Something particular brought me to the website for Kirk Edge (http://www.kirkedge.org.uk/index.html) and when I read through it I wanted to go, I knew God wanted me there. When I got over there the first time and began to learn about 1990 vs. 1991 I thanked God I had been brought to a 1990 – I had no more “shopping” to do.
For me the greatest hardship is in the material austerity and physical arduousness and discomfort. It isn’t a matter of certain individual elements being much harder than others. Rather, it’s a matter of them all adding up to a hard life! I believe the Sisters find it much less difficult than I did because they have been living the life a long time (they have adjusted) and because they entered at a younger age.
Yes, they still have straw mattresses on a board over a couple of trestles. Postulants sleep on a real mattress for a certain length of time. The straw mattress is a little like sleeping on a thin futon mattress. The Sisters find it quite comfortable (again, their having adjusted to it probably has a lot to do with this!)
You always sit without leaning back (in choir and in the refectory there is a back to your seat but you never lean against it and everywhere else there are only backless stools) and you always sit on bare wood (no cushions) – may not sound like much but it adds up, day after day, week after week, month after month, and makes quite an impression on you. All the more to offer up to God, priests and for souls.
(Nuns in choir for mass.)
You may have a bath or shower twice a week (the “shower” is a drizzle, alternating every 15 seconds or so between scalding hot and icy cold!) Outside of this you wash in your cell over a basin (pitcher of hot water at night, pitcher of cold water in the morning)
In the winter the “pipes” (the heating) are put on only part of the day and temp in the house is often a roasty, toasty 52 or 53F (that includes in the bath and shower room!)
You do not leave the cell at night.
You do not serve yourself in the refectory; you eat what is put in front of you.
All your incoming and outgoing mail is read by Our Mother, as is proper to keep out undesirable news or emails which would be especially harmful to the new postulants and novices if there were family, friends or fiancees out there trying to make a sister feel guilty or bad for entering, etc. or other things, i.e. if the writer was anti-catholic even though they be a friend for family member. People get upset when hearing this but it is the same with people who enter long term rehabs for recovery of whatever. The rehab, if they don’t totally ban communication in the form of mail and phone calls to and from family, friends, they limit it and they will screen it. They also do this in prisons. May not be a great example but the basics are the same – the “authorities” don’t want to let the person in question be harmed in anyway (or in the prison scenario, the other prisoners and the prison it self – plus they watch for drugs hidden in Poloroid pictures, letters and plans for riots, hits, etc!). It comes down to giving the sister a chance to get used to the life, live it fully, listen to GOD and not to disgruntled, upset friends and family members. When a sister is well formed and before Solemn Profession, she can make the decision to stay or leave but it would be a crime to let a new sister read and hear terrible things that are wrong, not pertaining to her and keeping her from following and finding out what God’s will is for her by such letters or calls (for a sister’s family who live far away phone calls are often allowed).
You kneel and kiss the floor every time you arrive at and leave your place in choir and entering choir and your cell. You kneel for the Angelus, when speaking to Our Mother, when saying other certain prayers in the ante-choir and other places, in the refectory or the community room and elsewhere, etc.
There is Chapter of Faults in which you accuse yourself of external faults that broke the rule. I.E. breaking something, talking during Grand Silence or unnecessarily, being uncharitable, not doing your or not asking for permission for things that need it, and so many others.
These and all such practices are intended, as you are probably aware, to free us from self so as to be free for the Beloved. It is for His sake we have come to Carmel and so, with strength of will and purpose, we lay aside everything in favor of living for HIM ALONE. In this is our joy and glory – in this is our hope for holiness.
It’s simply a “true, authentic Carmel” and it’s a beautiful life! Our focus must be on Jesus. Only He can enable us to live the life. We suffer through the difficulties and challenges in it precisely to go to God in a radical simplicity of heart. This stripping away of the superfluities and distillation to the essence of things is central in our work for the Church and the world.
Although I don’t generally get “warm fuzzies” anymore I’ll share with you a few of the things I know give me at least a spark if not a jolt of joy now that I am finally here:
The garden – a wild, woolly piece of paradise.
The wind – banging about the upper story of the house at night.
The weather in general – changeable, very varied, often dramatic, always beautiful (if you like drama in your weather!).
The chapel at 6AM – the beginning of the day in the darkness of dawn, Angelus said silently, then a little reading, if you wish, then mental prayer – sitting, (suffering) sitting, (loving) sitting (waiting) with the Lord for no other reason than that He is GOD.
The special recreations with plays and readings and music.
The “singing awake” on Christmas Eve for the midnight Mass – the Sisters sing sweetly together down the corridor – you waken to the sound of this angelic choir as it approaches the door of your cell and then . . . but that would be telling!
The frequent use of the Penitential Pslams, which are exquisitely beautiful.
The clackety clack clack of the mattraque – supposed to be more penitential than bells but actually much more pleasant to wake up to!
To be clothed in the authentic, traditional and full habit of French Carmel – ala St. Therese as opposed to the full traditional Spanish habit worn by St. Teresa of Avila and ones who follow/live a Spanish Carmelite life – the habit differs as so a few customs). Plus, here at Kirk Edge, the sisters make and wear the same type of sandal/alparagate (or rope sandals) that St. Teresa of Avila made and wore as did her sisters!
Rope alparagates worn by the nuns – same as St. Teresa of Avila wore.