I wake up early the next morning to the sounds of voices in the living room. I slip from my PJs to my work clothes in minutes and leave my room. The girls from the night before are sitting at the table, drinking tea. I say good morning, and then I pour myself a cup of coffee from the pot that is already made and sit at the table with them. Is it my imagination, or do they scooch away from me as I sit?
Barbara had mentioned something the night before that I couldn’t stop thinking about. She said that getting to know someone is different in a monastic setting. Many of the nuns entered later in life—some had previous marriages, children, PhDs, careers—yet it might take months, years even, for those subjects to come up. What mattered more was the unspoken: love, grace, forgiveness. I thought about what I think of as “my story,” all the stuff I’ve always believed tells others who I am: the jobs I’ve had, the schools I’ve attended, the places I’ve lived.
I sip my coffee. I want to show these girls that I’m not some city monster come to gobble up their serenity. I sit silently. I bring everything I have other than words to the table: my goodness, my sincerity, my desire to learn. I drink my coffee with those intentions sitting with me like silent partners and I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel their defensiveness begin to soften.
I walk alone to mass, past the same trees and animal enclosures as the evening before. It is a cloudy morning, the air is heavy with moisture, all over I can hear drops fall from the leaves, the sound of nature’s xylophone. The llamas raise their heads to watch me pass. “Good morning!” I call to them (because, really, who can pass a llama without offering a greeting?). Whereas the day before walking this path with so many new discoveries before me, I had felt uncertain and unmoored, now I am excited. It reminds me of being a kid in the forest, when I thought I could live in the trees and stay forever.
Unlike Vespers, the majority of Mass is spoken in English. It is something like a medieval rap song with calls and responses (or prayers and antiphons as the Catholics call them). Yet, the words don’t mean much to me. I listen to the rhythm more than anything else. That day’s reading includes this gem: “Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” Say what?
I listen intently for some little bit that I will comprehend, that might help shed light on the mysteries of life. Then one of the nuns reads a section of the Gospel According to Luke: “Jesus said, ‘What is the Kingdom of God like?’ It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden…It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened.” Finally, something I can relate to. Everything, all of it, boils down to a mustard seed. Can it be that simple?