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At last, I’m in my real home, I prayed, adjusting the weight of my knees upon the wooden kneeler in the 1878 Gothic Revival chapel of the community of nuns I’d chosen to enter. From the choir loft wafted ethereal strains that deepened my consolation and assured me of having made the right decision.

But it had not always been that way. Only the nuns’ scholarly teaching, their contemplative attitude, their joy in living spoke of the depths of their vowed commitment, its observance hidden behind cloister doors. Only after entering religious formation in the noviceship would I know how they lived. Clues from the trousseau list also repulsed me: for instance, using Birdseye towels instead of Kotex, man-sized handkerchiefs, galoshes, etc.

With the entrance day, September 7, 1957, fast approaching, terror of the unknown assailed me; it was only assuaged by binging, my empty stomach empowering me with a sense of control, until the next emptying. But all the arrangements had been made, even the pasteboard steamer trunk shipped to Albany, New York, my destination. I had to go rather than disappoint many. So, tearfully, I went. The initial wrench numbed me.

Since then, there have been other unknowns, but not the existential terror of that one. Another unknown, the death of my body, looms ahead, perceived, now, as the great adventure to another “home.” Most everyone that I have known are already there.

I wait and pray, in gratitude.

At 7:30 A.M., I awoke with this surprising dream:

I’m sitting in my living room, still wearing my gown and robe, my morning care interrupted by Tootsie who wears a T-shirt and shorts and sits on the sofa across from me. She laughs deeply as she explains her knee-length cast, its back attached to a board with large wheels that helps her walk.

The dream’s surprise visitor, Tootsie, was a nun like myself, with whom I had lived in New Orleans in the 1960s. Long deceased, I’d not thought of her in years, but her hilarity still hangs out in my psyche. In the work of Dr. Carl G. Jung, she becomes my extraverted shadow: a reminder not to take myself so seriously, given my nagging symptoms.

There is laughter, merriment, long hidden beneath years of diminishing health and my efforts to keep up with my interests. Not always strong enough to give them expression, I’m still tickled within.

In my psyche, a lightness of spirit delves into the God-care that surrounds us. As the Tootsie in my dream, I’m nudged toward an even deeper surrender to my eternal destiny, beyond all imagining, no more living within the constraints of time. It will happen; that said, the Inner Vanquisher has no business with me.

It was a women’s afternoon, balmy, fragrant. Four-part harmonies of sacred hymns hovered within the curlicue of stone arches rounding the circumference of the monastery church, St. Anselm’s. Listeners upon wooden pews grew still as intricate harmonies wove our hearts within the ineffable.

Nineteen members of the Missouri Women’s Chorus, inconspicuous in their black attire, gave full voice to eight Latin selections, recently discovered by musicologist Craig Monson (Nuns Behaving Badly – Tales of Music, Magic, and Arson in the Convents of Italy, 2010). Organ and cello enhanced the sonorous tones of the singers.

It felt like being in a time warp, suddenly enveloped in sixteenth-and-seventeenth- century Bologna and Milan, in the company of gifted nun-composers who chose cloister walls to better live out their consecrated lives. Such passion for the Sacred found expression in their hymns. But their singular voice angered the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, created in 1572, lest they lose authority over the masses. Despite restrictions upon the cloistered choirs, the nuns kept composing motets and the townspeople kept filling their chapels, over ninety-four of them in Bologna. The Sacred Feminine would not be silenced. Its expression saturated thirsty souls and evoked deep communion. This, indeed, was life.

Then, as well as now, such sacred harmonies restore wholeness, rejuvenate psyches, and enlarge faith in the unseen beauty that permeates all creation. Humbly, we seek its presence and thrive.

 

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