it seems to just manifest a lot of externalizing of blame. Really sad to me. But, given the Christian roots of our society, it sure would explain a lot of today’s ills.
As for the nun thing, you know, the monastic part still appeals to my soul (although, with a hungry mind like mine, I’d probably go bonkers without an unlimited library and internet access). And the service and hospitality part makes my heart happy. And the ritual part blows open my mind to the sense of mystery and reverance that I love so much to feel. Honestly, I kinda wish I were Christian. It would make my spiritual life a lot simpler. But I really struggle with the “Jesus as God” thing, especially since I have no direct, experiential relationship with the man. (The God thing I have no problem with but that’s a private matter.) And I have trouble with the built-in father complex. I just don’t relate to God that way. And I couldn’t find where a sense of humor was considered much of a virtue in Christianity. (I prefer a God that loves a good practical joke.)
I know the penguin suits added an air of formality to the whole thing. (Not all Benedictines wear them, but this abbey still does.) The outfits seem to make every interaction feel so formal and complex and cumbersome to me. It’s just hard to enjoy some good natured ribbing with a nun. (Although Sister Hildegard was pretty funny. Especially in the nun suit, she has stand-up comedienne potential.)
All that said, I’d go back some day just to sit in that chapel and listen to the singing. And to hear some more feminist theology.