7. Is your life very austere?
Monastic poverty does not mean living in destitution but it does mean cutting out, as far as possible, all that is superfluous. So we eat sensibly and have sufficient clothing and heating but we try to avoid luxuries. Benedictine poverty includes taking care of material things, even if they're old and worn, and avoiding waste. We do not each plan our own finances but we can exercise responsibility about not wasting water or electricity. We do a certain amount of fasting in Lent and Advent and at certain other times, and newcomers accustom themselves to this gradually. The Abbess has to take into account St. Benedict's principle that the regime should be such that "the strong may still have something to long after and the weak may not draw back in alarm" (Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 64). Anyone, however, can try to fast from chatter or from trivia or from shutting doors noisily. Some find it an austerity to respond promptly when the bell goes for prayer or if they are asked to lend a hand unexpectedly: it's good to remember that these are opportunities for showing love, just as a mother responds promptly to her crying baby even if she's not filled with a warm maternal glow at that particular moment.
8. Do you get on with each other or do you ever argue?
The test of an authentic prayer-life is not whether we are rapt in ecstasy or having visions but whether we love our neighbour. Also, there's not much point in praying for the cancellation of third world debt if we're bearing grudges against the nun in the next cell. So we do try to love each other. It's natural that we find some personalities more sympathetic than others; it's also natural that we rub each other up the wrong way at times; but we try to go beyond natural affinity or irritation to find and love Christ in each sister. Individual nuns will have strong opinions on every conceivable subject and by no means do we all see eye to eye on everything, but if we're putting love before everything else then we'll know when to enjoy a lively discussion and when to swallow our views. Learning to love is the work of a life-time. Nowadays most people enter after some years in a career and living independently, and they may find it takes time to learn how to take into account the opinions and decisions of the thirty other members of the monastic household, to say nothing of the distilled wisdom of fifteen centuries of Benedictinism. We take encouragement from the example of our elderly sisters who after fifty or sixty years of monastic life have lost nothing of their individual personalities or enthusiasm but whose capacity to love has grown wider and wider.
9. How can you give up so many things? If you have withdrawn from the world, what value can your life have for others?
Any worthwhile life involves the sacrifice of some good things for the sake of even better things. Moreover, all the members of the Body of Christ do not have the same function, as St Paul explains. While there will always be some to engage in more activie works, there have been,and always will be, others whose way of life shows that action is not everything and that God is the real centre of our lives and activities, the one thing necessary. "Without Me you can do nothing." Prayer, union with Christ is the soul of the apostolate and the source of its fruitfulness.
"There are institutes which are totally ordered towards contemplation in such wise that that their members give themselves over to God alone in solitude and silence, in constant prayer and willing penance. These will always have an honoured place in the mystical body of Christ, in which all the members do not have the same function (Rom 12:4), no matter how pressing may be the needs of the active ministry. For they offer to God an exceptional sacrifice of praise, they brighten God’s people with the abundant fruits of holiness, they sway them by their example, and they enlarge the Church by their hidden apostolic fruitfulness. Thus they are the glory of the Church and a source of heavenly graces." (Perfectae Caritatis 7)
We also believe that every person was made for the love and praise of God and that God is indeed worthy of our love and praise -our lives. In the Divine Office and throughout our monastic day we are doing what we hope we shall be doing for all eternity - gazing at him who is all beauty, truth and goodness - although here we do it "as in a mirror" and there we shall do it "face to face". Any baptized person, when he or she prays or does what is right, raises up the whole world because the prayer or action is done "in Christ". The enclosure of the monastery enables us to do this with special concentration. Our talents and personalities are not on display in the way they would be if we were following a glamorous career; rather, they are focussed entirely on God, and used for him. In our prayer and especially in the psalms of the Divine Office we express to God the joy and hope, fear and sorrow of all mankind. The deeper our prayer-life becomes, the greater is our capacity to share with all mankind God's mercy and love.
10. Where do you all come from? What made you join the community?
There are as many different vocation stories as there are sisters in the community. Some felt close to God from childhood; for others, he became a real person only after they had spent years outside the Church, or in it but not having any special feeling about it. Some people visited the monastery once and that was enough: it was love at first sight and they felt they had to enter. For others there was a period of discovery and carefully weighing up pros and cons, until they made the leap. Some entered straight from school, others after work as a teacher, librarian, tax accountant, hotel manager, gardener with the London Parks. God works through natural things, so some people are initially drawn to us because they're attracted by some aspect of our life, such as the liturgy or the community. There comes a stage, however, when an enquirer realizes that, beyond the details of what attracts or repels her, there is a person calling her, God himself, and she has to decide whether she's going to respond or not. It's not easy, but saying "yes" to God is the only way to joy and peace.
11. I can't sing! Is that an impediment to joining your Community?
Women come to us with a variety of gifts and talents. Singing doesn’t have to be one of them. While it is true that we value the enhancement that beautiful music brings to the liturgy and our communal prayer of the Divine Office, quality of voice and musical ability are not necessary.