As Others See Us

Yesterday brought yet another request from the media to explore aspects of our monastic life with them. We shall think and pray about it, but given our small numbers and our desire to live a truly contemplative life, I suspect we’ll decide not to agree. We’ve done a lot of T.V. and radio in the past, but I’m not sure that we would be as receptive to the idea now. Having said that, I’m quite certain that Quietnun, for example, could provide people with some deep and beautiful reflections on what it means to be a Benedictine nun; and I daresay people would be fascinated to see how we live (Gosh! They get their washing-up liquid from Aldi! Ooh! That’s a magnificent Wenham on the wall! Ah! What a sweet dog they have!) but to convey the reality, the substance of our life, to someone who has never lived it is much harder than one might suppose. To observe is not necessarily to understand because the inner motivation, the personal response to God’s call, is so individual. How does one explain how the daily search for God encompasses much that is routine, boring, even unpleasant — because God has taken one that way? And does anyone really gain anything from seeing a nun change a washer on a tap or sit at a computer and code?

At the moment British T.V. and radio seem to be awash with monastic subjects. I hope and pray that they will be helpful to those who hear or watch them, and that the communities that have welcomed the media into their monasteries will not feel drained by the experience. But I am still left wondering whether, if we take away the grand buildings of the monks (nuns’ buildings in this country are usually not grand) and the funny clothes we wear (habits), monks and nuns are not as interesting to the general public as media types tend to assume. Our most important work remains prayer; and that, by definition, is something that cannot be captured digitally. In fact, it cannot be captured at all, because it takes us into the realm of God, into a place we must go humbly, darkly, and often apparently alone.