Give Me Your Whole Heart

It was Christmas 2007. I was working as a volunteer at Tautra Mariakloster, a Cistercian monastery on a small island in Mid-Norway. Everyday I walked from the guesthouse to the monastery to sing the psalms with the sisters 7 times a day and to work with them in their small soap department or outside in the garden. We worked in silence because that is the way they try to remain in contact with the Lord. Now and then they threw me a hand-kiss which means in Cistercian sign language: Thank you. But there was also a sister who said at the end of every work time: Tusen takk (A thousand thanks). I felt it was too much for the little work I did, but she explained to me that it is the Norwegian way of saying Thank you.

I liked the silence and it gave me a completely new feeling of inner peace. Suddenly I could grasp something of the meaning that we are created in the likeness of God’s own image (Genesis 1:26). It brought me in contact with the very meaning of my life and it gave me a happiness which I still can recall.  Although we all have lost that likeness of God’s image in our daily way of dealing with people and things, deep down inside us God’s special plan for each of us is still there. Once God’s grace lets you discover a tiny bit of it, you want to look for the whole treasure. That this will be a lifelong process I am only slowly beginning to realize.

My life had become for the first time very simple and in balance. I sang the psalms, bowed in ceremony with the sisters and worked, but I was also happy still to have my freedom. In the beginning I felt uneasy with the many times we bowed in church, but later it reminded me of my place in God’s creation and I experienced unity and harmony with the other sisters. It also reminded me of the reed that will not be broken if it is moving (bowing) along with the wind (Isaiah 42.3). Maybe the bowing will help me to remain flexible  and open to what is coming my way. I realized I could live this simple and prayerful life, close to the monastery and benefiting from its rhythm and prayer, because the sisters had dedicated their whole life to the Lord and established their life here. I had respect and appreciation for their life, but at that time I did not think about becoming a Cistercian nun myself. I was very happy and enthusiastic about my new life of singing the psalms, working with my hands and still having my freedom. I had no other wish than to stay here as long as possible.

One day after Christmas I sat as usual at five o’clock in the morning with the sisters in the chapel for the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. It was dark in the chapel and there was only the small light near the tabernacle. I thought, These sisters love darkness or they are careful not to waste electricity, or maybe both. Yet the darkness that morning somehow did not prevent me from seeing the figure of the little child Jesus in the crib. At that moment I experienced wonder and gratefulness because Divine Providence had led me to Tautra Mariakloster just at this crucial moment in my life. It had looked like my life would continue to be a long and restless search, a search for truth, love and a way of life in which I could express respect and gratitude for God’s whole creation. In that mood I stared at the crib and saw the Child Jesus’ chubby arms stretched out trying to reach me. Then suddenly there was that begging, almost demanding question:

Do give me your whole heart? I want your whole heart!

In my mind I tried to defend myself by thinking I really did everything with love and to the best of my ability. What more could I give? My whole heart? It sounded as if I were holding back something… and I knew I was, but now Jesus was claiming it again.

Two weeks later I asked the sisters for a book about the Cistercian order and I hoped this would confirm my idea that I was not called to that way of life. They gave me two books: Cistercian life (Thomas Merton) and The Cistercian Way (André Louf). I started to read them and my whole life with all its wanderings and struggles to know and to be known seemed to fit naturally into the Cistercian way of life.

On May 1, 2008 I became a postulant at Tautra Mariakloster and on November 1, 2008 I received with great happiness and gratitude the habit of a Cistercian novice.

‘But I, through the greatness of your love,

may come to your house,

and bow down before your holy Temple

in reverence to you.’ (Ps 5:7)

This Christmas I looked from my place in choir again at the crib, but I could not see the figure of the little child Jesus. Later I went to the crib and was very disappointed to see only a very tiny child Jesus. When I told the sisters that I liked the crib they had last year better, they told me this was the same crib they have always used before this altar!