When my mom and a friend visited some years ago, I played tour guide around Italy. Rome, Venice, and the usual tourist areas. And they loved it all. But we have friends all over, so we also traipsed the smaller towns and villages. Staying in people’s homes, they saw The Real Italy!
But our visit to the Este castle in Ferrara led to a nearby church, where an eerie feeling pervaded. Evoked perhaps from walking over people long dead and buried. Members of the Este family lie buried beneath the floor. And I’m not sure I’d like worshiping over dead people.
But the guidebook also showed a nunnery, open to visitation, which piqued my interest. Ancient churches and buildings, filled with equally ancient paintings wearied me. It baffles me why people travel halfway around the world just to view one painting after another. But to each his own!
“Even a nunnery would be better than this!” I thought. At least we would find some life there!
Mom and Patsy agreed. So we marched next door, thinking to just walk straight in. Like at a tourist site. That’s the way the book described it, anyway.
“Ring for admittance,” the sign said, so I rang. And the door creaked slowly open as if on magic hinges. Revealing a brown enameled wall, with one inhospitable looking door barring the way. And a tiny foyer dismally devoid of life.
“So much for finding life here!” I thought, peering through the scant light filtering down from the high deeply set windows. The place was about as welcoming as the castle dungeon! “Let’s get out of here,” Patsy whispered, even though it seemed there were none to hear.
And then we heard, “What do you want?”
“Ah, we were hoping, or that is, we wanted to visit the nunnery,” I, as the only one of our trio who could speak Italian, stuttered nervously. Gaping about to see from where that hushed, monotonic voice issued.
It was only then that we spied the strange window, revolving, but never opening.
Only later did I learn that all cloisters have these turns (doors or windows) used for delivery of food and necessities. Revolving windows or doors, although more like totally cased-in water wheels turned sideways, that allow only brief, but invisible communication with the outside world. Much like a revolving door, but made of solid wood panels.
Unable to see either in or out, these turns allowed for the delivery of food and other necessities, without allowing human contact. And thus, shielded the nuns from unnecessary interruptions.
We fled that tomb-like atmosphere, glad to return to fresh air and sunshine, surrounded by people.
And although part of me admires the spirit of devotion and consecration which must lead to such vows, I can’t help but compare such a life to Christ’s command to make disciples.
How does one fulfill this command, secluded from contact with others?
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19).
Yet they had one thing which often seems sadly lacking in our everyday lives. A sort of holy hush or rest.
Although that eerie silence didn’t make me feel restful, it did make me feel the need for it. Cloistered living seems, to me, man’s way of trying to do what only the Holy Spirit can do. Man’s way of trying to enter the rest of God’s presence.
Barred and closed turnstiles don’t seem to supply the answer. Yet we do need barriers in our lives.
Limits, time schedules, and definite restrictions to aid in keeping unnecessary interruptions out. That say, “thus far, and no more.” Limits to TV, internet, entertainment, and wasting time. Because a life filled with unnecessary distractions hinders us from entering God’s rest.
The gate we need is self-discipline, which never comes easily.
But we need to work at it if we are to enter God’s rest. For by keeping unnecessary interruptions at bay, we create space for the holy hush of his presence.
And it’s in that atmosphere that we can hear what he has to say. What are you hearing?
[Image: beach in Puglia ©TheScorziellos-Mario]