dark clouds at sunrise

A day is coming

Denise West, OSB Far from home, Living in Community 14 Comments

On Ash Wednesday, we had a reading from Joel:sunrise-sunset-blog

Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of God is coming, it is near—
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
—Joel 2:1-2

I know how that feels, I thought. A day is coming near to me, a day of darkness and gloom…the day I have to leave Holy Wisdom Monastery and return to New York City. The thought of it stirs fear in the pit of my stomach.

The notes in my study bible say that this imagery of darkness, gloom, and clouds refers to “the dry desert wind…that fills the sky with blowing dust and marks the transitions between the dry summer and rainy winter seasons in Israel.” (The Harper Collins Study Bible)

Ah-ha, I thought, no wonder. The writer of Joel is describing a time of transition, when what we’ve become accustomed to, what we’ve felt secure with, is going to change.

Fortunately, Paz and I are taking a class on the topic of transitions that Sister Lynne is leading, just as she did when we arrived in September (see Sister Lynne’s earlier blog post on transitions). In the fall I was full of hope and enthusiasm; now the emotions that come up for me are mostly anxiety and dread.

One of our resources for transitions is the teachings of Joyce Rupp, OSM, author of the book Praying Our Goodbyes. We are learning about the importance of endings before you begin something new, and the inevitability of a confusing in-between time.

One recommendation is to be very explicit with oneself about identifying and naming what is being lost and sitting with it, feeling the feelings that come up. It can be tempting to push away the sad feelings and jump ahead mentally into a secure future, where there are no unknowns. I have a tendency to do this. But as a first step, I’ve named the losses. There are many—this wonderful community of women I live with, the constant presence of love and prayer, the daily structure and routine, the shared commitment to Benedictine spirituality, the Liturgy of the Hours, the prairie, wonderful coworkers and Sunday Assembly members, not to mention plenty of time devoted to inner reflection and discussion around the spiritual life without worrying about a job to get to and bills to pay.

fish-in-the-seaPart of me imagines that I’m going to be ripped away from the source of the divine when I leave and will be left on my own; it’s almost too much to bear. But in the logical, thinking part of my brain, I know that God isn’t only here in community.

As Father Laurence Freeman writes, “Ordinary life…teaches the error of identifying God with religion, temple, synagogue, mosque or church… God is everywhere at all times.” (from Christian Meditation: Your Daily Practice) I know it would be a mistake for me to identify God with Holy Wisdom Monastery, as tempting as it is.

The point isn’t to remain mired in feelings of loss, of course. Even though I’m leaving, I have changed and I’ve gained so much from this experience. I need to consider the gifts that I’ll be taking back with me. In what ways will my life be richer from this experience? Are there ways I can replace some of what I’ve experienced here even in New York? I’ll be honest—I haven’t gotten there yet. I keep getting sidetracked thinking about what kind of work I’m going to find and whether I can be happy living in New York. I love it here, and it’s tempting to dream about moving here to be near the monastery. But I owe it to myself to really try to create a fulfilling life in New York with the communities I belong to there.

Once again I’ll leave off with a quote from Henri Nouwen. I haven’t processed this yet, but I know it holds a key for me as I accept the reality of heading off into another part of my journey:

Prayer is the breath of your life which gives you freedom to go and to stay where you wish and to find the many signs which point out the way to a new land.
– Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing

Amen to that!


Read other posts from Denise in her series, Far from home.

Comments 14

  1. Dear Denise: I hear the sadness in your “voice” in this letter. And your anxiety. But I also see a glow and a wholeness that has come to you from your experiences at Holy Wisdom.
    I will begin as an Oblate at the Monastery this coming April; and your opening your heart to the community in your letter, opens a light filled window for me. The butterflies in my stomach just flew out that window.
    I have a feeling that you will be taking a heart filled with that light with you, and it will be a blessing to who ever you come to work with in New York…or where ever your path takes you.
    Look ahead with joy! It will wrap up the trepidation!

    1. I’m touched by your comments, Deborah, thank you. The hardest part for me is always the leaving, but I know your words are true. Joy is coming down the pike.


  2. Denise — What a wonder-filled message on transition. And, your thoughtful, loving words fill my spirit. We Riversiders look forward to welcoming your return to our community. Truly.

  3. Luvon! How wonderful to hear from you!

    Thank you for reading. When I’m feeling blue about leaving I often turn my thoughts to Riverside as a source of comfort and a sense of groundedness. I do indeed look forward to being back in your midst!


  4. So, I tearfully reply to your wise and lovely words. I have no doubt, Denise, that you will share the goodness you have found at Holy Wisdom, as you continue your journey. And, how blessed we have been to have you among us.
    I will miss you a ton, but am hoping our paths will cross again….
    Much love,

    1. Thank you, Rita, that’s very touching. You know I’ll be carrying you back in my heart, and without a doubt we’ll meet again.

      …and I still have nearly three weeks left!

  5. I am so glad that you have had this opportunity for deepening your spirit. It is in you now and cannot be extinguished. The contrast with NYC will hopefully allow you to share with us how to bring that connection into our lives. Transition. …ah. Best done with eyes wide open.

  6. Hi Ruth!

    Yes, with the sisters’ help I’m going through the process as intentionally as I can. I have a lot more respect now for how much time it takes.

    I, too, am looking forward to bringing as much of this experience as I can back to NY. Thank you for reading and offering your kind words.

    See you soon!

  7. It has been a joy to get to know you. You have been a gift in my life. Know that you take all you have learned, loved and felt with you on the next part of your journey. You will certainly be missed!

    1. Thank you so much, Sylvia. It’s been wonderful talking with you and getting to know the whole oblate community. What a wonderful blessing you have in each other. I’ll miss seeing you every other month on retreat!

      May you continue to grow and share your wisdom in this community.

  8. Hi Denise,

    The world in all its diversity is a wondrous place. I love NYC. Its people, its neighborhoods, its noisy bustle. Each moment a prayer and celebration of amazing differences. I will be in NYC from April 15 to the 20th visiting my children. Maybe we can have coffee. Blessing on the journey! Thanks for praying with the Sunday Assembly and Children’s Liturgy of the Word.

    Much love,

    Colleen Hartung

    1. Colleen, that’s terrific! Yes, nothing would give me more pleasure than to see you in NY!

      It’s been so wonderful to live here in these peaceful surroundings; I know it will be an adjustment getting back in the midst of so much action. I’ll carry all of you at Sunday Assembly back with me in my heart.


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