A peek at life in the cloisterDuring the summer many cars drive slowly past Tautra Mariakloster. Occasionally we feel like the animals in a zoo when curious tourists peep into the cloister in the hope of getting a glimpse of that strange animal, a nun. Now the tourists are gone and perhaps Frostingen’s readers are interested in knowing a little about what happens in our daily life.Our days consist of prayers, spiritual reading, and manual work. The most important for us is to give our life to God through living together according to the gospel’s values. We make herbal soap by hand, and last year this work provided half of our living expenses.Usually we live and work inside the cloister. We have no other work or service outside the cloister. Our work is to pray. Seven times each day we come to the chapel to sing "The Liturgy of the Hours." The first prayer is at 4:20 a.m., and the last at 7:30 p.m. We consecrate the hours of the day to God. Each liturgy consists of a hymn, psalms, scripture reading, the Our Father and other prayers. We pray for all of you. We believe that God is worthy to be glorified simply because he is. Each sister feels called to praise God with her whole life.Perhaps you are interested in learning about our habit. In the Middle Ages Benedictine monks were clothed in black. Cistercians thought it would be simpler to use undyed wool. So we were white. Our scapular was originally an apron. Novices (those who are new in our life) have all white habits. When we make our first vows, we receive the black scapular. We also receive a leather belt, which lasts a long time, like our vows. Nuns have a veil, which means a woman has consecrated her life to God. A black veil shows that the sister has made her final vows. If you catch a glimpse of something back and white, it is either a nun or our cat named Telefon!When we pray, we wear the cowl over our habit. The cowl is the distinctive sign of the Cistercian Order. It is all white, a symbol of purity of heart. The long sleeves reach to within 16 centimeters above the floor. It is sewn in one piece, without an opening in front, which means final commitment. It is not practical to do anything in the cowl except pray. It is a symbol of being "wrapped up" in God.I entered the cloister nearly 20 years ago. Nevertheless I am the youngest sister on Tautra. I felt I could not live as a Christian except by becoming a nun. It was not an easy decision to make to leave my family, friends, an outstanding education, and a promising career as an editor. But I have learned to thrive in a lifestyle which our constitutions call "ordinary, obscure, and laborious." I think Cistercian nuns are really human beings, full of faith and fun. We are not accustomed to soar to spiritual heights, but to remain close to the earth.The cloistered life is not always easy to lead. We are conscious of our weaknesses and differences like any human group. One day I found a conch on the beach. The shell was broken and I could see the intricate, spiralling chambers, so beautiful, which God had created inside it. For me it is a parable of life in the cloister. The most beautiful shells—and the most beautiful people—are those which have a break but who have the courage to let others see their wonderful, innermost, divine places.In the closter the most difficult thing is not to get up at 4:00 every day, but to continue every day to be open to receive whatever God sends, even if it means through being broken to lie naked and exposed to the gaze of others. To see the weaknesses in oneself and in another, and to respond with patience and compassion, that is our daily task.Our present challenge is to live monastic life, which we have learned in other countries, in the midst of Frosta’s culture. The cloistered life must develop and change in touch with its surroundings, or else die. We strive for a faithful and creative mix of the traditional and the new.I have come to Norway only recently but I am certainly thriving here already with living so near the rhythm of the fjord and the constantly changing sky. My mother was born on an island (Lanai, one of the Hawaiian islands). I feel like a salmon which has swum back to its original home to spawn new life.