What do you bring as a “hello” gift to an enclosed, contemplative Roman Catholic nun? The September edition of the Christchurch magazine Avenues had produced a splendid article on the Christchurch Carmelite Monastery of Christ the King (I cannot locate an online version of the article – sorry). A lot was written about Sr Cushla, reminding me I had taught at Marian College while she was a student there. The article encouraged me to email Sr Cushla and I made an appointment to meet up with her.
I drove through the gates into the concrete-bricked-off wall of the monastery from the busy Lincoln Road. Parked. And with my box of chocolates in hand followed the sign to the “turn” – a small room with a two level rotating cupboard. Rang the bell. A cheerful voice with the familiar Island cadences could be heard on the other side. “I’m Bosco Peters, I’ve got an appointment with Sr Cushla”. With a cheerful response the Turn began rotating – a key appeared, nearly disappearing round again – but I stopped it just in time. I received instructions to go to Room 6. A small room with a curtain at one end. Sr Cushla was coming in behind the curtain cheerfully greeting me, pulled aside the curtain to reveal the traditional grill, and said, “You haven’t changed a bit” (do contemplative nuns ummm… bend the truth? We haven’t seen each other for 20 years!)
There are only nine of them here. Five aged over 70. Sr Cushla is the youngest. She’s been here 10 years. She exudes joy and peace. A sense of being in the right place. She describes the vocation as “hermits in community”. We talk about Cistercians, Carthusians, family, our journeys the past 20 years. I’m interested in the two hours of “recreation” the community have daily when they sit around and talk. The grill may give a confusing message – they are certainly well in touch with what is happening. They knew about the success of the Merton service by the next day. “But what do you talk about for two hours every day?” She laughed. I know that even Carthusians, with their little contact with news chat Sundays and Mondays – but two hours a day with the same 9 people! Sr Cushla says there is seldom a lull in the conversation, and on that rare occasion that there is a lull they have a saying that a Carmelite has been born. May this blog-post help contemplative life. Yours. Ours. That of the church generally. May contemplative life flourish – within and outside cloister walls.
Let’s hope a Carmelite has been born.
Christchurch Carmel Website (Maintained by Sr Cushla)
Christchurch secondary school teacher Joseph Houghton interviewed Sr Cushla in July 2008 for a DVD to promote vocations. This is the interview in four parts:
6:00am Morning Prayer (Divine Office) followed by 1 hour silent prayerRinging the Bell
7:15am Breakfast, followed by Work
8:10am Mass bell – Prayer at 8:20am
8:30am Mass preceded by Prayer Before Noon (Divine Office)
11:00am Midday Prayer (Divine Office)
12 noon Recreation
1:00pm Work , Study or Rest – in Solitude
2:00pm Spiritual Reading
2:45pm Afternoon Prayer (Divine Office)
4:30pm Evening Prayer (Divine Office)
5:00pm Silent Prayer
7:45pm End of Recreation
8:00pm Night Prayer followed by Office of Readings (Divine Office)
Followed by time for reading, study etc