My Visit Experience to Kirk Edge Carmel – Part II

(Nuns in choir or Divine Office.)

CHOIR: I don’t think they have an organ. I didn’t hear one nor can see one in their website photos of the choir. I heard like a pitch pipe for a second before they sang a hymn and they sang like angels! They sing the hymns in the Divine Office and do recite the rest but the WAY they recite it! So slow, reverently, holy. I can see where as they don’t use a chant or sing, it is a mortification of the senses (as Mother says) and give themselves to God more and strip the senses of things like that. Though I love the Gregorian chant and chanting in the Office, I am glad Kirk Edge (and other Carmels) do either a chanty-recite or just a monotone-like chant of the office. Otherwise, I’d be too busy worrying or paying attention to the more intricate chanting (i.e. Benedictines) – like staying in tune, not lose your place, trying to learn and sing the intricacies of it, etc. and not put my whole heart and soul in it and be preoccupied with the music tempo, watching the sister “conducting” (NOT during the Office but chanting/singing for mass this would be) and so on. You can think and meditate on each word practically the way Kirk Edge does it. By the end of the 1st day I LOVED the way they did the office! They also sing “normally” the hymns at mass.

Mother gave me an extra copy of the Divine Office they use – they use the UK/European 3 volume set – so I could follow along with their Offices during the day and they gave me a copy of their schedule so I would know when to go to the chapel to join them in the Divine Office, rosary, mental prayer, mass, etc.  It was a great book.  I only had my USA 4 volume with me and it wasn’t useful here so I was so happy Mother lent me one of their’s.

They opened the chapel doors for me while I was there as otherwise it is hard to hear them recite the office through the doors and grille. Otherwise these doors are closed but like I said even open it is impossible to see them and hard to see them in the speaking parlors! The first outer grille are fairly small squares and close together and the second set of grilles are vertical bars. I hadn’t seen such grilles before! But I love them!

They talked to me so much about their life – I was so entranced! And loved it all! There wasn’t ANY part that I thought “Oh I won’t like that or this”! It wasn’t all rosy and “float on clouds all day” stuff, but also the reality of Carmel – the dark night, dryness, routine, homesick, etc.

I got to speak to 2 priests that alternated the daily masses there and they raved about the sisters and they themselves were so holy and edifying as priests! They said the mass so holy and reverently.

They have several adoration times – special days, feasts, and other times.

The sisters are such great cooks too! They always sent out so much food for my lunch and dinner! I ate breakfast in my “flat” – apartment to us Americans! – after mass that was at 8 am and then I’d go back at 10 am and see Mother or another sister for an hour until 11 am when it was Sext, then I’d stay in the chapel – with much joy and love! – until 12:30 when I’d go to the dining parlor for lunch. Then see a sister from 1 pm to 2 pm that was None, rosary & a litany. Then I’d stay in the chapel again until 3 pm when I saw a sister until 4:30 pm and go to the chapel again for the 4:45 pm Vespers and mental prayer and stay there until 6 pm with them and then go to the dining parlor again for dinner and then sometimes saw a sister for 30 min or so at 7 pm. Then I’d go back to my flat for the evening. I just couldn’t stop looking out the window at the monastery from my flat window!

Now what was strange to me and had me thinking I was losing it was I was going around kissing the grilles, the doors, the walls, the chapel pews, etc – just everything! I just did it automatically and would think “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” I was thinking I needed a shrink until I read in the book, Let Him Do It” on St. Maravillas that she did that so did St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi! She went around kissing the walls of her cell! It was just a spontaneous action which I had NEVER done anywhere! And this was the first time I had even read about other nuns or saints doing it, so I was in good company and if they are called nutty, then I am happy to be called nutty along with them! Must have been God inspired! I brought a few books with me to read and this book on St. Maravillas was one of them. I had NEVER done this before NOR since with any other place I had gone to!

Though they are austere, traditional, etc. they do make sensible concessions when needed. like the kneeling. they won’t have a sister kneel if she has bad knees – why cripple someone Mother said and other sensible things. Even St. Teresa of Avila was sensible and gave a sister sleep ins if needed, etc. Mother said the ones who are bent on being super rigid are the ones who don’t persevere in the life.

They have sisters from Ireland, China, Scotland and the US and these sisters never thought they’d leave their country for a religious vocation.

There is not ONE sister that I felt uncomfortable with. I have in other orders I visited where they were nice, polite but you didn’t feel a connection with all of them.

Its like if everyone discerning a Carmelite vocation was able to feel and know what I felt and know, they’d RUN to this Carmel! Mother had said that there are no little groups or cliques in the community or BFFs (my word, NOT hers! lol she said she learned it from a young girl who visited with her family at the grille once!) – as St. Teresa wanted all to be friends but not buddies with each other or just one or two because the MAIN FRIEND in Carmel to each nun is to be JESUS! The postulant there said the same as their recreation time was so great and joyous! All the sisters get along and there is very little quirks, etc. that you would normally have anyway. It is due to their focus on God, there stripping of all unnecessary things like music at the Divine Office, etc. and even having no pets, no blogs, no online forum or surfing of any kind so they can focus and give their all to God and each other. All the sisters love animals but I can REALLY see their point in not having any! As for me, I’d be so worried about the dog or cat being alone, hungry, wanting affection, etc. and it would distract me from the real reason I wanted to enter Carmel – to find and be with God alone! As I have 2 dogs and 1 cat, I see the way I treat them and spend time with them, worry about the sing to them, talk to them, etc! It is SO quiet there! The silence is amazing! The rustle of a habit is startling in the silence! So never mind if they had a dog that would bark or walk across the floor with his nails! Or a cat meowing or playing and making noise, etc.!

The weather was great! It was 60’s to low 70’s and a few days of rain with the nights about high 50’s or so. and a lovely strong wind at times which had me thinking of the Holy Spirit rushing through the upper room and filling Our Lady and the apostles!

They have a small Gift Shop that you walk through to get to the Dining Parlor. They sell the handmade greeting cards for various occasions, handmade rosaries, medals, pamphlets, prayer cards, etc. There are many different little booklets on St. Therese, her Little Way, etc as her relics were coming to Sheffield Carmel.

Gift shop.

The Lodge is where I stayed.  It is on the monastery grounds near the road.  It has 3 flats (apartments to us Yanks!) – one for the vocational visitors, one flat is for the couple who are the monastery caretakers and do the shopping, run errands, etc for the sisters so they had a reduced rent. The other flat is for a person(s) I didn’t see or meet but they paid rent. It is an additional source of income for the sisters but they give Maggie and Eric a break on rent as they do the shopping and errands for them and help the visitors like myself and Eric did their website and keeps it up as he is a retired computer professional.

(The Lodge from the road.)

(The Lodge from the monastery.)

The Lodge where I stayed was a beautiful old stone building that matched the monastery in looks.  As the monastery was once an orphanage and school belonging to the Sisters of Charity, I imagine these were buildings that were used during these times too.

(Little kitchen in the flat I stayed in.)

There was a small table and chairs on the other side of the kitchen and then a bedroom with two twin beds, a closet, dresser and then a bathroom.  My bedroom, kitchen and bathroom was upstairs and there was a den with chairs, sofa, book case, table and chairs for my use downstairs.  The bookshelf was stocked with Carmelite books (St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, etc) and stationery with the monastery’s name and address.

They are a very poor Carmel that survive by the work of their hands and in alms – just as St. Teresa of Avila wanted.  They told me that there is a widowed woman in town who has a child care business or something who donates every week/month a huge portion of their food and they just order in the little remaining from a local company who gives them a big discount.

They do have heaters/radiators and such in the place so it isn’t like poor St. Therese’s Carmel where they had ice on the walls in the cells in the winter. But this is not to say they have the place at a high heat in the cold weather – they usually have the heat around high 50s to low 60s. The warm habit helps and the sisters where long thermal underwear and sweaters as needed.  And as it is in the 60’s-70’s and maybe low 80s at times in the summer/spring, they don’t need AC in these seasons!  Plus they have winter and summer habits.  The winter ones are wool-like and thicker, warmer and the summer is a lighter weight material that they wore when I was there – of course but I couldn’t tell what it was.  I should have asked but when we were talking about other things – the life, etc. – I either forgot or thought I’d ask at the next visit and forgot again!

Sr. M was so sweet and funny and talked about how the postulant had to be taught how to sew by her!  She was the habit sister – there is a name for this position but I forget what it is! – and she asked if I knew how to sew and I told her I did – not diversely or but some.  She asked if I knew a “dock”? stitch (not sure if this is the word as with her accent some words she pronounced differently).  She said it was like a darning stitch and I told her I darned my pointe shoes for ballet for 13 years when I was younger and studied ballet and also sewed on the ribbons and an elastic strap that is around the ankle – that was my big reason for wanting to learn to sew when I was younger – ballet shoes!  ha!

When I was in the chapel and even in the flat, and heard the bells ring calling the nuns to prayer or work, etc, I felt like they were calling me!  Calling my name to “come, come”!  Their chapel is more beautiful than the pictures.  Some might say “plain” compared to others but it raises your heart and mind to God without much effort!

Mother Mary and the other nuns talked about their simplicity, the stripping of the senses and before my visit when I read this in Mother’s emails, I was quite sure about it or understood it really, but once there I DO see it and understand it and can’t understand how other others DON’T do this!  Especially other Carmels.  The stripping of the senses of even little things sends your focus and thoughts to God even quicker and more often and always as a Carmelite should.

On Friday morning, Mother told me the sisters would vote on me and that I could probably know later in the evening. So they voted for me around 4:30 pm and just before they Mother came there and told me that the sisters, with much love and joy, ALL voted to accept me!

The night before I left, Mother closed her eyes, and said a beautiful and moving blessing prayer over me and for me while making the sign of the cross to bless me, my trip back here and my speedy return back to them! It was so beautiful I almost cried! Actually I got emotional several times while there – mostly in the chapel but also in other parts! All that I write is SO far to what I experienced felt there and feel now, it’s so inadequate!

I am sorry to say all I wrote is so inadequate to express all I saw, felt, experienced!  It was just beyond human words.  If could do a Vulcan mind-meld on others so they could be in my heart and mind, they’d also be speechless and if they had a Carmelite vocation, THEY’D want to enter here too!  I just pray I will be here soon and say, as St. Therese said on first look at her cell in her  monastery,….”I will be here forever!”

(A solitary life…………but not a lonely life.)

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