20
Dec

Slow Reader Friday: And Then There Were Nuns…

Whitby Abbey

Warning: War and Peace was shorter.

Book Club Readers: Click here for the January 2014 MIP Book Club Selection Announcement!

Good morning, Book Club Members and MIP readers! We are truly blessed this morning to have the author of the December 2013 MIP Book Club Selection, And Then There Were Nuns, give us some additional insights into her book and the monastic life. So, Jane Christmas? If you’re reading this, thank you so much for gracing us with your “presence.”

I have to confess that I’m rather stunned and deeply honored that a published author of several books would take the time to interact with a lowly new blogger (moi). But that just tells you how kind and thoughtful Jane Christmas is in “real life.” I am truly enjoying getting to her know her via emails right now and have this very selfish dream that someday we may be able to meet in person (In my dream world, we meet at a writer’s conference. Okay…stop laughing over there…it could happen.). Keep in mind that Ms. Christmas is now living in England and thus, some of the spellings of words are indicative of living in that beautiful country (Someday I’ll explain why our spellings differ, if you don’t already know.)

Here is the transcript of my interview with Jane:

1. What are the purposes and/or differences of the offices? Which one ultimately became your favorite and why?

In 4th century Italy, Benedict of Nursia (St. Benedict) devised the monastic day around eight offices, or periods of worship: Vigils/Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. Most monastic communities now use an abbreviated regime of four offices—Lauds, Eucharist, Evening Prayer, and Compline.  The offices are held over the course of the day at regular intervals so that one does not become carried away with a particular activity: in monastic life nothing should compete with or overshadow the worship of God.  So basically, there are two or three hours between the offices—just enough time to do a task, but not too long to get heavily involved in it.

My favourite office is Lauds. I’m a morning person, and I loved waking up to the toll of the bell, to the silence of the convent, and to the practice of not uttering a word until my mouth opened in prayer in chapel. The music/chants and readings at Lauds all point to a new day, of waking up to God, and I loved that imagery, loved the positivity and optimism that it conveyed. It put me in very good humour, at least for the morning!

2. Have any of the sisters mentioned in And Then There Were Nuns read the book? If so, what reactions did they have regarding your sense of humor, occasional swearing and your more “secular moments” as you contemplated the notion of becoming a nun?

I have heard from several sisters (and one monk) who enjoyed the book. It must be a little weird to see their lifestyle and their colleagues reflected back at them, or to see how an outsider views their world or struggles to adapt to their way of life. Religious are so accustomed to their practice and routine that they likely don’t question the things someone like me would question, or see humour in the things I experienced.  As for swearing, I have to tell you that a few nuns of my acquaintance swear more than me! That said, I was intentionally careful with my language in this book. My previous books are pretty free and easy with expletives, but while I was discerning my vocation I did not swear. There are only two instances in And Then There Were Nuns where it is used, and one was in a direct quote. To be honest, I am tired of the f-word; it has pretty much been jettisoned from my lexicon. There is no satisfaction in using it – even in muttering it under my breath—and I find it jarring hearing people use it in public. It is so overused. 

3. If the entire world, including the business world, were to adhere to a convent’s daily schedule, what benefits would we enjoy, as a result? What negatives might there be for our world, from utilizing such a schedule, if any?

For one thing, business would slow down incredibly. It would be a good thing to see the world take its time. On the other hand, we have become so accustomed to speed and instant results that I’m not sure we could turn the clock back on that.  However, it would be lovely to see a pattern of worship and prayer followed in society. Muslims seem to be able to stop work for prayers throughout the day; shutting their businesses on Fridays for an hour to go to the mosque, so I don’t see why Christians can’t do the same thing.  Interspersing the day with periods of prayer—and they don’t have to be long (Evening Prayer is only 15 or 20 minutes) would make people more reflective; might give them space to ponder a personal issue or even a business proposition. It might inspire a creative idea that could not be formulated in the workplace, for instance, or someone might hear something in a prayer that suddenly clarifies a problem. So I think we would become more creative and more personally disciplined. We all talk about life-work balance, but no one ever follows it. It’s time to try another way. I also believe we would become more peaceful and caring if we made a practice of stopping for prayers during the day. My ideal day would have four offices: Lauds (15 minutes) at 8 or 8:30am; Eucharist (Holy Communion) from noon to 12:30; Evening Prayer (15 minutes) at 5pm; and Compline (20 minutes) said privately or as a household around 9pm.  That’s an hour and 20 minutes a day. Most people devote that time to TV each day.  The other problem is that society is increasingly secular; there is no tolerance for prayer times. Well, no tolerance for prayer times if you are Christian. Christians are quickly killing the culture of their faith because they are basically undisciplined and self-conscious about owning up to their faith. No one criticizes other religions for taking time out for daily prayer, s I don’t see why Christians should be ashamed of doing so.

4. The idea of silence while praying to God is one that I have also recently adopted and just seemed to happen upon on my own. In the churches I have attended the value of silence in conversing with God is and was, rarely mentioned, taught or practiced. Outside of monastic life, is this also true of Anglican and Catholic churches? If so, why do you think this is so rarely discussed or taught?

Silence is talked about and advocated in the Anglican and Catholic churches but rarely is it practiced! In fact, church has become incredibly noisy. The service is loaded up with hymns and announcements, chatter amongst the congregation. It is more a social event than a religious one. I’m much more likely to encounter God while walking in the woods or sitting on a park bench than I am in church.  That’s why I prefer (and encourage in my book) monastic churches. Monastic churches and indeed monastic practice DOES encourage silence and reflection and builds it into the service as well as into the day. I do attend a regular church twice a week—there isn’t a monastic church nearby—so I have to take what’s available, and then build silent periods into my day for prayer and for listening for God.

5. I just recently came to believe that God was also calling me to a writing vocation. I resisted this notion for a ridiculous number of years. My reason for doing so sounded so much like your response to Jesus in your vision. What is it about the writing vocation that we think is not a valid use of one’s life?

That was such a big moment for me! I never truly considered writing a vocation. It felt indulgent and isolating; that it didn’t serve the common good. And yet the written word is SO VITAL. There are so many interesting books being written these days in all genres, and they bring such joy and entertainment to people. Reading is a gift, and sharing the written word with others who cannot read is also a gift.  It has only recently struck me how the books that I write have enlightened people. For instance, lots of people have found And Then There Were Nuns fascinating from the perspective of discovering how a modern convent operates. My book about the Camino—What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim—has inspired loads of people to walk it, and has helped them train for it physically and psychologically.  I’ve received hundreds of emails from readers who enjoy my books but I could never see writing as a calling. It was easier to regard it as a hobby that took up a lot of time and energy. And because I also love writing how could it be a vocation? The term vocation implies something serious and lofty. So that vision with Jesus was a paradigm shift in terms of understanding that I had been blessed with a skill that I have been using rather embarrassedly. It’s funny that we resist the notion of writing as a vocation. I hope that you now see yours as a vocation as I see mine. And perhaps that gift/vocation has been given to us to write about God and faith. That has certainly been clarified for me.

As for my thoughts about the book, I can pretty much sum up this book in one word: surprising. But you know me; I never stop with just one word! I thought this book would be a lighthearted romp through the monastic side of Catholicism and while Jane writes very humorously, as you will see from one of my favorite quotes below, there are some deeply serious reflections in this book. Just when I would think I knew what Jane’s ultimate decision was going to be about becoming a nun, her story takes yet another interesting turn. This is rare for me!

Jane’s journey to self-discovery is one I never, in a thousand years, would have predicted. In fact I hope she is “shopping it” to Hollywood or the British film industry because I’m ready to lay down serious money to go see the finished product. What? You don’t think life in a convent would be that intriguing? You would be wrong! While I am not going to reveal some of the twists in the book, just so you, dear reader, can have an opportunity to discover them yourself (if you’ve been too busy to read this December), here are a few of the minor things that I, for some reason, had never grasped until now:

1. That Anglican churches have nuns and monks.

2. That nuns swear.

3. That the greater churches of monastic orders do not financially support these orders.

While I would love to share all the humorous quotes with you, I am only going to share the one that made me chuckle out loud (again, rather rare for me) the most, simply because I want to recount two quotes that I have often thought, but not voiced nearly so deftly:

1. “Faith is not the surrender of the mind, as some have characterized it, but the expansion of it, and of the heart and spirit as well. It is head-scratching, yes, weird at times, nonsensical, but also brilliant and moving in its simplicity and in the good it succeeds in doing.”

2. “Father Luke had spoken about how, when we have been wounded by the words or deeds of others, our first reaction is to retreat from the world, which actually makes things worse for ourselves. Better, he said, to use the experience to reach out to others who have also been wounded.”

3. “Every morning I got up, washed, and chose an outfit from the five-outfit 2011 Winter Nun Collection.”

One more thing that now endears me to Jane’s books: She used at least two of my WOWs (Word of the Week). In fact she used frisson and suffuse, which are rather recent WOWs. What are the odds??

As lengthy as this post already is, it seems demonic to ask you to answer questions as we have done in the past. So, instead, would you please share with me (Yes, online. Be brave!) thoughts (good, bad or indifferent) about this interesting book? Submit a comment below. And if you didn’t have time to read the book, is it now on your list of books to read??? Thanks and….Merry Christmas!

Monday’s Post: Are you buying pinchbeck for gifts this holiday season?

You might also like: Slow Reader Friday: Undaunted; Slow Reader Friday: Life Interrupted; Slow Reader Friday: Mere Christianity; and Sl0w Reader Friday: Heaven 

This entry was posted on Friday, December 20th, 2013 at 10:50 am and is filed under Slow Reader Friday. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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