When my mom and a friend visited some years ago, I played tour guide around Italy. Rome, Venice, and the usual tourist areas. And they loved it all. But we have friends all over, so we also traipsed the smaller towns and villages. And staying in people’s homes, they saw The Real Italy!
But our visit to the Este castle in Ferrara led to a nearby church, where a creepy feeling pervaded. Evoked perhaps from walking over people long dead and buried beneath the floor, members of the princely Este family. I’m not sure I’d like worshiping over dead people.
But the guidebook also showed an attached working convent, open to visitation, which piqued my interest. Ancient churches and buildings, filled with equally ancient paintings wearied me. It baffles me why people travel halfway around the world just to view a nearly endless line of paintings. But to each his own! 🙂
Visit to a nunnery
Mom and Patsy were ready for a change too. So we marched next door, thinking to just walk straight in. Like at a tourist site. That’s the way the book described it, anyway.
“Ring for admittance,” the sign said, so I rang. And the door creaked slowly open as if on magic hinges. Revealing a tiny foyer, dismally devoid of life. And one inhospitable looking door set in the back wall, barring the way.
“Let’s hope the interior is more welcoming than this!” I thought. Maybe we’ll even find some life there!
Void of life
“So much for finding life here!” I thought, peering through the scant light filtering down from the high deeply set windows. The place was about as welcoming as the castle dungeon! “Let’s get out of here,” Patsy whispered, even though it seemed there were none to hear.
And then we heard, “What do you want?”
“Ah, we were hoping, or that is, er, we wanted to visit the nunnery,” I stuttered nervously, as the only Italian speaker of our trio. While gaping about to see from whence that muted monotonic voice issued.
The strange window
It was only then that we spied the strange opening, revolving, but never opening.
Only later did I learn that all cloisters have these turns or wheels (small revolving compartments) used for delivering food and necessities. Similar to the revolving turnstile security doors at airports, but window-sized, and made of solid wood panels.
Blocking vision from both inside and out, they allow but brief, muffled communication with the outside world. (Take a look at one in this interesting article on the Santa Catalina Monastery; scroll down to the middle of the page.)
These turns permit the nuns or monks to receive daily necessities, without allowing direct human contact. And thus, shield them from unnecessary interruptions.
Upon learning it was a cloistered convent, we fled the tomb-like, eerie atmosphere, glad to return to fresh air and sunshine, surrounded by people.
And although part of me admires the spirit of devotion and consecration which must lead to such vows, I can’t help but compare such a life to Christ’s command to make disciples. How does one fulfill this command, secluded from contact with others?
Yet they had one thing which often seems sadly lacking in our everyday lives. Silence and stillness. And although that eerie silence didn’t make me feel restful, it did make me feel the need for it.
Be still and know that I am God…Psalm 46:10 WEB
Keeping interruptions out
Cloistered living seems to me, man’s way of trying to do what only the Holy Spirit can do. Man trying to enter God’s presence on his own, attempting to create God’s holy peace and rest.
Barred windows and closed turnstiles can’t do it. And we don’t need need to enter a monastery to do it. Yet we do need boundaries in our lives if we really want to enter God’s presence, rest, and peace.
Limits, time schedules, and definite restrictions that can aid us in keeping unnecessary interruptions out. Boundaries that say, “thus far, and no more.” Limits on TV, internet, entertainment, hobbies, and wasting time. Because a life filled with too many distractions hinders us from being still in his presence.
The gate we need is self-discipline, which never comes easily. But by working at keeping unnecessary interruptions at bay, we create space and time for the holy hush of God’s presence.
And it’s in that atmosphere that we can hear what he has to say. What are you hearing?