The Cloister Seen from the World

The byline for this blog has always been ‘the world seen from the cloister’. That has allowed me to write about whatever interests me without claiming an expertise that, in many cases, I lack, and without having to apologize for what one reader (I like to think unfairly) called my ‘ignorant and pompous’ take on things. (Pompous, moi?) The counterpart to the world seen from the cloister is, of course, the cloister seen from the world, and for the last few weeks I have been registering how people react to a Benedictine nun in their midst, especially in circumstances where people’s defences are low and there is an acceptance born of shared concerns such as in a cancer hospital.

I could regale you with funny stories, but I prefer to think how moved I’ve been by the frankness and the kindness of many of the people I’ve met. Insofar as I am able, I have tried to answer some of the questions that pain one or two: is my cancer a punishment from God (no, of course not); will he forgive me for what I’ve done wrong (trust his mercy); is there really a heaven (I hope so, but I don’t think it’ll be anything like the heavens we picture for ourselves) and so on and so forth. For the most part we chat about children and grandchildren, cats and dogs, gardens and cricket, all the usual preoccupations of an English summer. But what about the fish out of water, the nun out of her cloister, where does she fit it? Does my broad grin and cheery ‘good morning’ do anything more than irritate? I would like to think that my being there brings something of the cloister into the waiting-room, and I don’t just mean the prayer I make for everyone I meet, about which most people know nothing. My being at the Churchill Hospital is analogous to what, as a community, we try to do online: invite God into situations from which many try to exclude him, but in a gentle, non-threatening way.

If a Benedictine is called to search for God in any and every situation, then God must be sought and found in the cancer hospital as surely as in the cloister. For now, my cloister is the hospital, and I am no more a fish out of water than anyone else who is there. I must bring to the radiotherapy waiting-room all the qualities required of anyone in the monastery; and the most important of these are love and kindness. Love for God, kindness towards others: these may seem little things but they are potentially great ones too. I may make corny jokes about being ‘radiant’, but every Christian is called upon to radiate the love of God. Some days we make a better job of it than others. What matters is that we try.


16 thoughts on “The Cloister Seen from the World”

  1. Sometimes just presence makes a huge difference. Your presence on the internet and in hospital, formed as it is in the cloister, is a gift and a witness to searchers and strugglers everywhere. Thank you.

  2. I hope you go on bringing God to wherever you happen to be for a long long time! From personal experience I know the comradeship that occurs naturally in cancer hospital waiting rooms. I have several appointments in coming days – let’s hold virtual hands !

  3. I’ve heard hospitals described as great levellers; “We all look the same in a hospital bed”, but I’ve found them to be great raisers; places where many people rise to the challenge of sickness and vulnerability with a tender, loving kindness. Thank you for sharing your experience. It is surely a grand description of Lay Benedictines who are challenged to find God in hospitals, village shops, farmyards and the rest.

  4. Good morning, Sister~

    Going in for my fourth round of chemo today and I am more afraid than I was when all this began. NOT looking forward to the fortnight or so that follows and wondering where all my fone words and courage have gone.

    Ora pro nobis, please.

  5. I’m a great believe that as well as us seeking God in every situation, he’s there waiting patiently for that seeking. And whether we’re seeking him or not, we’re liable to find him, particularly in the circumstances that you describe.

    Obviously, I don’t know a lot about the Cloister, but can readily see the link that you make about bringing the Cloister with you to the Hospital.

    A blessing to those who you are meeting and being with at this time and perhaps the spark being lit in their lives that God is waiting for.

    Prayers continue for you.

  6. For many, your life may be the only “sermon” they will ever experience. Even in illness you have a job to do for Him. May God Bless this ministry and give you strength to endure.

  7. I am sure that your presence in the hospital is an incredible grace and blessing.
    I remember that my time in the radiation therapy section of the hospital was one of my most focused moments of prayer. It seemed that for the minute + time of the radiation I was in direct contact with Godde, forgiveness, healing…
    Also many people seemed so much sicker than I was, and the nurses were angels.

    In prayers with you as you’re going through all this.
    With love, as well 🙂

  8. Thank you for your witness. I am a Quaker and believe in witnessing the light within in all of humanity. Your page brings me strength and companionship in this work. I too have been treated for cancer and know how important it was for me to give witness during that time. I do not believe that these experiences are any form of punishment or even bad, they are just another part of our journey. I say prayers for you and all who are on this journey. Many Blessings and thankyou again for your courage and teachings. X

  9. Having been in hospital very frequently over the last six years, I can say that I would agree with you and that hospital can be a place of prayer and giving. However, I am constantly shocked by those who are rude to hospital staff and make unreasonable demands of them. I am always very grateful for the care I receive from all of the hospital staff and try to thank them for all that they do.

  10. Your brave but grounding words today fill me with admiration. How would I react in a similar situation? I’m not sure that I would be as courageous. Prayers are with you on this beautiful June morning.

  11. Thank you for your wonderful witness and for reminding us that the Peace of God can carry us safely through. God is with us. I feel sure that just being there changes the whole dynamic of the day for those around you.

    I was once told that the Chinese ideogram for ‘crisis’ is the same as for ‘opportunity’ and have many times observed and experienced how a Christian faith can turn a situation on its head. Such is elemental power of the Resurrection. We must conclude that you are meant to be present in their midst, a breath of that Other Presence.

    God bless you. Sending up many healing prayers.



  12. Thank you for all your comments. Those of you have or have had cancer know that you are in my prayers. You also know that I am not being in the least ‘brave’, just reflecting on what is part of my current experience of life. There are many people who don’t speak and probably wouldn’t want to, but all of them are held in prayer before the Lord.

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