August 2009

Now we can rest in peace!

As Cistercian nuns we try to care for our elderly sisters here in the monastery, and expect to live and die on Tautra. When we designed the new monastery, we planned to have our own cemetery where we would be buried with an eternal view over the fjord. It has been a long wait for the Norwegian authorities to approve the plan, but we finally received permission for a monastic cemetery, and on May 7 it was duly blessed. The Frosta (Lutheran) parish gave us an old iron cross for the cemetery. We were delighted with its three cut-out stars on its arms, and the wheatsheaf and victorious Lamb on its upright. The cemetery is directly behind the sanctuary of our church, and bordered with rosebushes. When we die, we will be placed in a simple wood coffin and buried with our head toward the east to await our final resurrection.

On May 12, we welcomed Sr Rina into our novitiate. Reena Paul was born in Kochi, Kerala in 1972, did an observership with us last summer, and entered Tautra Mariakloster last November. It is both a challenge and a joy to integrate other cultures into our community. In her six months as a postulant, Reena has treated us to Indian music, Indian dances, Indian cooking, and the wonderfully colorful clothes of her native land. We almost hated to lose the splash of color in our choir when she received the all-white novice’s habit. Reena chose to change the spelling of her name to Rina so that it would be pronounced correctly in Norwegian. So inculturation goes both ways. She will continue her formation as a Cistercian novice for two years.

In mid-June we were able to open our new Visitor’s Center. The one bookshelf in the entryway where we first began selling our soap has grown to a whole building which is in front of our guesthouses. Half of the Center is an exhibit on Cistercian life which gives visitors some context for why and how a handful of nuns came back to this historic island. A series of banners explains in text the monastic movement from its beginnings with the Desert Fathers and Mothers in the first century, to St Benedict and his Rule in the sixth century, to the founding of Cîteaux in 1098 and the rapid expansion of the Cistercian order (even as far north as Tautra in 1207), through to the discernment of the Mississippi Abbey community to bring Cistercian life back to Tautra in 1999. A frieze of photographs illustrating a "typical day at Tautra Mariakloster" (which never happens!) runs around the inside wall, following the sisters from Vigils at 4.20 through the monastic rhythm of prayer, work, meals and rest to the last prayer of the day, Compline accompanied by the harp, and the ensuing envelopment by the Great Silence as night falls.

On one wall is a world map where we list all the current monasteries of our order. Today there are 2132 monks in 102 monasteries, and 1799 nuns in 72 monasteries. Behind this wall is an audio-visual room where we will offer visitors several short films that can be viewed. One is a homemade video where we explain the functions of the various rooms inside the enclosure which the public cannot see. There is even a "Munkeby corner" where we inform people about

Cîteaux’s foundation in Levanger kommune, an hour’s drive north of us. The four monks plan to open Munkeby Mariakloster officially on Sept. 14. See their website for photos and more information.

The other half of the Center is our new "butikk" (boutique) where we sell our soap and cream products. The shelf space is about four times what we had in the little cabin which replaced the one original bookshelf. With the help of our volunteers, we have been able to keep the shop open six hours a day (three on Sunday) and the volume of sales is greatly increased. We also sell rosaries, CDs and a good selection of books in both Norwegian and English. This latter is a real service in our area, where it is hard to find religious books.

As the summer comes to an end and we all return to the school and business calendar, we would like to share with you part of a letter we received from one of our retreatants:

I want to thank you after my retreat at Tautra Mariakloster. I had big expectations for how I would use the time with you. It didn’t happen as I had planned, and I received things I hadn’t thought about. First it is important to say Thank You to you all—who have said Yes to Our Lord and followed your call to Tautra. Without your Yes, we others would not have this place to come to. I come from a little 100-year-old church with statues of saints, side altars, a large crucifix over the altar, and many candles. I found your church "pure and simple". I thought I would use my breviary, but you had 4-ring binders and loose papers. I thought I would use the time to concentrate on the Letters of Paul, but I read the Story of the Support Group and Benedict’s Rule. It took a day to clear out my thoughts. After that came a peace, and an understanding that there is a difference between monastic life and parish life. My goal was to listen to the Lord, and so I had to let him come in to my life as he wanted. It was unbelievably beautiful to participate in the Liturgy of the Hours (and I dared to sing a little bit with you). The church space was good to be in. I found my "place" where I could kneel, and focus on the "altarpiece" (the view of nature outside the large windows behind our altar) and not worry about all the books. I especially appreciated Vigils and the early Mass. The Lord has, by giving me a retreat with you, given me strengthened faith and a new inspiration to pray the Hours. I try to find peace, and disconnect from the world and focus in prayer, even with unrest around me. I started to miss the monastery as soon as I left! At first I thought of my retreat as a one-time occurrence, and thought to go somewhere else next time. Now I hope I can make another retreat with you before or after Easter. I was so struck by your Liturgy of the Hours, especially beginning so early in the morning. Now I know how it is, and I think next time I could slip into the monastic rhythm more quickly.

We wish for all of you, and each of us, the openness to let God come into our lives as he will. May we each find our "place" where we receive the gift of peace and renewed faith, and the inspiration to focus on God throughout the liturgy of the busy hours of our daily life.

With love from your sisters on Tautra