It is a land apart, entirely separate, an enclosure of heart and spirit: seven acres largely undeveloped; quiet gardens scattered along a softly worn path that rings the building. The house itself is simple, two stories, pristine brick. A Tau cross dominates the center wall between long strips of glass windows. At the driveway’s edge, an unassuming sign: Monastery of St. Clare. Inside, 12 women live by the thirteenth century Rule of St. Clare.
Here are lives devoted to the struggle of being human. In the intensity of communal life within enclosure, specific physical space reserved for those vowed to God, they share a promise in a shared space with shared commitment and accountability for growth. Their days are measured in increments of time: the cadence of hours of communal prayer, common meals, hours of silence and work within the walls for the sustenance rof all. These are women choosing to live apart from the world for a specific purpose: pursuit of relationship with God and one another.
And yet, their lives are marked by a measured sameness: schedule,s practices and ritual. There is an invitation to deep work in the hours of common quiet: individual practice baring the mystical relationship with a generous God. There is a firm sense that this God becomes manifest in and through one another, deepening the sense of communion and cracking open the depth of emotional and psychological life in inescapable presence to one another.
There is a pervasive sense of gratitude, a consciousness of need and want alongside the sense of purpose, a kind of acknowledgement of dependence on something other than self. It is present in their voices, in the greetings granted others, in the openness to what stories reach them from the outside world.
The “outside world” is somehow drawn here. Perhaps it is the mystery of how this could be happening in the fullness of 21st century science and technology. Perhaps it is merely curiosity at the quaintness of lives shaped by centuries. Maybe it is search for what life as a human really means, for the dimensions of human life which are not as easily explored as the physical. Maybe it is the realization that mindfulness has a history and a fullness that can be experienced in the context of a spiritual life.
Their lives represent one dimension of Catholicism, one possible path, of all that is human. In a sense, their choices, fully discerned and freely made, are a gift to the whole. They represent something for the rest of us who hold onto and live into active work and family life with unfettered enthusiasm. Where ours is a path of busy being and active doing, squeezing moments of prayer in desperate pleas, theirs is a path charted carefully with the daily rhythm of Sacred Scripture and the wisdom of lived experience.
In some ways, their devotion shows what real commitment can look like. And yet, our lives on the outside of those enclosure walls are what they learn from and wonder about, what provides fodder for their prayer and a foundation for their existence. One form of Catholic life, then, informs and enriches the others.
In a time of diminishment, where two generations have walked away from the practice of the faith, that monastery sweetly nestled in the woods is a clear reminder that we are in this together. The framework may be frayed and damaged, but the story is not quite over yet. There are still those who are called, those who seek, those who serve and those who pray and those who visit, just for snatches of time to become more than they were before.