Because of Simon & Garfunkel, my vocation to be a religious Sister almost ended before it even began. On an early visit to the Benedictine monastery that I would eventually join, I brought up Simon & Garfunkel in a conversation with one of the Sisters. The Sister (in her 70s) looked at me blankly and then asked: “What is Simon & Garfunkel?” I was uncharacteristically speechless. Talk about the Sounds of Silence! Could I really join a community where people did not know about Simon & Garfunkel? “John Lennon?”...I ventured in a small voice. The Sister shook her head no – John Lennon was also unfamiliar to her.
I realized that day that the Generation Gap in many religious communities is very real! But yet, I still fell in love with that particular community of Sisters and joined them the next year.
The Generation Gap has caused me no end of both frustration and humor. I live in a fairly diverse community of Sisters. I can go from discussing ‘90s music or current trends with other Sisters in my age group (30s and 40s) and then turn around and have a deep discussion on pre-Vatican II days with some of the older Sisters. Talking with women who lived a somewhat enclosed life in the 1950s through the mid-1960s is alternately interesting and exasperating. It is fascinating to hear about religious life “back then” and hear legendary stories of Sisters long gone, but at other times I am frustrated by our lack of shared understanding.
In the pop culture realm, most older Sisters have never heard of the thousands of (pretty useless!) names that roll around in my head: names of TV shows, movies, songs, clothing brands, etc. from the 1960s to today. My looks and activities challenge some Sisters who cannot understand how a person can: make it to age 34 without learning how to sew; eat chocolate for breakfast (I learned this was a no-no when I tried to make chocolate-chip muffins once!); wear boots for fashion (not weather-related!) purposes; have time for that “facebook” thing; keep a somewhat untidy bedroom; drink flavored coffee; and actually like those strange, sugary cereals (example: Captain Crunch!).
Of course, I am just as baffled by many of the older Sisters’ activities and looks as they are of mine at times. But, despite all of the superficial differences listed above, there is a deep unity that binds our community of Sisters together. It is a unity of respect and love built from traveling on the same path together through life. We are a group of women with the same goal: to seek God together in community under the Rule of St. Benedict. Our daily common prayer helps unite us as we support each other through both good times and bad.
Since I am an avid baker, I’ll put my idea of community in baking terms: we are like a giant batch of vanilla cupcakes, but all with different frostings – we have chocolate, maple, orange, caramel, mint, cinnamon, strawberry, and more. Like the cupcakes, our base is the same, but each Sister represents a slightly different flavoring, which of course makes us interesting! I love variety when I bake and the same is true of my community. We are all different, unique women and I would not have it any other way! ☺