The week before I became a novice, I felt empty. I felt low, ungracious, raw and angry. The week when I should have been full of life and light and brimming with love and compassion towards all my fellow creatures, I felt resentful and frustrated and downright crabby. (Actually, I just checked that with my husband and he said I had been a grumpy old sod). Rather than meditating on my Rule of Life, I was obsessing over what I should wear for the service. Tartan dress teamed with pink pashmina? Mustard trousers with a muted black top? Or go down and dirty in jeans and fancy boots?
It’s not the best way to prepare for becoming noviced to a religious order and naturally I thought that I was not the best candidate to take the veil so to speak.
This is what happens when you don’t feel good enough. When you believe that you are the chief of sinners and not only doing it not right, but not doing right much more than any other person on the planet. Where you feel that if someone just peeled off that outer skin of respectability covering all your wounds, they would find a brimming reservoir of doubts, insecurities and pain. A work-in-progress-but-not-quite-there-yet. And someone who likely will settle down to watch EastEnders back-to-back when up against it rather than seeking godly solace.
Chief of sinners. Tick.
Except – except – before I awarded myself the gown and hood of the Masters in Being-a-Perfect-Philistine, I needed to take five. Or maybe five hundred I decided, and talk to my priest-friend. If there was a mention in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for patience, she’d be right there, at the top of the list.
She told me that all my preparation was done. She said most people feel like this before they make such a huge step. I was not fully fledged. I was still learning and would be until I am called home. I don’t need to walk around in a patched tunic trying to be a good Franciscan. I could settle for being a fairly average Franciscan.
And I began to understand that I was not the chief of sinners but just a run-of-the-mill reprobate much like everyone else. And I certainly wasn’t the worst person ever. Look at Hitler she said (setting the bar a bit high there I thought).
She told me that becoming a Franciscan isn’t an award of merit. It doesn’t mean that you are good or worthy or never have an unkind thought. It’s a calling to follow Christ as best you can. (The Lord being my helper.) And doing it in this particular community. All things I knew really but when I crawl into my hole and sit blinking alone in the darkness, I can’t hear this, nor can I see it.
But as we talked, I began to breathe. I began to feel reassured and accepted. And to realise that I’m not much different from every other person on earth who isn’t wicked – just human and that God’s grace is there for everyone including me. And I knew deep deep down where the sun doesn’t shine that I wanted to take this step and it was so totally the right thing for me to be doing. I would continue to fail for the rest of my life but that doesn’t matter because if there’s one thing God loves, it’s a failure at being a Christian because at least then She can carry on the conversation.
And I can work on my grandiosity that I am really the Chief of Sinners because, after all, feeling inadequate can, after all be a bit of a cop-out. If I think I’m useless then everyone else might too and not ask me to do anything.
That was last week.
And now I am sitting here at my computer, noviced and still not perfect. But I so enjoyed my novicing service and felt exactly in the right place doing the right thing. Indeed, I can honestly say I felt joyous. Now this joy may come and go because not all days are filled with jubilation, and some days I might feel entirely unworthy again and cover myself in metaphorical sackcloth and ashes and want to go and sit in the bin.
But I said these words last Saturday and meant them:
‘I wish to... further the aims of the Order and live in accordance with the Principles and Rule. And dedicate myself to the service of Our Lord Jesus Christ.’
I mean them now and always will.
The Lord being my helper.