Monasteries of the Heart

Little Blog for Beginners: Some Thoughts on Changes

Almost every day after morning prayer, I sit in the sunroom at the back corner of the monastery and do my lectio. I read the psalms, just a verse at a time, and translate them out of Hebrew and into English. It's been over 3,000 years since the psalms were written, but not too much has changed about the human condition in all that time. We love to thank God, we love to sing. We love to curse. I sit there and let the words say something to me, and look out the windows at the sisters who are taking walks around the house, or reading Teresa of Avila on the bench. Everything seems so bright and beautiful at 7:30 a.m.

Other days, if I was having dreams while sitting up during meditation and at morning prayer, I just go back to bed until the last possible minute before my carpool leaves for ministry. Sometimes it seems like I'm a nicer person on those days when I get a morning nap. What does that say about my prayer life or my spiritual potential? I try not to think about that too much.


Earlier this summer, I took an academic class on mysticism, which seems inherently funny and contradictory. There was a lot of reading, a lot of papers to write, but overall, I really enjoyed the course, especially the professor, who brought so much enthusiasm to every session. I was amazed, though, by the number of times that our class discussion circled back to the discomfort other students had with the idea that God is unknowable. "How can I love someone I don't know?" people kept asking. 

The professor said, "You know, at the deepest level, we hardly even know ourselves--let alone anyone else--let alone God!"

Personally, I find the mystery a lot more lovable and acceptable than just about any doctrine I've ever heard. I would have thought most people would feel that way, but sometimes I’m wrong. At lunch one day, I mentioned to some of the other students that my community prays with gender-inclusive language for God––"Giver of Life," or "Creator," in place of "Father;" "Redeemer," or "Risen One," rather than “Son”––and people were outraged, upset that we would change the words of the common prayers of the Church, shocked that we would “change the language of the Scriptures.” 

Even after all these nonviolence trainings, I couldn't resist the urge to provoke, and to say, “You know what else the Scriptures call Christ? Sophia Wisdom.” I don't think that won any hearts and minds.


I spent a lot of hours walking around that campus, swatting away huge mosquitoes in their woods and swimming in the lake, feeling melancholy like I sometimes enjoy doing. It was the longest I'd been away from my Sisters in months--although this wasn't a long trip, really--and I got homesick fast. It seemed suddenly, painfully clear to me that things change incredibly quickly, that the community, my godchildren, the trees and lake at home were all changing while I was away.

That's been weighing on my mind a lot throughout the summer, how fleeting all this is. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this time of so much loss and change turned me into a person who really savored life and was conscious of how precious every minute is, who really soaked up the people she loved? I hope it doesn't just turn me into even more of a perpetual Eeyore. Maybe it won't: one night, my classmates and I sat around reading Gerard Manley Hopkins poetry to each other, and I read them "Spring and Fall," which is my favorite of his works. I wondered if my voice would crack with emotion reading it aloud, but it didn't.

Actually, I could hardly reign in my smile, because the words were so perfect and so right.


Later in the summer, I went to the Jersey Shore for just a day, with Val, the other "young nun," who's also my good friend. We were both in terrible moods as we approached the shore--we were on a whirlwind trip with lots of stops that were less pleasant than the beach--but all of that evaporated once I smelled that salt air, and the french fries being sold on the board walk, and even the cigarettes and joints people were smoking. As a kid, I spent almost every weekend of almost every summer down the shore, getting sunburned and fighting for my life in the waves, clinging to my dad. And being there this July, I felt just the same: floating, my eyes and sinuses stinging from the saltwater, constantly pulling my head out of the water to look for, and find, the person I'd come to the ocean with.

Summers used to feel so short when I was growing up. I hated and dreaded school, and so all of August would be spent in a nauseated fog as I watched my time slip away. Then the summer would end all at once, in a whirlwind of tears and paper cuts and early mornings and schoolyard beatdowns.

But now it’s so different. The summers are feel much lighter and longer, gradually giving way to other beautiful things: tomatoes and plums, the first yellow leaves, cooler nights.


We came home the day after the ocean to find that the herd of goats who we rented to eat invasive species at Glinodo had arrived; eleven stinky, beautiful, square-eyed creatures who would spend the next four weeks constantly chewing through the thorns and shrubbery that I'm usually battling on my own. They moved much faster through the brambles than I could, and while the roots of those plants still need to be pulled up, the area where they worked looks so much better now.

What was overgrown and strangled has been cleared away, and now you can actually see the good soil, the wild raspberry canes, the view of the creek, that have always been there but were completely obscured before.

Next, we’ll plant mulberry trees and blueberry bushes there, once all the remaining invasives are removed. I love to walk along the trail there, cutting and uprooting what I can to prepare the earth for new growth.

I try to imagine what it will look like at the end of next summer, what all of this will be like in a year. I can’t really see it. It’s a mystery still.

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A blog by Jacqueline Sanchez-Small
What happens when a woman in her mid-twenties begins to work, pray, and share life with a community of Benedictine sisters? What questions arise and what wisdom emerges? This blog will offer peeks into one young seeker’s experiences. Jacqueline is a staff member of Monasteries of the Heart and a scholastic in the initial monastic formation process. She holds a Bachelors degree in Sociology from Swarthmore College, a Masters in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Masters in Social Work from Rutgers University.