Idle Thoughts of an Idle Nun

Yesterday I did something I don’t often do: I trawled a number of Christian websites in search of a ‘topical’ subject for my next Universe column. I didn’t find one, so I fell back on something I have thought about for years, the relationship between Islam and Christianity (shameless plug for the 30 June edition). However, the exercise was not in vain, for it made me realise yet again how differently we all view the Church — and that holds true, whatever denominational label (or none) we attach to ourselves. Some of the sites even left me wondering whether we worship the same God!

In saying that, I am not condemning or contradicting, simply expressing my own inability to recognize common ground. I am much more interested in spreading faith than in defending it. Therefore, when I read angry condemnations of the shortcomings, supposed or otherwise, of this person or that, of nuns and religious sisters in particular, I want to ask whether some of the energy directed towards condemnation might be better directed towards prayer. That isn’t a cop out, a substitution of woolly religious niceness for theological rigour or doctrinal precision, it is a genuine question. How can anyone who has experienced the love of God in prayer attack another for not being all that he or she thinks they should be, especially when he/she has no authority to do so? St Benedict in his Rule was very aware of how we all like to assume authority over others, and he gives  short shrift to those who do. It is a failure in humility which leads, only too often, to a failure in charity.

Charity is, of course, the rub. Truth and charity are not opposed, but we can sometimes assert the truth in a way that is uncharitable and thereby negate much of the value of what we are saying. Living in a monastery, where we are encouraged to think twice before speaking and where words are weighed and pondered as expressing something of the Divine Word, I suppose this sort of mindfulness becomes habitual. We often fail (I know I do) but the ideal remains: to speak only such words as build up. That is a challenge we can all take on. It may mean we speak less. It certainly means we should speak more thoughtfully.

What words will you speak today?


13 thoughts on “Idle Thoughts of an Idle Nun”

  1. Dear Sr Catherine,

    You have a wonderful mind, and a beautiful heart. A heart where our loving Lord lives.

    I think your blog entry today will indeed be a blessing to all who read it.

    Thank you, and may you truly be blessed,


    (The website I’ve provided is not my own, but that of my parish church. I am the honorary webmaster, editor & administrator. I spend a lot of time working on it, much of which is spent finding resources. My little service to the Lord.)

  2. I sometimes think that to denigrate others is perhaps sharing our own insecurities about our faith and whether we are secure and content within it.

    I’ve been guilty of being uncharitable in the past as I’m sure have many others, but as I’ve learned and grown in faith, I hope that I’ve learned to express a point of view that be seen as supportive not aggressive.

    Graham Standish an American Pastor wrote a marvelous book called Discovering the Narrow Path where he describes his vision of how we try to achieve balance but struggle on that journey:

    1. A path of commitment to God to follow wherever God leads us.
    2. A willingness to be transformed.
    3. The narrow path lies not in knowing the answers but in not knowing and therefore surrendering ourselves to God in the midst of this void.
    4. The narrow path is a journey spurred on by our doubts and questions.
    5. Walking the narrow path means seeking this God who integrates and transcends all human understanding and thought.
    6. As we walk, we follow the light of the Holy Spirit as the spirit leads us forward.
    7. As we lurch from side to side, we need to let God be our centre of gravity.

    This struck home to me, as it so resembled the journey I’ve been on so far and doubtless will in the future. If we pray, praise and rely on God and receive the Sacraments in community than grace will help us to be more comfortable and accommodating and charitable for others with differing views, but all following Jesus Christ.

    (Discovering the Narrow Path, Westminster/John Knox Press US, Oct 2002. Chap 1)

  3. I was going to ask what do you do when someone is horrible and probably has learnt a few harsh words, but then I realised you had already answered the question… Experiencing God’s love in prayer. A timely article, thank you x

  4. A wonderful idea that we could all do with practising a little more often – thinking twice before we speak! An attitude of mindfulness that could also be useful outside of the convent. Thank you for sharing.

    Like Michael, the website I have shared is not my own but one that I help to maintain/update as part of my Christian (hopefully) witness.

  5. I’ve been thinking about this a lot this year, especially as in exploring Anglican ordination I am effectively signing myself to a particular denomination which feels strange as I’ve only ever considered myself a Christian.

    I was asked by a teenager in a youth group I once ran why there were so many different groups of Christianity. I likened it to a salad – it didn’t matter what dressing people put on the salad it would still be a salad (I should add I am not a fan of salads or vegetables in general!). The beauty of the Christian faith is its diversity and as long as Christ is at the centre then it is something to be celebrated.

    God made us all unique so there will always be differences, some of which we may well struggle with but I am with you in celebrating our common ground.
    Thanks for all your blogging, twittering and facebook posts, they are a real blessing.

  6. I am so happy when I hear this view expressed!

    Alas too often in my Christian life I’ve heard the expression “Love is not possible without Truth” from those trying to justify the unyielding hardness of the way they express their doctrinal certitudes. It’s not that I’d hope for them to change their position – doctrine is very important after all – but I only wish they would speak with true charity in their hearts.

    From time to time I get the sense that some apologists for hard teachings enjoy the opportunity to be rather mean to modern sensibilities (especially to those from more liberal traditions, or indeed the secular world).

    Speaking the Word with a transparently compassionate heart is so much more powerful. By their fruit…

  7. I remember being taught a simple exercise in charity that is surprisingly hard: when someone cuts in front of you in traffic, instead of blowing your horn, quietly say “God bless you”.

    The same can apply in many spheres of life.

  8. There seems to me to be too much ANGER about religion; comments columns are so very often hijacked by angry people wanting to change the subject under discussion to destructive remarks about religion. Essentially, religions teach about love, but somehow they think they have to be angry and nasty about it.

  9. ” How can anyone who has experienced the love of God in prayer…” This is the line of your thought that stopped me. This is where I think we need to start. I just wonder if we really do experience the love of God when we pray? Is prayer a true experience of the divine or is it my daily duty? While there are times when we must push through regardless of what we feel, we must realize God Himself is near us when we pray, and is ready and wants a true exchange of words, a conversation, if you will. When we attack each other, maybe it’s because we’ve stopped experiencing God’s love. Maybe time spent with Him has become a habit, devoid of joy and anticipation. While pray is my duty-I believe I’ve been called to it-it is my joy and my privilege and my pleasure. The more we are immersed in His holy presence, the less room there is for criticism and attack.

    • @holliale Amen and Amen. Great comment! I was already 4 years a Christian and two years into religious life as a Benedictine novice before I ‘experienced the love of God in prayer’. Once experienced, you’re never the same. I fear it’s not as common as I might wish and pray it were. My experience was that the more wholeheartedly I sought God, the more I experienced His Love as a sweetly overpowering acceptance both of myself and of those whom I had been judging. Who can judge those whom God loves so dearly?

  10. Several decades ago I worked for a Muslim doctor. At the time our family was going through the process of converting to Catholicism, and this intrigued her no end, so we had many lunch time conversations about Christianity, Catholicism in particular, and through her (and her professor father) I learned a lot about Islam. What I found were many similarities, prayer, fasting, almsgiving to name a few, but what surprised me the most was the Muslim view of Mary, who they hold in high regard. In fact, Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Holy Koran, and is mentioned more often than in our New Testament.

    We (staff and their families) were often invited to take part in this doctor’s family celebrations, which included prayers and delicious feasting. Invariably, upon introduction to yet another relative, the individual would ask “Are you Catholic? We, too, have great respect for Mariam.” These pleasant memories were triggered by the opening lines to this post concerning the relationship between Islam and Christianity.

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