This installment in our fictional Vocation Letter series is from Melanie to her older sister Clare.
Thank you for your prayers during my latest vocation visit, to the Dominican Nuns in Marbury, Alabama. You know I have been increasingly drawn to contemplative life, but this was my first visit to a cloistered order.
You are probably wondering, “What is it like to visit a cloister?” Since the nuns stayed in the enclosure and I stayed outside, how much “come and see”ing could there be? I found the monastery to be amazingly simple and radiantly beautiful. Yes, I stayed outside the cloistered part, in the small guest area. Through a door at one end of the hall I could walk right into the chapel, where Our Lord awaited me in the Blessed Sacrament; at the other end, the door opened to the parlor, where the visitors’ section is separated from the nuns’ section by a railing and grille. I thought the grille might be an obstacle in talking to Sister, but after a few minutes I didn’t even notice it. There is also a grille in the chapel separating the sanctuary from the choir (the part where the nuns pray).
Praying the Office with the nuns was incredible. They gave me a little booklet with the chant so I could follow along with the antiphons and with the Latin psalms and canticles of Lauds and Vespers. (Compline has its own booklet—with the Dominican Salve Regina for the Salve procession!) The chant itself is so beautiful. I was also able to speak with the Vocation Directress, who answered many of my questions about discerning a cloistered contemplative vocation and about the Dominican monastic life. It was also helpful and a lot of fun to hear a few of the Sisters’ vocation stories—some more recent, one from the very first Sister to enter this monastery back in the ‘40s! She’s been here 68 years! Do you know what she told me? “It’s been the best life.”
My strongest impression from the weekend is of simplicity and peace. From the chapel, with its simple concrete block walls and holy statues immersed in peace and the presence of God, to the grounds (they have some nice wooded parts in front, lots of pine trees), to the spirit of the Sisters. It really is the spirit of Our Lady, too. Sister says that they are hidden away “under the mantle of Our Lady.” That is a really beautiful image.
I could go on and on, but I’ll tell you more when I talk with you next. Please keep praying for me to know what is God’s will!