A little light-heartedness is called for on this grey August morning. So, I thought I would share with you some of the secrets of our inbox, especially the ones that make me smile. All the emails or messages to which I allude have been received within the last six months but I must confess that some have left me speechless and haven’t yet received an answer. I don’t think it would be wise to mention them here. You can let your imagination run riot instead (see second para and the work of the reader).
There is the question, ‘Why don’t you write more learned posts? You probably could.’ Oh, how I love that ‘probably’! I agree; I probably could write more learned posts, with a huge number of footnotes to show how much learning I have pinched from others, but I long ago settled on the idea of trying to read and think first then write simply and clearly, leaving the reader work to do on his/her own. That allows me to fly a few kites, which is always rather nice from the writer’s point of view, and keeps me at least a little humble, because there is always something more to learn, often unexpectedly. In short, I am all in favour of learning (both senses).
‘Does Bro Duncan PBGV know all about heaven?’ asks another. That makes me smile, but in a kind way. Of course he does; and I hope one day we all will, too; but we’ll be so busy experiencing heaven we won’t spend any time reflecting on the experience. All will be joy and bliss for ever and ever.
‘I am 80, but still active and healthy. Do you have any age limits for entry to the community?’ Um. Well, yes, we think you may be a little mature for us. If we were a bigger community . . . It is always difficult to answer such questions because we try to keep an open mind, but some people are unrealistic about themselves and what a small community such as ours can manage. Then there is the ‘I am 28 years old, hold a Master’s in Monastic Theology and would like to spend a week in your community, from x to y of this month, to decide whether I am called to Benedictine life or not.’ Ye-es; but it doesn’t work quite like that. There are three parties to this discernment business: you, the community, and most important of all, God, and it isn’t something that can be rushed. I suggest we begin with a video conference, but rarely do I hear back. The immediate, positive agreement to the suggested plan was what was wanted.
I love all the suggestions about what we could/should do. Some are really helpful (eg. where to obtain goods and services the monastery needs) but others leave me warm under my wimple. ‘Live-stream your worship in choir’ say some; ‘produce a video of everyday life in the monastery’ say others; ‘tell us your personal vocation story’ urge yet more. We haven’t the resouces or the inclination to live-stream our prayer; a video about life in the monastery would be both expensive and intrusive for such a small community; and as to my ‘personal vocation story’, I’m terribly English and would rather have my nails torn from me than be so personal in public.
It is easy to mock, and I hope I am not doing that. My favourite secrets of the inbox are those that leave me feeling I have met a good person who is much closer to the Lord than I am. Often the prayer requests we receive tell a story of suffering bravely borne, of generosity in the face of difficulty, and sometimes of immense sacrifice. It is a privilege to share such secrets. I hope they will teach me to become a better person myself. Yes, this nun is all for learning.