I have had a lifelong fascination with nuns.
I was not brought up in the Catholic tradition. My family was deeply ensconced in the Evangelical movement. My mother actually had some inexplicable aversion to all things Catholic. And yet for me there was always an inner draw to that church, to the sacraments, to their Holy sites, and most especially to the Catholic sisters.
My own true confession: I wanted to be a nun.
Judge me as you will. There was and still is something in the weave of my Soul that calls me to that life. To live a life that is totally dedicated to all things God is for me the epitome of a life well lived. To serve, to teach, to counsel, to compassion, to love. While those are not exclusive to those of vowed living, the total immersion in them drew me as a gravitational force that defied reason.
Some of my earliest and sweetest childhood memories are of riding in our family car and going past a convent on the far east side of my hometown. It was surrounded by high iron fences and landscaped by tall, towering maple and oak trees. It had at the center of the property a large and majestic chapel. Several smaller outbuildings completed the campus-like setting. As we would drive by my attention was riveted on this setting. I could see through the iron fences to the nuns walking about reverently. They were at that time still fully habited. As I type these words, I can still sense the primal response to what I was seeing. I secretly longed to not just ride by and see the nuns. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to spend my life reverently walking those paths. I wanted to pray in that glorious chapel, though at that time I had no idea of what Catholic theology or prayer was about. I mostly wanted to live out of that Godly sense of purpose and mission. I wanted my days to be filled with a calling and the fulfillment of that call. I wanted to serve the God that I had little intellectual knowledge of, and yet a deep embodied passion for. I cannot explain why the call was not to priesthood or to standard ministry. I can only embrace and share how the call upon my life unfolded from the earliest of ages.
The call of all things Catholic has continued to be a major if more symbolic impulse for my life adventure. I have had three significant romantic relations in my life, and all three have been with men who hail (intentional wording) from the Catholic tradition. While celibacy has not been a part of my personal calling, the lack of which has its perspective in my overall journey. The first of those significant others I actually met at a cathedral in Columbus, Ohio where I was playing a priest in a diocese-wide production of the play Murder in The Cathedral. I seriously contemplated converting at that point in my life. Life carried me in a different direction, though my journey through all things religious continued to mark my path of unfoldment.
That convent of my childhood was at the time called St. Mary of the Springs. It was affiliated with the Dominican Order, an order that would continue to play a significant part in the evolution of my life journey. My best friend of twenty-three years was a former Adrian Dominican sister. We traveled together several years ago to the Mother House of that order in Adrian, Michigan. I felt as if in ways I had finally come home. We sat together for hours, praying, and meditating in the magnificent Holy Rosary chapel, the very site where decades prior Mary had made her sacred profession.
I spent many happy and fulfilled years here in Palm beach County praying and serving with the Cenacle sisters at their now closed convent and retreat center near my home. I was a Cenacle auxiliary, the only male internationally to fill that role. The sisters lovingly called me their “Cenacle mister.” I loved my time with those nuns! My longtime spiritual director passed away many years ago, and I have never been able to find anyone to fulfill that role with me. I was crushed when it was decided that the order would have to sell the property. There was a feeling of home there that I deeply miss to this day.
And so, why am I sharing all of this?
Next week I will celebrate my twenty-fifth anniversary of ordination. No, not as a priest. And most assuredly not as a nun. We have not collectively come that far, yet.
I share all of this in recognition that my calling in life was revealed very early on and in a most unusual of ways. There was a pull to that convent, and to that way of life. I now know that the priests and nuns call their vocation “the religious life.” While most who affiliate with New Thought spirituality would never claim to live a religious life, I have no issue with that perspective. Religion for me is simply structure. It gives form to what is formless. While I do not identify with any one religion, I do appreciate the structure it provides and in the broader sense the vocation it gives way to. I still feel the call of my Soul to live God as my very life and purpose. I only call It God for clarities sake. I mostly refer to It as All. I am here to serve the All. To dedicate the whole of my life to prayer, to teaching, to pastoral care, to loving. I think of that convent and I realize that though I do not live in one, I am one. Just this week I had the notion of “conventing.” Of being a sacred space. Of being a conscious holy site where love and compassion abide. Where All truly is my habit and my habitation.
I realized most fully that I am living the religious life that always called to me.
In some ways I am the nun I always wanted to be.
I never aspired to be a platform speaker. The pulpit was never my goal. And here I am twenty-five years later still speaking Sunday after Sunday. Trying to capture and articulate the feeling of St. Mary of the Springs that will fill others with the awe I felt and still feel. I pray to inspire others to dedicate more of more of their own consciousness to All that is sacred, holy, divine. I invite others into my internal heart-temple, where I vow to love, compassion, nurture, uplift, console. Like the many nuns I have known I do it imperfectly. Yet each day I renew that vow and begin again to become more fully what I am called to be.
I do not know how much longer I will continue serving in the form I currently do. I do not concern myself with such things. I only know that I am here to serve in whatever way All calls me to serve. I will continue conventing day after day, as long as I am incarnated. I will live the life of a religious and feel blessed to do so. It has its frustrations for sure. It brings out my imperfections and flaws frequently. Yet it also utilizes the gifts I have been given and the passions I have been bestowed. I know that I am living the life I was called to live. It was a circuitous path for sure. There have been countless Catholics along the way. They have blessed me and helped move me forward for sure. I am grateful and forever indebted.
The life of the religious is my life. It has always been my life. It will always be my life. It is my profession, my vow, my calling, my vocation. I take my place gratefully among the priests, the ministers, the Iman’s, the monks, the shaman, the gurus, the teachers and leaders of all traditions.
And most certainly the nuns.