Wednesday, March 18, 2009
ARRIVING AT THE CONVENT
Before coming to the convent, I would very occasionally poke up (from under the ashes of a million last-minute preparations) a few sparks of curiosity about what it would be like to actually be at the convent, and in New Zealand. I can’t remember much of what I came up with, but as it turns out, the most surprising bits of convent life have been the ones I assumed would be a certain way, so that it didn’t occur to me to wonder about them.
The little plane by which postulants arrive with in Wanganui.
Glimpses of the countryside from the plane.
First views of Wanganui
To start with the trivial, I wondered a good bit how I would do as a teacher, but the last thing that it would have occurred to me to worry about was language difference! And yet, more than once in the last few weeks I have gotten stuck over things like “refill” instead of “looseleaf,” “twink” instead of “whiteout” and “rubber” for “eraser.” And, though any teacher could have told me this (and probably has) I have yet to learn the basic rule: don’t give the students more work than you can mark!
Cheryl and I are both here from the United States, and although she has been in France a good deal and I am from Argentina, there are always differences in a new culture. Mealtimes are closer to American than Argentinean ones, though the names are different, but the biggest food difference has been fish as prepared by the Filipino postulants—and in this our culture shock, like our inexperience with handling fish bones, was shared by most of the Sisters, of all nationalities! The fish was delicious, though, and the cooks have been asked to prepare it again—though not too often, because it takes so long to eat! And Sundays and feasts have proved that the convent is entirely populated by talented cooks.
As for Dominican culture, of course I spent the first week in hopeless confusion over profound, middle and head inclinations, turning to the outside in processions, genuflecting or not, and so forth. The traffic laws, though unusual, are easy to remember—the senior goes first except when praying, in which case the junior goes first (and eating counts as praying, isn’t that lovely? Dinner is practically an Office in itself. So I don’t have to be embarrassed about dedicating a whole paragraph to it.)
The processions are the most beautiful novelty about the Dominican Office. Every night after Compline we have a procession to Our Lady’s altar during the Salve Regina, and on the way back we sing the “O Lumen,” a song to St. Dominic. Every Saturday this procession includes the Litany of Our Lady, sung to a very beautiful tune, and once a month there is also a procession back to St. Dominic’s altar (I should mention that these altars are little shelves on the wall, for the moment—the convent isn’t that big!)
The Salve Procession
Besides teaching, as Dominicans we have to do a lot of studying. As we learned in our class with Mother, St. Cajetan said that a Dominican who does not study several hours a day is living in mortal sin! As very busy teaching Dominicans, we probably have to make up some of this by counting our meditation and Office—after all, what better way of studying is there than talking to the Truth? But we do have Apologetics with Fr. Laisney first thing on school mornings, class with Mother, Catechism on Tuesdays (we are studying St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians), Thursday Summa class, and Saturday Spirituality. Not to mention reading during every meal! Just since our arrival at the end of January we have heard: a series of talks on St. Therese’s spirituality, a book on Catholic Philosophy, talks on the Divine Comedy and Moby Dick by Dr. White, an interview by Bishop Williamson (not the late lamented one but an older American one), and the life of Mother Mary of the Cross, an Australian foundress.
And then, of course, the best thing about actually arriving is getting to meet all the Sisters! They gave each of us postulants a gorgeous welcome and we had a talking meal, outside or in the staff-room. And it took a while for the strange wonderfulness of living under the same roof with the Blessed Sacrament to wear off—it is still wonderful, but not so startling. I guess that is why we bow and genuflect when we go into the chapel, to remind us. I don’t have room now to tell about teaching, but it is fun, though absolutely exhausting! So that will wait till next time.