Bestselling author Jane Christmas decides to enter a convent to discern whether she is, as she puts it, "nun material". But just as she convinces herself to take the plunge, her long-term partner, Colin, surprises her with a marriage proposal. Determined not to let her monastic dreams get sidelined, Christmas puts her engagement aside and embarks on an extraordinary year-plus adventure to four convents, one in Canada and three in the U.K. Among these communities of cloistered nuns and monks she shares, and occasionally rails against, the silent, reverent, pared-down existence she has sought all her life. With insight and humour, she provides a glimpse into a seldom-seen lifestyle.
This book describes the adventures of a 50-something lady (twice divorced, mother of three and at the time engaged soon to be married) who, following a sudden calling, decided to enter the religious orders. I chose the book because I was interested to see how an outsider would cope with the doctrine and constraints of the different religious institutes (Anglican and Roman Catholic).
Predictably, obedience would prove to be a tough one as well as monotony, conformity and humility. Along her spiritual journey of self-discovery, the author faced unresolved issues spawn from a traumatic past episode and experienced some bizarre events (no spoilers).
The book provides interesting inside information and some surprising facts (who knew that Gregorian chants had proven beneficial health effects?), however throughout the book, from her superficial comments, I had the impression that Ms Christmas did not have a genuine vocation but rather she was driven by mere curiosity. I hope that her ultimate goal was a genuine spiritual journey and not an excuse to write a book (she is a professional journalist) because otherwise it would mean she took advantage of the nuns and monks who warmly welcomed her in their midst.
While I acknowledge that the book provides some glimpses into the religious life that is largely unknown to the secular world, I didn’t like this book. The author irreverent statements rubbed me the wrong way, they seemed forced and aimed at ridiculing the people around her. Sadly, I think Ms Christmas missed an opportunity to explore the values that the cloistered life can offer and instead chose to use cheap humour to disguise her criticism. Definitely a “different” read, but one I would not recommend. 1.5 stars
Non-fiction account of the author’s spiritual journey to determine whether she would become a nun. I have always been curious about why a person is drawn to become a nun, how they live, and what their daily routine is like. This book answers those questions and does so with a large dose of self-deprecating humor. It also involves making peace with a past trauma in her life and explores the role of spirituality in the modern world. It takes the reader behind the scenes into four monastic communities, two Anglican and two Roman Catholic in three locations: one in Toronto, Canada, two in the Isle of Wight, and one in North Yorkshire, England.
Jane Christmas is a Canadian whose mother is Roman Catholic, and father was Anglican. She has been a journalist and communications manager in the business and non-profit sectors. She has a different background than I was expecting when reading about nuns, as she has been twice married and is a mother with grown children. I had always thought of nuns as part of the Catholic religion and was unaware that they are also part of the Anglican religion. Since her early years, she had envisioned herself becoming a nun, but had never pursued it. After a marriage proposal from her then-boyfriend, she needed to decide which path to take.
I liked that this book comes right out and says it is about the religious life. It does not masquerade as something other than what it is. Her views can be considered progressive, and she takes the church to task on the treatment of women and the gay community. However, to me it reads more like a memoir, a documentation of her journey in faith toward personal insight, than social commentary. I liked that she shows the power of silence, patience, listening, and contemplation in our increasingly distracted, noise-filled society, and how it can help in gaining internal perspective. Recommended to those interested in spiritual journeys or understanding how a modern convent operates.
Disclaimer: As a Catholic woman who has considered religious life, I do have some skin in the game, so to speak.
In short: I wish this book had not morphed into a rape memoir studded with I-know-better-than-anyone-else feminist soapbox chatter.
The Good: I enjoyed getting to know a bit more about the Anglican faith from the author's perspective. I have never attended an Anglican church, and honestly, was surprised they had their own orders of religious. I can tell you, while I had not thought much about Anglicanism, prior to reading this book, I felt rather benignly toward the religion. In the past I had referred to it is "Catholic lite" or considered it Catholic minus the pope; but as I read more of this book I quickly realized how very many differences there are between the faiths: women priests (what?!); a nearly 60-something, twice divorced, mother of 3 considering religious life at the same time as deciding if she would rather marry again for the 3rd time? Wow, that opened my eyes rather quickly to the vast chasm between Ms. Christmas' religious formation and my own. I suspect that now I just sound like the Mean-Girl-Catholics portrayed in the chapter "An Invalid Religion". That's not the point I am trying to make here; actually, I appreciated the education I received on Anglicanism from the book, period end of subject.
The Bad: What I did not enjoy, and perhaps this is colored by the fact that I am also currently reading "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" --is that, I simply can't shake the feeling that this book is less a book about the heartfelt discernment of a religious vocation than it is a gimmick meant to boost book sales. Not that I can honestly convince myself that this would ever be a bestseller, but it still has the feeling of any of those, "a year of..." books that have become so popular of late.
What rather upset me more, was that the only two ominous experiences the author has, happen when she is visiting, what I suppose she considers, the dark side, aka a Catholic monastery and a Catholic convent. Even the chapter titles warn us: First, she is "Battling Demons" (at Quarr Abbey) then she's confronted by "An Invalid Religion" (at St. Cecilia's). At the convent we are to believe, Satan actually pays her a visit. While Ms. Christmas may believe in the reality of her experiences and visions, it read more like a flimsy plot device to prove to her readers just how evil the Catholics really are. But of course, Catholic's shouldn't be upset by this because some of her best friends are Catholic --plus, didn't we start it, by being all exclusive with regard to who receives Communion?
This theme was oft revisited in the adjectives she uses to describe the various places she stays. Despite what we are to believe are her most earnest efforts, she simply can't "connect" with the Catholic convent. She sits on a "hard, dark pew" and "things felt uncomfortably strange". This is contrasted immediately at the opening of the next chapter when she arrives at the Anglican convent during a torrential downpour, where she "feels instantly at home...safe" likewise the "gloomy day actually enhanced the austere Normanesque features...".
Moreover, it seems to me that Ms. Christmas (and maybe this applies to all Anglicans, I do not know) has no problem appropriating certain things from Catholicism but then twists them to suit her own needs. The most insulting of all was her use of St. Hilda, born c. 614, when I guarantee you there was no Anglican church. Suddenly this saint becomes in Christmas' words, "Britain's first recognized female PRIEST...". I should have stopped reading there. The author uses St. Hilda again later in the book when she defends female (Anglican) priests. It seems rather like using the Queen of England to defend the American Constitution. I am fine with the fact that Ms. Christmas has strong feelings about the role of women in the church, I would hope anyone who had discerned a calling would; but don't try to justify your socio-political viewpoint by putting words in a 7th century saint's mouth. A saint, who was Catholic (capital "C") and who was never a priest, nor for all we know, had any aspirations to be a priest. She was an abbess, which is a perfectly noble role within the Church without having to make up "facts" to fit an agenda.
Two last odds and ends: First, regarding discernment. If this book gave me any perspective, it was helpful to hear how involved in world affairs the nuns were. I personally can't sit through an evening news program (for all the horrific stories they share) and it dawned on me, that my thoughts about (cloistered) religious life were more about deepening my (personal) relationship with God, but it seems fair that this world we live in is far more in need of prayers than I am. So, that gave me food for thought, specifically, I am not sure that is something I would be cut out for.
Second, Ms. Christmas seems insulted when Sister Prudence (I suspect this is one of the names changed for the book as noted in the Acknowledgements) asks her age, in the midst of trying to comfort Ms. Christmas about her experience with the "mean-girl Catholics". Throughout the book, Ms. Christmas repeatedly acknowledges that she felt 'called' to religious life since her teens, but waited until the age of 57 to actual discern her calling. She is insulted that St. Cecilia's has an upper age limit of 40. I can't help thinking a convent is not an alternative to a retirement community.
One is called to devote one's (whole) life to God, not just come around when it's convenient, or as an afterthought later in life. Which is to take nothing from the many holy men and women called later in life, it is clear that is not the case here. Certainly, many feel pulled to God/religion later in life when thoughts of death and the afterlife more readily come to mind; but it seems insulting to ask the younger sisters in a community to take on the burden of even more older women who finally got around to figuring out what they wanted out of life as they near their 6th decade on this planet. Ms. Christmas also acknowledges that one could become a doctor more quickly than a fully professed nun. So, now were talking about joining at 57 but not making final vows until 67; that's something to think about.
But, it's not only that. Ms. Christmas sounds hale and hearty and may well live into her 90s. But, did she stop to consider, it may very well be easier to take on the mantle of those vows: poverty, obedience, and chastity as a younger, more malleable version of ourselves.
The chapter, "An Invalid Religion" is almost set up like the nuns of St. Cecilia's want to steal Ms. Christmas from the Anglican's, but can't make her fit into their mold. I don't buy this. Ms. Christmas comes to Sister Prudence with two concerns: "Why can't a non-Catholic read the lesson in a Catholic church or take Communion" and Sister Prudence rather matter-of-factly attempts to resolve these issues in her own manner, by seeing if Ms. Christmas could be brought in to communion with the Catholic church. This is clearly not what Ms. Christmas wants, but it would in fact solve the two concerns the author raised. I rather suspect Ms. Christmas would have preferred if Sister Prudence had said, "well, I had never thought about that, you are so right, I'm going to leave the convent and become an Anglican priest just as soon as I can".
In closing, I really wanted to like this. I fervently believe there is a hole that needs to be filled with regard to personal experiences of religious discernment, but this book didn't fill that void for me.
Although I've read three other books by Jane Christmas, and liked them all, I was reluctant to start this one. Religion is a big part of Christmas' life, but hasn't been a major part of her books. Even her book about walking the Camino Santiago de Compostela, a popular pilgrim route, was less about religion and more about accomplishing a goal, doing something challenging and different, the people she met along the way.
Still, a book about her decision to become a nun or not to become a nun seemed to necessarily be about religion to a certain extent. Well, I went through a nun phase when I was around nine or ten, reading A Nun's Story, watching The Sound of Music and The Flying Nun, wearing out my paperback copy of Life With Mother Superior by Jane Trahey (it was years before I realized they had made a movie of the book, called The Trouble With Angels). Bring on the nuns.
I had some trouble understanding why Christmas felt so strongly that becoming a nun was what she should do at this stage of her life. As an Anglican, she could have looked into becoming a vicar (like the Vicar of Dibley!), and given her lifetime of being a strong and resourceful woman (single parenthood, two grown children, a career in journalism), becoming a nun seemed a curiously passive choice. But maybe I just didn't understand.
Christmas described telling her boyfriend of six years, who had only just proposed to her, that she wanted to look into the nun business. He seemed to take it in stride, and Christmas spent the next year or so getting herself to nunneries, going to nun camp, trying the lifestyle on for size, asking questions, contemplating.
I found myself skimming past the long religious discussions she had with nuns and other nun wannabes. But then there was an unexpected revelation. Christmas had been assaulted by an employer some thirty years before and, not surprisingly, still had unresolved feelings about it. I started paying attention again.
And I was happy to find that Christmas was able to come up with a resolution to the traumatic experience. Did she become a nun? I'll leave that for you to discover.
I liked the author's books on Spain and Italy, but wasn't sure about this one. However, when I ventured up into the Seattle Public Library's stacks to get a specific book, and this one was on the same shelf, I decided that a sign to check it out.
I had heard of Anglican nuns previously, so (as a lapsed Episcopalian) was interested in learning more. Christmas gets along so well with the Canadian order she visits that it's arranged for her to make a longer stay with their English counterparts. For the two weeks prior to that three-month adventure, she books two one-week stays in England at a Catholic monastery and Catholic convent.
The first week goes fairly well, apart from a sharp exchange with one of the priests, who had converted from Anglicanism. The R. C. nuns, however, proved a bit much for her. One is quite nasty about Christmas having been brought up Anglican, though her mother was Catholic, later telling her that the Church of England is an "invalid religion"; she disgusts the order when they find out she's twice divorced, yet considering entering religious life. Also, she has a paranormal experience there which scared the stuffing out of her, but sounded kinda cool to me.
Final section at the Anglican convent worked well as she had to learn to fit in, not easy as some of the nuns had "high standards" that proved a challenge to handle. Still, in an ironic twist, she came to be part of their lives by the end, just as she realized that she wasn't suited for the life of a nun in the long run.
My verdict is that she succeeded in her intention of portraying the religious life, although not everyone shares her sense of humor and style of observation. I think fans of the American writer Mary Roach might particularly appreciate Christmas' writing. I'm looking forward to her next book myself.
P. S. The author's having been raped plays a part in the narrative here. Those who would find her re-telling of the incident traumatic ought to be aware ahead of time, so sorry if that's a spoiler.
Maybe more like 4.5 stars? (I'm weaseling more often these days.) This book about a woman who, just as her boyfriend proposes marriage, has been considering life as a nun is remarkably honest in its examination of the faith-driven life. I enjoyed the different communities she took part in and was deeply moved by her discoveries about herself and her faith--though what she refers to as the "Voice Within" I would call the Holy Spirit. I carefully didn't skip to the end to discover which path she'd choose, but I applauded her choice when it came. Jane Christmas has a strong, vibrant voice, and I think I'm going to look for other books by her.
You don’t have to be religious to enjoy Christmas’s memoir. She’s a wonderful storyteller, taking her reader through her mid-life journey of self-discovery. Most of her stories take place over several months when she stays with four different religious orders in England, where she embarks upon an in-depth exploration on whether she should move forward with becoming a nun. She opens up and reveals her experiences and emotions, trying to figure out if she’s really cut out for the sacrifice that goes along with choosing that kind of a vocation and commitment. The book is relatable for a variety of readers.
“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” G. K. Chesterton.
What might a wantabee-nun have to say to us normal people? A lot, and not all of it about faith or religious institutions. An honest, introspective foray into the contemplative life in the twenty-first century by a woman of the world. A good starting point for a lay person wondering how the other half--no, not half; a vanishingly small percent--lives and worships.
“You don’t rewrite Shakespeare’s sonnets to make them more understandable, you grow in your understanding of the words.”
Folksy, but wordy prose. Her narrative sucks the reader in and propels you along, but a bit more polish is expected of a professional writer.
“Just as the prettiest vineyard doesn’t produce the best wine, neither does the grandest cathedral or the most respected theology think tank produce the holiest specimens.”
Many reflections on Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England organization, theology and practice versus Roman Catholic. Too esoteric for many readers.
“Lent is the desert season, an intense, bleak period requiring more spiritual vigilance, deeper introspection, and greater resistance to self-gratification. The grand reward is spiritual transformation.”
Correctly identifies practices and prejudices in the church and greater society, but a bit shrill on social gospel. Several references to herself as a “Warrior Nun.” Promotes “writ[ing] letters of outrage” and other, more direct action against real and perceived faults.
“Faith is not a surrender of the mind but an expansion of it, and the heart and soul as well.”
“Hearing nuns’ confession was like being stoned to death with popcorn.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Jane Christmas – two ex-husbands, late fifties, grown up children, newly engaged – decides that she must find out whether she actually does have a vocation to be a nun. Fortunately her fiancé understands her dilemma and agrees to wait eighteen months to see whether she really does want to be a nun or not. This book is the result of that eighteen months exploration of her spiritual and emotional life.
Written in a conversational style which made me often think she was sitting next to me telling her story, this is a fascinating and absorbing memoir. I found having started it I couldn’t put it down. I have always been interested in religion as a subject and intrigued by nuns and monks after I shed buckets over Rumer Godden’s ‘In This House of Brede’ and then moved on to reading Karen Armstrong’s autobiography and the various fictional nuns such as Veronica Black’s Sister Joan and Alison Joseph’s Sister Agnes.
Whether you have any sort of religion, or none, this is a fascinating story of one woman’s look at the spiritual life and to my mind it is better than Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Drink, Pray’. Jane Christmas stayed at an assortment of convents and monasteries including Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight and the convent of the Holy Paraclete in Whitby.
I was interested to read of her stay at Whitby and her walks along the beach there as I can recall seeing nuns walking along the beach in the 1950s when I went to Whitby. This book is totally fascinating reading and gives a tantalising glimpse into the religious life of both Anglican and Roman Catholic nuns and monks.
I received a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Interesting. The author, an Anglican woman in her 50s, decides that she may have a vocation as a nun, and sets out to discern whether this is in fact the case by spending time living in 4 convents. I found the author and the tone a bit puzzling - an odd mix of what seemed to be very sincere statements about the power of prayer and the experience of visions, spiritual reflection, and so on, mixed in with a Sophie Kinsella-like jollity that suggested it was all a super-hilarious lark by our kooky heroine. I did enjoy learning about the lives of modern contemplatives, and would have liked more of that rather than so much about the author's own reaction to things.
I read a review for this book a few months ago and was intrigued by the premise: a woman in her fifties hears the call of God and decides to consider, really consider becoming a nun. Add on to that that she has grown children, two divorces behind her, and is considering getting married for the third time, and it was too salacious to pass up. It didn't live up to my expectations, but at the same time it is a worthwhile read. First, Christmas has a background in journalism, so the hard facts she presents are interesting and well-researched. The differences between Anglican and Catholic religion were the most interesting for me (knowing very little about either), and the general comments on religion were enlightening. Secondly, Christmas does write with humour, and that kept me reading. However, I have to say that the aspect I really disliked (reducing star count) was that Christmas is really-heavy handed in a few aspects. For example, she addresses the fact that she's had visions. I find that totally acceptable and get it. But the fact that she is constantly apologizing for those visions throughout the book became annoying. Let's be honest: if a reader can't buy into visions, the writer has already lost that reader; justification isn't needed. Secondly (SPOILER), when Christmas uses the traumatic experience of being raped in her past as a device to drive the plot forward and try to build suspense - it was alienating and again, heavy-handed. I understand the need to express it, and certainly it was important for her to find forgiveness and acceptance, but I didn't like the way she incorporated it throughout the book - as a literary pay-off to keep reading. I'm not sure if that is her fault or her editor's. I would consider reading one of her other books, but I would question her throughout, as she seems to be a career 'experience' writer.
I read this book in one sitting because it was engaging, and because I find people's spiritual journeys interesting. Parts of it annoyed me. There was a definite air of, "OMG, Christians are being SO VERY PERSECUTED" woven in the tales of how some people responded with scorn to her religious beliefs instead of lifting them up as something worthy of praise. That isn't persecution: that is secular society being as bold with their disinterest in religion as Christians have been in their arrogance towards anyone who is not Christian. Then there was her insistence that progressive measures like making the liturgy gender-neutral or making the readings more modern were "political correctness gone awry" while berating the church for not being progressive about ordaining women or accepting women over a certain age as postulants at convents. A preference for gender-neutral liturgy or modern interpretations is just as valid as ordaining women, and both are the right thing to do. There is plenty of room for traditional and progressive liturgy in the church just like there is for women and men in the clergy.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the authentic soul-searching she did throughout the process of her discernment. It would have been much easier to continue to ignore the issues she faced, to gloss over her own shortcomings, or even to dismiss her attraction to religious life and not go through discernment at all. Instead she faced all of those things (some things more readily than others, as is normal) and came to a better understanding of herself in the process. That was a joy to read.
I received this book as an early read via NetGalley. Overall, I'd say I liked this book. It was interesting to have an inside view of daily life in a convent and I learned about the Anglican Church, a subject I knew absolutely zero about. I couldn't really warm up to the author, she felt immature and very prone to naval gazing at the cost of her closest relationships. A good storyteller though, even if the "main character" in the story wasn’t someone I cared for all that much. If I knew someone who was struggling with their faith I'd probably recommend they read this as it gives a modern woman’s perspective on an ancient, patriarchal system, and how to discover a way to find where you fit on that spectrum.
This is the second Jane Christmas narrative non-fiction book I have read and both are favourites of mine that I recommend regularly. If you enjoy tagging along on someone's personal journey and both laughing and learning as you go, then this woman's books are for you.
My brother sent me this hilarious and poignant memoir and I highly recommend it to anyone on the internal or spiritual journey, even if you are not religious. Many laugh-out-loud lines and comic images, yet Christmas also goes deep in confronting the answers she is running from as well as seeking.
The author was a 57-year-old, twice divorced woman, mother of three, and engaged to yet another man when she decided to see if she had a calling to be a nun. I could have told her right off the bat that she wasn’t approaching this for the right reasons. She was running from her old life and seeking personal peace, not running to a new life and seeking to be of service to the world. She saw the church in terms of nostalgia and pageantry. Of a church service she wrote, “It was lovely—lots of candles, genuflection, beautiful priestly vestments, and enough incense to justify a health and safety warning.” And another time, “The pageantry of the Mass was ancient and moving.” Of a monastery where she wanted to spend some time, she wrote, “Everyone I had met at Quarr had raved about St. Cecilia’s, its soul-stirring chanting, and its fantastic guest accommodations.” Fantastic guest accommodations?
She rued changes in the church, e,g., changes to the wording of certain prayers and the loss of Gregorian chants (nostalgia part), yet she professed to want change --- but on her terms. “I truly wanted to be a nun…But I wanted to be a different kind of nun, … one with fewer limitations placed on my freedom.” You can’t have it both ways, lady.
I did admire her efforts to seek an equal role for women in the church. “Many of the sisters I met had exceptional executive-level skills but were largely relegated to the status of handmaidens. At important church functions, nuns were used as servers and dishwashers rather than encouraged to circulate, offer their insights…You do not see monks setting tables and drying dishes at church functions, so why is it OK to make nuns do it?”
I learned much about the Anglican church reading this. I didn’t even know they had nuns!
As a favor to her friend Elias, Bed and Breakfast owner Bea Cartwright has agreed to help the ten nuns staying on retreat at Water's Edge Center for Spirit and Renewal. She thinks that will simply mean preparing meals and maybe running a few errands for the nuns, but when two nuns are murdered and there are attempts to kill other nuns, Bea soon finds herself involved in a murder investigation - an investigation that puts her life in real danger.
“And Then There Were Nuns” is the fourth book in Kylie Logan's League of Literary Ladies cozy mystery series but the first book I have read in the series and, while I was new to the characters and setting, I enjoyed this book very much. I love Bea as the main character - because I jumped into this mid-series I am not sure how much of a surprise some of the revelations in this book were but I did find that they made her and her relationship with Levi to be quite interesting. The other characters (Kate, Luella, and Chandra) were also interesting - I love the dynamics of their friendship. The mystery is nicely done - the homage to Agatha Christie's “And Then There Were None” is well done - subtle without simply copying the plot of that novel. The mystery is indeed well plotted with plenty of twists and turns - the type of mystery where just when you think you have the murder figured out Logan throws in another twist - well done!
“And Then There Were Nuns” is a nicely done cozy mystery - now I have to read the rest of the books in the series to see what I missed!
I majored in English Lit & Religious Studies, so I was thrilled to learn about Christmas’ memoir, in which she explores the cloistered life before deciding whether to get married to her longterm partner or become a nun. At the beginning, she views nuns as having “an air of secret agent cool…their floor-length black habits swoosh[ing] & billow[ing] like approaching storm clouds, while the edges of their white veils fluttered like angel wings.” By the end, she sees the sisters as strong women with joys & sadnesses like anybody else.
I’ll keep mum about whether she does it from the inside or outside — but I will say that she realizes she needs to be a warrior for the church, & fight for women’s rights — especially a woman’s right to lead. A huge part of her coming to this conclusion has to do with her feeling safe enough to confront her rape, which she’d been silent about for 30 years. This is a book with more dark nights of the soul than I anticipated…but it’s also full of the humor, hope, wonder, & faith that I knew to expect.
What I do know now is this: irreverent as she is sometimes, Christmas is far more pious than I. Interesting as I find the religious life, and especially the promise of contemplation & silence, I could never be a nun. Unless…is there such thing as a pagan nun? Can I please just hang out & contemplate nature & the infinite — preferably someplace warm?
In And Then There Were Nuns, Christmas finds herself in a midlife crisis of sorts: does she get married again—or become a nun? Unable to shake the idea of joining a convent, she sets off to explore the possibility, ultimately spending time with nuns and monks in a handful of places. Along the way, she is forced to confront a difficult piece of her past.
Now, if you make it past page 3 or so, it should be clear which path Christmas chooses,* but at the time it wasn't clear to her. (If you have yet to make it past page 3, be warned: spoilers below!) She finds it a mixed experience—even as she relaxes into patterns and routines, she chafes against convention (sorry...couldn't help it).
Unfortunately Christmas isn't really for me as a writer; I read What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim last year and was similarly enchanted by the experience but disenchanted by the voice. I stopped wearing makeup, cut off my hair, and stopped coloring it. Catching sight of myself in the mirror one day, I wondered, When did I become a lesbian? (82) (Actually, what galls about that one is that I can't call her out on the stereotype because I fit it too well.) Not really sure what to make of her interest in St. Scholastica (155-156)—in my (admittedly very limited) understanding of her, she was basically...smited down by God? Surely I must be missing something here.** And it just...always felt as if she wanted credit for doing voluntarily the things that the nuns have committed to doing (going without, doing chores, etc.).
But I digress. It's an interesting book, clear though it is that (spoiler!) it's not meant to be:
"I'm afraid I've come to the conclusion that I am not nun material."
"You're kidding," Sister Dorothy Stella deadpanned. "I could have told you that ages ago." (258)
And oh, drat all, I'm still digressing. I think what sits poorly with me is the impression I got that Christmas partly found a mismatch between her life and a nun's life...but that she also partially thought a nun's life wasn't good enough for her. Could I really surrender to a creative gag order, even if God were my boss? Surely He had something better in mind for me (222). And indeed—Jesus informs her in a vision that she's going to help Save the Nuns by writing about them (269).
To be clear (and fairer), I really, really don't think she's actually looking down on the nuns, just that she's pretty set in her ways already and has a rich secular life. I admire her for really making a go of it; it seems to have been a question she really needed to answer before she could move off in other directions. She also addresses some pretty serious parts of her past, which takes guts—both to address in the first place and to write about later. Many of the things that grated me probably wouldn't have bothered me in another book, so I can only conclude that this is largely a case of mismatch between book/author and reader.
*Even so, I assiduously refrained from reading this article until I'd finished the book. Just in case.
**And the Internet tells me that she ended up in heaven, so I guess she probably wasn't smited. (The Internet also tells me that smited is not a word, and that smote or smitten would be appropriate, but I am choosing to ignore that.)
When Jane Christmas' boyfriend proposed to her, she gave him the most obvious reply: she said she wanted to join a nunnery. It wasn't that he had driven her to the cloister; she had been tempted by it for most of her life, but it wasn't until her beau was down on bended knee that she realized it was now or never. And so she spent the better part of a year living in monastic communities, with nuns and monks alike, in Canada and in Britain, while her extraordinarily long-suffering fiance kept in contact by letter. And Then Were Nuns is a slightly humorous account of an endeavor seriously undertaken: to see if the author truly felt called to be a nun. The result for readers is a look into a world normally out of mind, and an exploration of the value of a monastic life to the religiously-inclined.
Religious orders are the Anglican church's best-kept secret, Christmas writes, and that's probably the case, for whoever associates nuns with the Church of England? Nuns are black-habited sisters stalking the halls of private schools or hospitals, thumping children with rulers or humorlessly flipping protesting hospital patients on their backsides to administer shots in their hinterlands. But the Anglican church does have religious orders, male and female, throughout the world, and Christmas begins by spending four weeks at a convent in Toronto, where she's treated as if she's on retreat. The initial bit of self-examination unlocks some inner demons, and before making a decision whether to marry her finance or Jesus, she decided a more intensive sojourn is in order, a multi-month stay at a convent in Britain. As she travels there, she stays with nuns and monks at two religious communities on the Isle of Wight, flirting with the Catholic church before an indignant mother informs her that no she bloody well can not join the Romans and become a nun with three marriages to her name. Her experiences there affirm her association with the Church of England, however theologically indecisive and socially regressive it might be. Eventually Jane realizes this time spent living among religious orders wasn't meant so much to help her make a decision about becoming a nun as to face down a harrowing sexual episode years before.
Christmas has a reputation as a humorist, and Then There Were Nuns combines serious introspection and discussion about the spiritual and material value of the nuns' work with wry reflections. Awed and nervous by the exploration she's undertaken, Christmas sometimes escapes the intensity with jokes to herself. This isn't a laughing trip through the world of intentional religious communities, however; she is a woman on a mission. Eventually the mission bears fruit, if not exactly in the way she would have predicted; always a seeker of the simple, quiet life, Christmas is drawn to the convent for its freedom from outside distraction, constant exhortations to spiritual mindfulness, and above all -- meaningful work. The monotony of everyday experience, however, and the inviting presence of her children and would-be spouse outside, diminish the allure. She finds her path, however, and for the religiously-inclined or spiritually-interested reader, And Then There Were Nuns will prove informative and engaging; it is a humanizing look at people who seem to have an otherworldly existence.
I pretty much devoured this one over the course of the past weekend, with just the final 25 pages left for a pleasant late Monday afternoon read. Jane Christmas writes so very well, in a way that makes for "light reading," yet with some serious heft always lurking around (or beneath) each corner.
In her late fifties and engaged to be remarried, Christmas found herself drawn to finally test a vocation as a nun; something that had sat dormant in her for years. Her experiences with the Sisters of St John the Divine in their Toronto convent (where I have spend some time on retreat) and with the Order of the Holy Paraclete in Whitby, UK (and I spent a wonderful four days in their New York City house back in 2004) are chronicled with great insight and humour, but she never backs away from writing of her own spiritual struggles; most notably her deep need to come to grips with having been raped at an earlier stage in her life.
Active and engage faith came to Jane Christmas fairly late, but she has grabbed hold and ridden for all she's worth. Occasionally I caught errors in her accounting of things Anglican, but that's an occupational hazard for any priest reading this sort of book. She gets so much right, and then takes the reader into such invigorating terrain that I'll happily forgive her the occasional misstep or error.
Ever wondered why anyone would become a monk or nun? Ever succumbed to all of the stereotypes that popular culture throws our way about all such people being repressed, oppressive, even cruel? Read this book, and meet all kind of people whose lives attest to a different way. Along the way you'll meet some people who might ride the edges of those stereotypes, but why is that a surprise? These folks are all human, and that's part of what Jane Christmas wants us to see.
And Then There Were Nuns (Greystone $19.95) is by Jane Christmas, a travel writer who at midlife thinks she wants to be an Anglican nun. (You’re not alone if you think that nuns are only Catholic.) But she’s also twice divorced and yet engaged to a Brit. She starts her year-long quest at the Sisterhood of St John the Divine in Toronto, and then travels to a monastery and two convents in England. The book traces her struggle to fit into the almost antisocial strictures of convent life. Gregorian chant has a special appeal for her; the Catholic convent where it is sung heavenly is also where she is given a grilling about her divorces and feminism. She is also burdened by memories of a workplace rape when she worked in advertising. By finally facing this disabling legacy, she is able to discern her calling: to return to the noise and chaos of secular life, and get married. I appreciated Christmas’s honesty and moments of irreverence. My favourite passage was an anecdote about Thomas Merton, whose 20th-century autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain, drew hundreds of recruits to the monastic life. Even he, who chose to exceed the Cistercian rule of silence by becoming a hermit, would regularly sneak off to a nearby pub, change from his habit into blue jeans, and revel in conversation with the locals.
This book wasn't entirely what I was expecting (the word "adventures" makes me think of funny things) but it some ways it was so much more than what I expected. And yes, there were some pretty funny stories in there too.
The author is at a crossroads -- does she marry the man she has been dating for a while (she has been ready to marry him for quite a long time but he has now finally proposed) or does she listen to her inner voice that says "be a nun." The book is her journey through this decision and her times at various monastaries where she tried to discern which choice was right for her.
While the author is Anglican (aka Episcopal), it was interesting to read of her journey -- maybe it's because when I was a teen I thought I wanted to be a nun. She talks some about the differences between Anglican and Roman Catholic. I didn't even realize that there were Anglican nuns!
The book really explores a nuns life and makes you think about your faith. I may have to actually purchase this book so I can highlight passages that struck a chord with me. It's definitely on my "re-read" list.
"Instead of fighting back, which is what I should have done with every ounce of my being, I cultivated a posture of confidence and humor to cover up my weak spots and to convince myself that I was a-ok. It takes work to maintain that strong, impermeable exterior. That armor of invincibility that I had forged so skillfully as self-protection had kept at bay those who might have helped me. At the time, I didn't want anyone's help: I was afraid they would think less of me. Ah, that old, deadly sin Pride. It had slithered under my skin, snaked its way into my heart and made a bed there. It was feeding off my life force and suffocating my relationships. The denial and the pain was infecting everything in my life."
It took Jane Christmas thirty yeas to come to this realization, a realization that changed everything for her. It was this passage and a few others like it that made me understand why she set out on this journey to become a nun, and why she decided that the monastery was not for her.
When the author chooses to give a genuine, insightful narrative of her thought processes and experiences in discerning whether she truly had a calling to the life of a religious, the book is marvelous. She unfortunately also employs a cutesy, almost childish way of excusing what she perceives as her shortcomings which is cloying after a while. And then there is a Big Reveal about a life event many years in the past which is allegedly the secret reason for her behavior. I happen to have had a life event similar to the author's - and I found her referring to it as a catalyst hard to swallow, though I realize that life's events shape us all differently. Apparently I'm better at moving on with my life than she. Her writing style is good but frankly I found her annoying after a while - we are about the same age and I find it hard to credit that she's as thin skinned and almost immature as she comes across. Would give it 3.5 stars if I could.
My first impression was that this would be a light-hearted, rather humorous chronicle of mid-life entry into a convent. While it is humorous and there are some absolute laugh-out-loud moments, this is a thought provoking journal of one woman's spiritual journey. Jane is twice married, twice divorced, in a serious relationship and at the peak of her career when she decides it is now or never - she wants to heed the small voice that has been urging her to consider religious life for most of her life. Women who have reached the point where children are grown and careers are launched will understand Jane's desire to explore their options before a door closes. Jane's process takes an unexpected turn when she realizes there is a past trauma she has to bring to closure, and the last few chapters are much more sober as she does so. Spiritual women whose lives have been a juggling act will find a kindred spirit in Jane Christmas.
I can now read ebooks and thought I'd give the library overdrive app a try. This book was available; I'm not quite sure what made me check it out, but I'm glad I did. The author explores the idea of becoming a nun. Her parents were Catholic and Anglican respectively; both traditions have nuns although the author is not what I would call traditional. She explores both sides and reflects on her experiences. It is exploratory, but the book takes a different direction as she reflects on a horrific past experience that she had buried. She realizes that dealing with that event is paramount.
Overall, I'd recommend this book to people who are out of college and still questioning what they are doing. Most people wonder if they are making the right choices, and this is what this woman is doing with a more religious twist. Because the author is in her early 50s, most teens will have a hard time identifying with her.
I want to be Jane Christmas when I grow up......to be fearless enough to step away from my everyday life and seek out the answers to the questions that rumble around in my brain. This is my 3rd 'ride a-long' with Jane book - a year on a secluded island and a trek on the Camino and now....convents and monasteries.... This time, Jane is putting to rest a question that has haunted her since she was a teenager....is she really meant to live the life of religious service. But, then again, there is the matter of her fiance....and so the adventure begins. This gave me food for thought, laughter, tears and a better knowledge of what it means to be a nun in the modern world. This book is sub-titled 'Adventures ina Cloistered Life' and adventurous it is. Go out and buy this book - I am not lending you my copy because sometimes a book is good enough that we should ALL support the author by purchasing our own copy. Enjoy!!!!!
"Faith is not for sissies," asserts Christmas as she contemplates her year and a half-long experiences living in Anglican and RC convents and monasteries in Canada and Great Britain. Indeed not, especially when you embark on your quest in your mid-50s and your boyfriend has just proposed marriage. The author writes movingly of her pilgrimage to find her true vocation, and of the communities that inspire, bore, insult, and terrify her in the quest to lose ego and gain God. I'll definitely be looking into reading other Christmas titles, especially her account of traveling Spain's Camino de Santiago de Compostela, something I would love to do, and her "The Pelee Project" about living on an island on which my daughters mistakenly (and enjoyably) vacationed.