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.

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