Monasteries of the Heart

Little Blog for Beginners: Some Thoughts During a Pandemic

Part of the reason it always takes me such a long time to update this blog is that I really want my posts to have something interesting to say. Coming up with something that isn't cliche or simplistic is a challenge at the best of times. But now...? Everyone is trying to find something meaningful, something reassuring, something hopeful to offer, something to remind us all that we are in this together, even as we keep our physical distance. What can I possibly offer that's a different take on that?

All I can tell you is a little bit of what it's like to be experiencing this in the monastery, as a postulant, at a time that was already liminal before all this started and is now even more filled with the unknown.

I can say: I am definitely learning a lot about myself, more and faster than I ever thought I would in the first year of formation. I'm learning how deeply I want to be in control of the uncontrollable, how quickly I become suspicious and irritable in the course of waiting for something to happen, how fortunate I have been to have lived a life that––whatever struggles I've had––has never really held an immediate threat to the basic safety and regular functioning of the people I love. If you remember that one of the most formative novels of my childhood was Frances Burnett Hodgson's A Little Princess, it won't surprise you that I'm thinking often of the words of the main character, Sara, who lives a life of luxury for the first part of the story, and is always kind and good. In the book, she says, "Things happen to people by accident...A lot of nice accidents have happened to me. It just happened that I always liked lessons and books, and could remember things when I learned them. It just happened that I was born with a father who was beautiful and nice and clever, and could give me everything I liked. Perhaps I have not really a good temper at all, but if you have everything you want and everyone is kind to you, how can you help but be good-tempered? I don't know ... How I shall ever find out whether I am really a nice child or a horrid one. Perhaps I'm a hideous child, and no one will ever know, just because I never have any trials." I guess I'm about to find out if the praying and reading and reflecting that I've been doing will help me to meet this situation with love for my sisters and my family and for the world––for people who are suffering much more seriously than we will be.

I can say: The plans for how we'll all be in the monastery during this time––however long this time is, and whatever it may involve––are still unfolding. But the reality of what it will mean, like eating two to a table instead of six to a table, spreading ourselves out in the chapel, staying in as much as possible, and having to come up with creative ways to celebrate the Feast of Benedict, Sundays, and Holy Week and Easter, are, honestly, breaking my heart. And that's a sign of how much I do love our normal way of life, that I am already missing the rituals and the routines and the humdrum closeness that has, at times, felt a little bit claustrophobic. A few weeks ago, in a conversation about the loneliness epidemic (before we realized that we would soon be in the midst of a more literal epidemic!) I said, flippantly, "I wouldn't mind being about ten percent more lonely." Now as we try to come up with something that can really connect us in this scary time, without having the typical physical closeness we usually have, I realize how silly that was of me to say. No one wants to be lonely. And being in the same building does not mean that not being lonely is guaranteed.

I can say: I am immensely grateful for our horarium, which keeps our days on an even beat, stopping every few hours to give thanks to God, who is still good, in our chapel, which is still beautiful, with our sisters who are (so far) all still here. I am grateful that every one of my basic needs is being met and I don't have to worry about groceries or paying the bills––an immense privilege I hope I never forget. I am grateful for the music I'm listening to, the books I'm reading, the sitcoms my friends here are watching to make sure that we still laugh every day. I am grateful that my family in New Jersey is safe––my mother now ordering Chinese takeout as much as possible to support small businesses run by immigrants, many of whom are facing discrimination––and my friends from earlier parts of my life are checking in, calling and texting and catching up, all of us just wanting to hear that the other is doing well, staying positive, feeling loved. I am grateful for the sisters who are checking on each other, coming up with reasons to be happy and things to do. I am so glad that I am going to be weathering this here.

I hope you're all staying well and know that you're being prayed for. 

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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.