Taking Simple Vows
My eyes were wet with tears as I was saying my goodbyes. There were eight of us in total gathering for the last time and the sense of separation I was beginning to feel was strong. Over the course of the past 12 months living together, our group had shared a great deal but as we packed our final things, a profound silence settled over our community. All eight of us moved quietly as we entered our chapel for the last time as novices. My emotions ran the gamut—from hopeful and confused to sad, joyful, and even a little nauseous—when I thought of professing vows on my knees before the altar.
Committing to walk the path of my Carmelite vocation is one of the most terrifying things that I have ever done in my life. It has also been one of the most joyful and grace-filled decisions I have ever made. The complexity of the emotional roller coaster sometimes defies all description, but I imagine it is similar to the journey couples travel when considering a life together. The questions, “Who am I?” and “Who am I going to become?” are subtly lingering in the cacophony of internal dialogue. The Novitiate year for Carmelites is a time when the person discerning life as a sister, brother, or priest tries to put some of that internal dialogue to rest for a time to listen more deeply to God.
It takes time to unlearn the ways of thinking, and it often is a difficult attachment to break. My novitiate year came to a grinding halt when I attempted to answer the “Who am I?” question. My generation, the Millenials, find themselves in a world that offers “freedom” in that a person may choose what identity they want to assume. The Construct-An-Identity generation might be a better label for it, because it seems like at every turn a decision is made about what and whom we want the world to know us as. As soon as we entered into school we heard, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up!” Our world sets everything at our feet and allows us to choose what labels we want to be known by, most often by what we do. The world of high school is where many of us began to make these decisions about what group we identified with, whether it is the jocks, smart people, or even social outcasts. We carry this into our adult lives when we start working, forming relationships and joining organizations.
Finally, the simple realization came to me that my question had to change. I turned to God finally and asked, “Who did YOU create me to BE?” This is a prayer that I knew was instantly answered when I felt a surge of peace, God had merely been waiting for me to get out of the way. The awe and wonder pours over me during the moments that it seems like I am watching the Master’s hand do the work, and I can really only savor it when I remind myself that it is not mine.
I chose to accept the invitation to do that with God. The moment of decision stirred up all the dust in my heart and mind, but I knew the only answer that I could give was “Yes.” My yes was imperfect, but it was my best. I had to accept that as God drew closer, I would become uncomfortably aware of my humanity and that was the only hurdle. The yes to God was a yes to undergo the transformation of becoming as I was created to be, and as with all things, there will be a lot of joy as well as pain.
When I knelt in front of my provincial and offered up my simple profession of vows, I offered God everything. I handed over my fears, anxieties, longings, joys, indeed, my whole being. God took all that I surrendered and will give back nothing but grace upon grace to bolster my humanity. The real sacrifice was handing my will, but it helped me to understand the sheer magnitude of the Paschal Sacrifice, and it strengthened my resolve to follow in path that many Carmelites have walked before me. The question I have left now is, “What’s next?”