Vocation Stories

Sister Lynn Elisabeth Meadows, OSB

Sister Elisabeth Meadows, OSB - Christmas as a Benedictine noviceMy religious vocation seems both absolutely intuitive and completely unlikely. I was raised in the Protestant tradition and was not familiar with Catholic religious life other than as portrayed in the media. I did not have Sisters as role models or teachers since the Protestant tradition had, for the most part, not retained the practice of consecrated religious life. This background makes my vocation an unlikely one. Yet there is something completely intuitive about this life, as if it had been hard-wired somewhere in my soul from the earliest of ages.

I was a reflective child, given to reverie, deep thought, and sustained attention to both things and ideas. The created world was a source of wonder and delight, and I could easily lose myself in lengthy contemplation of a creek or a tree or a good book. Bare feet meant the caress of gentle earth and flowing creeks, and open eyes meant beauty upon beauty. I could sit for an afternoon on the bank of a pond with a cane pole cradled in my arms, content if the fish were biting and equally content if they were not. Not all was beautiful, however; and I was acutely aware that there was much more to the world than beneficence and delight. This incongruity was deeply felt and I longed to make things right.

My childhood religious education was typical for a child from a Protestant family dedicated to its church and faith: Sunday School, mission education, church choir, youth retreats… I could quote my share of Scripture verses and could recite the books of the Bible in order. However, my inquisitive mind and my capacity for skeptical thought led me to frequently question my faith, and for a lengthy period I held serious doubt about the truths of Christianity.

Despite this skepticism and my immersion in the secularism of the day, an intuitive draw toward God remained. Again, it was like something hard-wired in my soul. As an adult, I gradually returned to the faith of my youth, and slowly began to recover the sense of wonder that had become obscured by a veneer of empiricism. In my search for God I turned to Catholicism, finding in the Catholic faith a balance of faith and reason, a rich sacramental practice, a deep theological tradition, and an appreciation of the transcendent dimensions of life. Eventually I was exposed to Catholic religious life, and over time this exposure took on a compelling quality.

The monasteries to which I retreated for times of silence held a particular draw. Although I knew instinctively that the life of a monk was very different from the experience of a retreatant, there was nevertheless something that attracted me deeply. In part, it was the value placed on silence. In part, it was the stability of a community that stays together for life. Coming as I did from a strong, affectionate, close-knit family, the sustained bond of a monastic to her particular community was important to me. But mainly, it was the attraction of a life in which the single focus was on seeking God. And of course there were other compelling draws, most of them beyond the articulate realm.

In my mid-40’s – with an enjoyable life ripe with family, friends, engaging work, and a quiet, happy home – discernment was no easy matter. Nor was the process of entry. Disentanglement from cherished attachments was challenging both emotionally and logistically. Sister Elisabeth Meadows, OSB (photo credit: Marialyce Lavelle)

I entered the community in the summer of 2005. I have moved through the postulancy, the novitiate, and am now a ‘first professed,’ or ‘scholastic.’ These stages are intended as a time of initial formation into the monastic way of life, and as a sustained period of discernment, with both the community and the individual discerning whether the person is called to monastic life within this particular community.

In a monastery, there is a carefully held balance between the individual and the community. During initial formation one's orientation gradually shifts from the individualism of our culture to a genuine surrender of personal goals and ambitions (yet retaining the wonderful individuality with which God created each of us). I have experienced this reorientation as a profound shift in my center of gravity. Prior to entry, I was very much at the center of my own world – making my own decisions, living by my own priorities, following my own preferences. I am now learning to live within the tension of the individual and the community.

Currently, my full-time ministry is as Associate Director of our Retreat Center. I have several additional roles within the monastery, including serving as sacristan for the Community, working on our website, and assisting the Vocation Director as needed. And, of course, like every Sister, I have my share of household chores.

My natural religious instincts, present from an early age, seem to have found a home here.  My reflective nature is being formed and nuanced such that contemplation now comes with my everyday work and tasks, not in abstract reverie and reflection. And through prayer, ministry, participation in a common life, and especially through daily chanting of the Psalms, I enter deeply into the dichotomous presence of both beauty and pain.

The monastic charism is both demanding and graced. It is a call to ongoing conversion of heart and mind. As I continue my initial formation, I pray for wisdom and humility. I also look to the fidelity and witness of my Sisters who each day surround me with love, challenge me to grow, and inspire me to continue in this monastic way of life.

Written in 2010. 

 

2016 Update - Sister Elisabeth made her Perpetual Monastic Profession in 2012. She currently ministers as Director of the Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center, and within the community serves as sacristy coordinator, website administrator, newsletter coordinator, and musician.  She also chairs the Liturgy Committee. Sr. Elisabeth is working part-time toward a M.A. in theology from St. John's University.

 

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