A Commitment to Change
For ten and a half years I was a Carmelite monastic nun in solemn vows (a life commitment.) My vows ceremony remains one of the happiest days of my life, embodying my sole purpose to ‘walk in God’s Presence.’ This meant a 24/7 consecration for the world as well, living in silence, chant, meditation and prayer. And for many years I grew within the Carmelite charism.June 9, 1991 I left the monastery.‘If you loved the life,’ many have asked, ‘then why did you leave? After all you had made a commitment for life.’
How do we answer deep questions posed so off-handedly, oftentimes by people who do not know the turns of our own journey? It gave me a chance to identify the key elements of my own choice to leave. What was it? I left for the same reason I entered, for love. I left in order to be faithful to my own personal calling to evolve.
It takes courage because most of the time we are alone in these decisions. It takes vulnerability to lift the veils. It takes a willingness to allow the truth in our own hearts be the sole guide in our decisions. It is a sword that does not spare us, and yet, gives us the only peace that is lasting. I remember my prioress (the leader of the community,) was deeply grieved at my leaving because I was a natural contemplative. In her struggle to help me see this she said, ‘Before you leave, think about this, how will you feel on your deathbed, walking away from your vocation.’
It sounds so severe, yet her love was deep and all she saw was someone losing their way; she saw that the commitment itself was evidence of a calling to which I must be faithful. This is understandable isn’t it? Outwardly it looked like a failure.
Before taking such a dramatic leap I did a few things that were very important defining steps applicable to us all.
First I recognized specifically the growing chasm between me and my community. This brought me to ask, ‘Is this difference integral to being faithful to myself, or just something to be worked out as a Carmelite?’
Second, I asked questions. I asked if certain options would be available to me as a nun that would allow the following and nurturing of my own development. Many monasteries were doing what I asked for so that told me that the possibility was there.
And third, I paid attention to where my peace lay. At all times I watched myself and my responses, watching what happened within as I spoke and acted on what was presenting itself as truth within. Peace remained like a rock.
Every attempt made to dialogue met with a closed door. Blanketed responses like, ‘this is the way we do things,’ defined direction. My first choice would have been to continue where I was in a new way. The willingness to engage my leaders in the discernment helped my process, even if it led me to a decision I wish could have been different.
This commitment to be true to myself set change in motion, inaugurated many events that were completely uprooting; unexpected ways in which I needed to adapt. Gone was anything I might have leaned on that was familiar as I re-entered a world that had continued to change itself at lightning pace for close to eleven years. Yet, my peace has always remained like a sturdy boat upon the ocean and my love has grown like a constant wind in my sails. Being true to ourselves not only leads us to do what we are meant to do with unspeakable joy, but makes us capable of true compassion, service, and discernment.
May we change gracefully together,