BENEDICTINE BLISS, September 2013
By Sister Hannah Vanorny
SHOES! Walking the Path of Monasticism
I moved into Annunciation Monastery as a Postulant, carrying only a borrowed suitcase and one pair of sandals.
People are often very confused about the stages of initial formation in a religious community. Our stages go in this order: Affiliation, Postulancy, Novitiate, First Profession, and Final (or Perpetual) Monastic Profession. When a woman becomes a Postulant, she officially moves into our main monastery, receiving a bedroom in the “cloistered” area of the monastery (aka our bedroom area).
Our Postulant ceremony must look strange to outsiders. The candidate, suitcase in hand, knocks on the front door of the monastery. The Prioress lets her in, inquiring: “What do you seek?” The woman answers in her own words, indicating she would like to deepen her relationship with God while living within the monastic community. It is a ceremony steeped in tradition, with the community waiting in joyful anticipation on one side of the door, and the woman knocking patiently on the other, waiting to be welcomed in.
Ever since we welcomed a new Postulant into our monastery a couple of weeks ago, I have been thinking about my own ceremony. I did not actually move into the monastery the day of the ceremony (I made the BIG MOVE a few days later) but, as part of the tradition, I still needed to carry a suitcase. My affiliate director thought it would be more authentic if I actually had something in the suitcase.
I did not own any luggage, but this was not a big problem since we live in community and share things. I ended up borrowing a small suitcase from another Sister. It was an interesting suitcase – a green and orange-flowered explosion of color straight out of the 1970s. Actually, since Sisters rarely get rid of things, it probably was that old. Sisters mend, re-sew, duct tape, pin – anything rather than throw something away. Because of this habit, I have seen some mighty interesting clothing concoctions over the years. 🙂
Anyway, I thought it was a little silly to actually put something in the suitcase, but I obediently cast about for something. I considered meaningful things: a Benedictine medal, a rosary, one of my first prayer books. However, after much thought, I settled on a pair of black sandals. After all, I reasoned, if this whole Postulancy thing was just the second stop on my monastic journey, I was going to need good shoes to weather the rest of the journey. I knew I had many miles still to go! Unfortunately, those sandals only lasted another month or so before falling apart. I was not overly surprised by my shoes’ demise; I am a very cheap shoe buyer. I love shoes, but I can’t bear to spend money on them. I tend to get my shoes at thrift stores, rummage sales, and clearance racks. I proudly wore for two years a pair of shoes I got for one dollar at Wal-Mart; they are just now finally (sadly!) coming apart.
Since my Postulancy ceremony in 2006, I have grown, changed, and become a different person as I have aged and matured in monastic life. My feet, it seems, have also aged and matured, forcing me to alter my shoe buying habits. I admit, in the past, I had secretly scorned older people who had to buy “expensive” shoes because cheap shoes hurt their feet. Those expensive shoes, I felt, were not only a waste of money, but also rather ugly. I shook my head at their utilitarian no-nonsense practical shoes, while I sported flip-flops, chunky-heeled sandals, pink flats, shiny sneakers, and ankle boots. When older Sisters would look at my shoes and exclaim, “How can you WEAR those things, don’t they hurt your feet?,” I would just sigh and roll my eyes.
During the past years, however, my feet have begun to betray me – they have had the nerve to age along with the rest of me! Certain shoes have begun to hurt A LOT. Shoes in my closet that used to be just cute are now cute and deadly. One day in them and I have to spend the next few days wearing my super-comfortable (but quite unattractive) Dr. Scholl’s shoes.
It’s a good thing my inner journey as a Sister has not followed the same path as my shoes! While my feet have aged in a negative way, my understanding of what it means to live the monastic life has matured and blossomed in a positive way over the years. Through every stage in formation, I have learned so much regarding myself and my relationship with God. With every Liturgy of the Hours I have attended, every class I have taken, every moment I have spent in Lectio, every encounter with my community of Sisters – I have grown. I have now progressed through all of the stages and am very close to completing my initial formation journey. My Final Profession liturgy is October 12th of this year – everyone is invited, but if you attend, please do not look at my shoes! 🙂 I may be wearing boring, practical-looking shoes on the outside, but on the inside, I will be glowing with an exciting and decidingly impractical love for my life as a Benedictine Sister.