This story is excerpted from a forthcoming book on my monastic journey. As it is long, I’ve broken it into serial posts.
In the Throes of Divine Indifference
This would never have happened if I hadn’t been “called” into a Benedictine monastery. Which in itself was odd. A call to religious life had never been high on my list of priorities.
It occurred on a cool, clear May evening, two years before the retreat where I met Jesus. I’d just become an oblate (a lay associate), standing up with twenty-two others and pledging myself to the Rule of Benedict, the oblate community and the monastery.
At a post-oblation party, people snapped pictures of themselves with the two oldest sisters.
“Hey take mine,” I said, standing between the two sisters.
Suddenly my heart split, filling with a joyous light. Like a cheesy musical, love struck and left me helpless. It felt like a thick cord of living light had grown out of my heart and sunk itself deep into the monastery’s land. A stiff elastic, it only let me go so far, and for so long, before drawing me back. Like the worst sort of head-over-heels lover, I constantly thought about the monastery and was only at peace when there. But it was ridiculous. They were Catholics and I was an eccentric pantheist. We were totally incompatible.
I wanted to obey - the draw was so intensely delicious. Yet I also wanted it to stop. For one thing, I don’t trust that kind of love. More often than not, the tide recedes and there you are, stuck in a painfully awkward alliance. Besides, I was a professional with a good job, a nice house, a busy social life and lots of cherished personal habits. Was I supposed to abandon all that? So I dithered for weeks thinking maybe the whole thing would fade like some summer crush.
I spoke about my call to one friend or family member after another. They all said if it was that strong, I ought to tell the sisters. Besides, it wouldn’t be the first time I let a beckoning vision spin my life off on a previously unimagined track.
* * * * * *
In 1998, I was sitting in the office of another professor at DePaul University in Chicago rehashing college gossip. Stretched lazily in a chair, I was arrested in mid-grouse by a brilliant light that blossomed in my middle. It rose through my body with a tremendous sense of release that said, “let go.”
Searching for help understanding this experience, I spoke with a Catholic spiritual guide.
Now if you want intelligent religious argument go to a Jew or a Unitarian, but if you want to talk about mystical visions as if they were everyday occurrences, liberal Catholics can’t be beat. This woman acted as if having a vision was no more remarkable than eating toast.
I suspected that “letting go” meant leaving my secure but harried, academic career - even though I had no idea where that would bring me. She thought that made perfect sense. It was a customary Catholic spiritual behavior called “living by divine indifference.” This meant obeying God's call in your heart without consideration for long-term goals or potential disasters. You might be led into totally unexpected circumstances, but supposedly they would turn out to be more right than anything you could have planned. Trust in such divine promptings was the true meaning of “faith,” she insisted.
One cold, dreary day in late November I sat in a restaurant with large windows, waiting for some of my colleagues to arrive. Freezing rain poured down the glass. I thought, “The worst that could happen if I follow my vision would be to be stuck out there - cold, wet and hungry - with no way in.” The adventure seemed well worth that risk.
I had no idea “divine indifference” would bring me into a relationship with Jesus, instead.
* * * * * *
By the end of June the intensity of my call had not gone down. So I worked up the nerve to tell one of the sisters.
She was visibly taken aback. On recovering her composure, she turned to me with a schoolmarm frown. “But you’re not Christian, are you?” she asked.
I shook my head.
“We only take baptized Christian women,” she said with a tight smile.
A happy, little bubble rose in my thoughts and popped. Baptism sounded nice. “Well, I might get baptized,” I offered tentatively.
But part of me was inwardly screaming, “Are you nuts? You're not going to be Christian!”
© 2007 R. Elena Tabachnick