This has been a summer marked by its international character! When she was a volunteer, our postulant Christina had suggested that we send someone Down Under to present Tautra Mariakloster, the northernmost Cistercian monastery, to the thousands of Catholic youth who would visit the vocation booths arranged for World Youth Day. Christina was praying for vocations to our monastery when she felt her own call move her to apply to enter here herself. She made an observership in the spring, went home to the Netherlands to say goodbye, and entered as a postulant on May 1. Normally we would not send a postulant to WYD during her formation, much less all the way to Australia, but since her airplane tickets had already been bought, we sent Christina to be a part of Pope Benedict’s inspiration and encouragement to the youth of our world the third week of June. Approximately 2500 people came by the booth every hour, where Christina gave out our brochure and showed a DVD we had made of our monastery, as well as a Power Point slide show which will soon be posted on our new website. Check out www.tautra.no.
In April we hosted the meeting of the contemplative sisters’ superiors in Norway (only three since the Carmelites in Tromsø couldn’t come: the Dominicans in Oslo, the Poor Clares in Larvik, and our Mother Rosemary). This was a good practice run for the Region of the Isles pastoral sharing meeting May 19-24. We welcomed the abbots and abbesses of the Cistercian monasteries in Ireland (6), Wales (2), England (1) and Scotland (1). Among them was Fr Michael, our first chaplain, who is now known as Dom Augustine, the abbot of Mellifont Abbey. The weather was a bit rainy early in the week, but cleared up enough to give our visitors a taste of how beautiful Tautra can be, and allowed us to enjoy one meal outdoors. For many of them, it was their first visit to Norway, and they look forward to returning.
In June, Sr GilKrist was hostess to the Scandinavian chapter of MID (monastic interreligious dialogue). This year our invited guests were two Muslims, one from Oslo and a Sufi from Denmark, who shared with us their journeys as Norwegian Muslims. There were many points of convergence with our practice of Christianity, and we hope to continue our dialogue in future years. Next year the international board of MID is coming to Norway, and will of course visit Tautra Mariakloster. Sr GilKrist was also honored to be one of three Norwegians invited to an international, interreligious dialogue on "Holy Sites – places for Conflict or Dialogue." The aim is "To promote a culture of tolerance and respect for the diversity of religions and religious sites, which represents an important aspect of the collective heritage of humankind"; and it was hoped that the dialogue would lead to recommendations for a Code of Conduct for Protection and Reverence of Holy Sites and Monuments. The aim is to ensure that all people may have access to places of worship and particularly that religious communities may have access to, the right to worship and the possibility to feel confident at places which are part of their cultural and religious heritage. The Introductory address was by Rev Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway and President of the Oslo Center
for Peace and Human Rights. Other participants included the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, the Primate of the Armenian Church in Germany, the Head of Religious Affairs Department in Bulgaria), the Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church, and the Director-general of the Grand Rabbinate of Israel.
We enjoyed classes given by archaeologist Terryl Kinder, who came to Tautra to take aerial photos of both the ruins and the new monastery for a book she is editing on Cistercian arts. Her expert eye enlightened us about the Cistercian ruins on Tautra (massively restored, very little that could be original) and tried to find some medieval mortar at the ruins at Munkeby which are currently being restored. We did archaeology of a different kind when we delved into our Cistercian patrimony with Fr. Michael Casey, one of the best scholars and authors in our Order who hails from Tarrawarra Abbey in Australia. He gave us classes on the chapter talks of St Aelred at the end of August, after giving a retreat at Ampleforth Abbey in England.
July 29 brings the Feast of St Olav and the 10-day long festival in Trondheim. Once again our indefatigable support group put in long hours at the Tautra Mariakloster booth, selling our soaps and creams, to bring in one-third of our income for the year. We would not be able to move toward being self-sufficient without this tremendous effort of our friends every year. Last year, the first full year we were in the new monastery where expenses effectively doubled, we were able to cover 82% of the cost of living by the sale of the work of our hands. Our products enjoy a good reputation and one of our new customers is the Hurtigruten ship line. We can hardly keep up with the demand, which is a nice problem to have!
Fortunately we continue to receive applicants to our volunteer program, and God is doing amazing things with our novitiate. We have had terrific soap-workers in Kristine Koksvik from Trondheim, Jeanette Banashak from Grand Rapids, Sister Janet Weber, rscj from Connecticut, and Noreen Harnett from Cork, Ireland. In addition to volunteer-turned-postulant Christina, we welcome Sister Silke Mallmann from Austria and Reena Paul from India to our novitiate. Reena has to return to India to await her work permit which will allow her to stay in Norway. We hope to be 10 in the house by the end of the year as our international community grows!
As the summer draws to a close, we settle back into our "ordinary, obscure and laborious" Cistercian life. Mother Rosemary recently reminded us how deeply our culture impinges on our psyche and our process of conversion. "There is, obviously, a huge difference between being smart and being wise. Our culture and our schooling make us critical, analytical, capable of detecting errors and provides us with quick answers. But it does not form us in truth and humility—for that we come to the monastery. Our culture bedevils us into feeling capable, sharp, in control and pretty happy with our persona. We have attained a fairly good self-image and are quite ready to defend it. Then we come to the monastery. We find ourselves in a space where no amount of knowledge holds water, but where the truth of our utter dependence on God is appreciated and where true humility is valued. At its very base it is counter-cultural, and we begin to experience a withering, a wasting away, a death on these levels that, if embraced, leads to life and joy on a totally different and deeper level. Gradually
our defences are relinquished and we are gifted with a new freedom to be who we truly are before God. Our inner being is here to be renewed and transformed."
We remain united with each one of you as God continues to work wonders in each one of our souls,
With love from your sisters on Tautra