Life after Epiphany


2 Comments

If you have left religious life…

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.57.30 pm… do you feel a little lost, or a little alone?

Please allow me to share with you a little of my own baby steps in this area, and tell you about a wonderful service you might find helpful as you take the time and space you need to re-adjust.

When I returned to the world, even though there was a real peace in the knowledge that leaving was what He was asking of me, I still felt the weight of a very radical life change. I had moved half way around the world, had no income or means, and was completely dependent on the goodness of others for several months. I felt a little isolated, too; there just isn’t any kind of experience analogous to living and leaving religious life. It was something I need to explore and talk about in order to process it and adjust to the “new normal”, but with whom could I discuss it?

I tried to talk with family and friends. They wanted so badly to help, to comfort, to assist with the adjustment, and did what they could; yet I needed something they were not equipped to give. I needed to speak with someone who had lived something similar to what I had lived. I needed someone who on some level could understand the experience, because it was a shared experience.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .””

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Lewis knew what he was talking about!!!

Friendship is so important through life’s ups and downs, but often the type of friendship that helps most is the very type Lewis defines here. Re-connecting with a few very dear friends who had also entered and left was the very best thing that could happen to me. We lived in different timezones, but somehow we managed to organise times for Skype calls where we could enjoy each other’s company, reminisce a little and support each other through our respective adjustments. Shared experience, a great deal of gentleness with each other  and some quality time… and all of a sudden I was experiencing healing. The Lord was working through these wonderful women and drawing me closer to Himself all the while!

Then my need for this fellowship encountered an extraordinary blessing: the Leonie’s Longing ministry. Leonie’s Longing are a not-for-profit based in the United States, but with a global reach. As far as officially who they are, I’ll let their own “about” page do the talking on that. But I WILL tell you what I have experienced.

When I first contacted Leonie’s Longing I was tentative, afraid, even. I did not share particularly personal information – my heart was hurting and I needed badly to protect it. I gave only those essential facts, the bare minimum of what I needed to convey to be able to receive whatever assistance they could offer. A member of their team of volunteers responded so gently and simply. There was no pressure to respond again, but I did… after a little time had passed. I was still so afraid, so it took a little while before I was ready to reach out again and continue the conversation. Over a period of many months an occasional email went back and forth, but that was all because it was about as much as I could deal with. Each time what was offered was real support and a willing ear, accompanied by respect for my privacy and patience with my fear. Reading the various blog posts of many young women who had similar experiences to my own… but seeing it all through their eyes… was SO HELPFUL. Occasionally, even I now write the odd post here or there for their blog, in my own little effort to give back just a little bit, because I am so very grateful for the support and the sense of community I have found through them. I’d love to be able to help others in the same way… to “pay it forward”, so to speak.

So if you are looking for prayer support, for fellowship… even practical support in your area, you may find this ministry helpful like I did. May the Lord bless, comfort and provide for each of you as you adjust to life out in the world again.

Follow @LeoniesLonging on Twitter

Find Leonie’s Longing on Facebook

Leonie’s Longing Website


Leave a comment

So it’s been a while…

A year, give or take.

What have I been doing? Well, once I decided to pursue a PhD, I realised that I’d somehow have to support myself in the meantime. My existing qualifications suit a fast-paced IT career, but you just can’t juggle an IT career and a PhD in theology and do a half-decent job at either! I decided that my skills were portable into the realms of librarianship, and decided to set about gaining a qualification to work in a library. I’m hoping that this will be an enjoyable interim career that is conducive to winding back to part-time shift work whilst I set about my studies. Thus, in the past year, I have gone and acquired another Masters degree… around a demanding, full-time job as a Business Systems Analyst for a Catholic agency. In a mere 22 days (or sooner, if I can pull it off!) I will submit my final research paper, marking the completion of this degree.  To say that the pace has been insane is an understatement – it has been hard! But sometimes we do what is hard. Thus, my radio silence.

It would appear time to break said radio silence… on the feast of one of the great Evangelists, St. Luke!

Rather than do that here, I chose to do that as a guest-writer for a not-for-profit organisation who are doing wonderful things at the service of those who have left religious life or the seminary. The Leonie’s Longing ministry have been around for about 18 months now, seeking to build community, support structures and provide other assistance for people adjusting back into life out in the world, assimilating the lessons learned in convent or seminary into their “new normal” and trying to figure out how to serve the God they love so much in ways other than what they had thought the plan would be.

Check out their website! You’ll find my guest-blog here, on their site: http://www.leonieslonging.org/he-delights-in-you/


Leave a comment

Sometimes I think my most intense moments are lived in my car… (JGL 6)

Ever heard that song “Woke Up in America” by Matt Maher?

That song has been a little bit of a personal theme song, given my American convent adventure…  and the fact that Australia, as an island nation, is basically a rock in the middle of the ocean (even though technically it is NOT the rock to which Matt Maher was referring!).

So many of the lyrics just truly resonate with me! I really did wake up in America for the love of God, for something bigger than myself!

Tonight as I was driving along and rocking out to the song, though, I was struck by the fact that the preposition TO could also work there… instead of FOR. I woke up in America TO the love of God: my unique encounter with Him woke me up to the reality that His particular and personal love for me is deep beyond my comprehension… I woke up to this reality in such a way that it is far more than “head knowledge” now. Somehow this has become a lived reality for me, something that finally embarked upon that massive journey from my head to my heart, covered the distance and started to take root there.

I woke up in America TO something bigger than myself. I was confronted by the dreadful extent of my own selfishness. In my pride, I was scandalised by my own weakness. But living in community has a way of opening one’s heart to love others… slowly, almost against your will at first… until one sees that there is a world out there of people who need to be loved, people for whom I could be the instrument of God’s own love. Once again, what had been head knowledge started to penetrate my rocky heart.

I guess perhaps the impact of this is lost somewhat in the telling, but I was simply overwhelmed with gratitude for the incredible gift of my time there. Sometimes I get bogged down in the grief of the loss that came with leaving my Community, and the surprising extent to which the adjustment of resettling into lay life has been so very arduous. On this particular occasion, however, I was engulfed with an awareness of what an amazing blessing had been given me.

I think back upon that time, and I realise that it was about as far from “one size fits all” formation that you could get. There were particular experiences and lessons that my peers did not receive – experiences and lessons that were gifted only to me, custom-designed for my formation and salvation. I am sure that the reverse is also true. A gift… a delightfully personal gift… one that continues to form me.

As for Matt Maher – he makes FANTASTIC driving music. I sing, I dance at the traffic lights, I drum-beat the steering wheel… I must look like a lunatic! But the whole thing is a prayer 🙂 Mostly, its just time enjoyed singing praise… but every now and then there is a moment of significance, a moment of discovery, a moment of gratitude.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! His love endures for ever!

– – – – – – –

NB: JGL = Journal of God’s Love
What IS the Journal of God’s Love?


1 Comment

I would so much like to do better!

compline

One of the most confusing things, when one leaves religious life behind, is trying to figure out what a healthy prayer life “on the outside” looks like.

On the one hand, stopping to pray at all the same times and with all the same devotions as I did in the convent is just plain unhealthy. I’m not a religious – I am a lay woman. The prayer life of a religious is not appropriate to the lay state of life. In fact, its actually harmful, as it keeps the lay person from performing the duties proper to the lay state.

Having said that, the opposite extreme would be disastrous. To cease to make prayer a part of my day? Unthinkable. That would be to sever my relationship with the God with whom I have developed an intimate and precious relationship. That would be to lose the spiritual dimension of my life, that life breathed into me at Baptism, that in-dwelling of the Blessed Trinity that I hope and pray I would literally die to preserve.

Well… how about minimalism?

That doesn’t really work either. My relationship with God is founded on love. Minimalism is pretty loveless, pretty self-serving. That would be turning God into what I have heard described in the past as a “Toothbrush God” to be used for ones own health and well-being, and placed back on the shelf until the next time required.

So I know what healthy prayer in lay life is NOT. But what IS it?

I’m still over-correcting one way, and then over-correcting the other, trying to find equilibrium. In 3 days it will have been 8 months since I removed my habit and got on a plane to return home. In that time I’ve done a pretty mixed-up job of trying to maintain a strong and loving relationship with my Heavenly Father. I so much want to do better!

One thing I know for certain – the Mass is central. I need to get to Mass as often as I can. I need Jesus. I need Him. There’s just no two ways about it! I meet Him in the Eucharist. Whenever I’m tempted not to bother with weekday Mass, THATS when I need to step up my commitment. THAT’s when I need Him most. And not in a self-serving way. I need Him because I know that He is the only way for me to be able to return love for Love.

But outside of the Mass?

I’m a Scripture research student. My research is doomed to fail if I don’t spend time PRAYING with Scripture to support my study. I want my research to be at the service of the Lord – so I need to remember ALWAYS to put it in His hands. Each time I sit down to do any work on this, I need to start by praying with the Text for at least 10 minutes prior to commencing any work with it.

What about mental prayer? I need to set perhaps a more realistic target than the 1.5 hours of time before the Blessed Sacrament that used to be part of my horarium. Perhaps 15 minutes of dedicated time for mental prayer. That’s St. Teresa of Avila’s recommendation, right? They didn’t make HER a Doctor of the Church for nothing! 😉 At the beginning of the day, or perhaps some silence in the car on the way to work if all else fails.

And here is something that I think will REALLY be helpful – I need NOT to let go of the Office. Perhaps praying all the hours that I used to do is maybe a little unrealistic at the moment. But Compline? I can fit Compline in. It takes 10-15 minutes and its just before bed so it’s pretty hard to forget.

OK. These are the concrete goals I’m going to set myself for now. Not as a checklist of daily chores – but as an authentic commitment to a relationship that I want to nurture. If you chance across this blog post, please pray for me!


2 Comments

Getting real about my confusion… (JGL 5)

So its been 4 months and 1 week since I did my Audrey Hepburn impersonation.

Have you ever watched The Nun’s Story?

**SPOILER ALERT!!**

In the closing scene Hepburn (Sr. Luke) goes into a little room near the back door of the convent in which she has lived. Changing into some simple clothes, she removes her habit and veil for the last time, revealing a mess of closely cropped hair and a combination of fear and excitement that is palpable.

Her solitude in this scene is confronting. Her goodbyes have already been said, without demonstration, without delays. She steps out the back door and it is all over.

Similarly, I went into a small room to remove my habit and veil for the last time, donning simple, comfortable clothes and partaking of a hearty meal (it was breakfast time) to prepare for the long trip  had ahead of me. Alone, in silence. Well, not really alone – the Lord was with me. I was blessed also that, when I had eaten and changed and emerged from this little room, I had companions for my journey. My novice mistress and a dear friend of mine accompanied me to the airport, helped me get organized, and stayed with me right up until the sign “Passengers only beyond this point” jumped out at me, taunting me, as I took that final step away from the life I had known.

Lets not over-dramatize this. I had not, like Hepburn’s character, lived the life for 20+ years. I had been a novice, I was in my second year of religious life, and I had not yet made vows. It is, however, quite remarkable how quickly that place and that life became my home, and how difficult it has been to let go.

When I left, I had absolute clarity  that although God had called me to live religious life for a time, that He was not calling me to make vows. That clarity was necessary, for without it I would not have been able to make the decision to leave. It was a beautiful mercy, that for that time I was able to see so clearly, for the Truth truly did make me free. I chose freely my path and did so with complete trust that the steadfast love of God would persist and that He smiled upon my desire to please Him in what I was doing. Although the FEELING of certainty is failing me these days, my intellectual capacity to choose to trust the Father who keeps His promises remains. I still trust in the clarity I was given at the time the decision was to be made and acted upon.

Nevertheless, for all that I choose to continue trusting, I still have a mess of feelings and confusion with which to contend. That disconnect between my head and my heart is causing disconcerting unease.

#1 gripe with the outside world? THERE’S NO SILENCE!! It really drives me nuts 😉

I live in a large family and it is unreasonable and uncharitable to lock myself away from them during normal living hours. I steal a few hours of silent, alone time in the wee small hours when I can, when I know its not going to make me an absolute zombie at work the next day.

But then there’s the question of how I use the little silence that I manage to procure whilst the world snores.

In the convent, the times and places of silence were designed to help me to be recollected in the Lord, to make every bit of time possible a meeting place with Him. It was prayer time!

Here? I know instinctively that I need the silence… but I get lost in my own thoughts so often and tend to run away from being alone with Him.

What am I afraid of?

I don’t want to let my intimacy with the Lord slip away into the night. My relationship with Him means everything to me. And yet even to cry out the words of Psalm 22 seems misplaced here – for it is not GOD who is doing the abandoning.

My God, my God, don’t let me abandon You! Help me to be faithful! Help me respond to Your grace!

Those times we would sit together in the chapel, and I would imagine we were walking together in the garden in the cool of the day? I long for those twilight “walks” again!

Teach me how to love You, how to abide with You, out here in the world since it seems that THIS and not the inside of a cloister is where You want me to be.

Meanwhile… I give thanks to the Lord amidst this confusion. I know that even this crazy time of being unsettled is itself a gift in the broader context of my salvation. A gift of providence from the Father who knows exactly what I need to ensure that one day I dwell with Him in Heaven.

Even in this whirlwind, I am experiencing God’s love.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! His love endures for ever!

– – – – – – –

NB: JGL = Journal of God’s Love
What IS the Journal of God’s Love?