Sister Lives

Casey N. Cep reviews Abbie Reese’s book Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns, which documents the lives of the Poor Clare Colettine nuns of Rockford, Illinois:

What does it mean to be called to the religious life? Even the most articulate of these women cannot find the precise words to explain how she came to understand her vocation. The youngest nun says, “I’m sure anyone who falls in love, they look back and say, ‘Oh, remember how we met? Or he showed his love?’ It’s the same, how God has shown his personal love.”

But how does one fall in love? These women are no more capable of explaining their love of the holy than we are of understanding the reasons two human beings are attracted to each other, and yet they try. One sister compares it to God “playing hide-and-seek,” drawing her to the religious life, but leaving her unsure of where to go. Like any love, there is struggle, not only with which of the various religious orders to join but how to live once there; it is not desperation which brings these women to the cloister but desire.

Nic Grosso reviewed the book in January:

While I had hoped to find greater insight into this order of cloistered nuns’ monastic practices, ceremonies, and sources of personal inspiration as they have so much to overcome …, Reese does do an excellent job of presenting the nuns as individuals. They are not fetishized or turned into fringe caricatures with clichéd beliefs. Even when she has a chance to poke a hole in their convictions with contradicting opinions held by fellow nuns, she does not dispel their faith. Instead she withholds judgment, allowing room for the flexibility of their personal beliefs. Each nun gets the chance to express herself as she continues to explore and understand herself in her journey inwards and towards God. “Several nuns volunteered, in the course of the oral history interviews, that outsiders label their life as a form of escapism. They took pains to point out that religious life is not a rejection of the world or its inhabitants; the enclosure is, in a sense, a form of embracing humanity, a calling to, not a running from.”