Last weekend, I traveled to San Francisco to celebrate the wedding of a dear friend (at St Marks Lutheran Church, pictured here). Just a few weeks earlier she had been in the congregation that witnessed my first monastic profession at Holy Wisdom Monastery. It had been a long time since I’d last been a bridesmaid and as I carefully packed my dress and heels, I had to smile. I remembered my friend asking nervously whether my Benedictine sisters would mind if I wore the strapless dress she had chosen for the ceremony. Although we both had laughed heartily over the potential scandal, her question highlighted the new reality that I was living into. Our friendship had shifted to include a community of people to whom I was now promised, and whose thoughts and values now formed a part of our relationship.
There are some commitments that change our lives forever. As I stood for my friend’s wedding, I mused over the angle of a bridesmaid. From where I was standing at the altar rail I couldn’t see my friend’s face at all during the ceremony, but I had an excellent view of her husband-to-be. I watched his face intently during the vows, suddenly recognizing that in his solemn promise to love my friend, he would become a part of my life too. It was a shift that prompted me to pray fiercely alongside the minister for this dear couple, their commitment and the ever-expanding network of their love that now included me in its reach. (right: Suman and Helen Kwon Kalanithi are all smiles, rejoicing in their new commitment.)
Flying back to school, fresh from the celebrations and full of joy, I couldn’t help but reflect on the nature of commitment and love. What brings us to the “altar” of our lives? What drives us to bind ourselves with such solemn promises? How do we navigate the inevitable challenges of living out of these strong bonds? Are we all just a little nuts? Perhaps so. I thought of two married friends who had shared with me recently that they were going through a rough patch and whose pain was palpable. I thought of my missionary friend in Tanzania who, despite having suffered malaria 5 times, still speaks in rapturous terms of his joy and his firm resolve to continue his work there. I thought of my fellow students at Saint John’s and how many of them have made sacrifices to study theology and be of service to others. I thought of my own baptism and all the years since that have led me to the commitments of celibate love and community life, different from my married friends but no less challenging.
In an age of options, where the sheer array of one’s choices is a direct measure of success, it seems almost quaint to contemplate a binding vow. Yet there comes a time in each person’s life when the ability to make and keep commitments reflects our maturity, our stability and wholeness as human beings. As we dedicate ourselves fully and consciously to certain bonds, our whole world shifts – impacting every relationship in its scope. What, but love, could draw us to make such strong promises? What, but a community, can hold us to keep them when they inevitably chafe? (pictured above, Lean on Me, by Patrick Dougherty, an art installation in the St John’s Abbey Arboretum, Collegeville, MN)
As I returned to my studies, I was invigorated by what I had witnessed at my friend’s marriage. Yet I groaned over my Greek textbook, wishing that I could have been whisked off for a honeymoon. As I applied myself instead to the definitively unromantic task of memorizing vocabulary and parsing verbs, I complained internally. Why did I ever sign up for Greek!? With a sigh I realized that the first flush of excited learning had passed. Now the real and daily work of commitment was at hand.
Read other blog posts from Sister Rosy in her series, Letters home.