How I came to write Consolations

As is often the case with fiction, my story is not Fiona’s story; and yet it is.

nunI wanted to be a cloistered nun when I was fifteen. I formally applied after high school and received a letter from the Mother General saying that I needed to experience the world for at least a year, go to college, get a job, and make my request again.

Not surprisingly, I never did. (It was the sixties.)

Thirty years later, inspired by Thomas Merton’s writings, the old longing awakened. I left the hi-tech world of Silicon Valley where I was enjoying “success” and a promise of more, and entered a Cistercian monastery at age 46.

There were obstacles.

First, my age. Most monasteries I visited were not open to accepting a candidate over age 35, for reasons obvious to them but not to me. It was the abbess of Santa Rita Abbey, Mother Beverly, herself a convert and a passionate follower of Merton’s, who said yes to a period of discernment.

I spent three months living with the community in the Santa Rita Mountains outside Tucson. The silence deeply touched me and I fell in love with the high desert and the ancient chants sung throughout the monastic day. I believed I had found my spiritual home. It took a year to obtain the necessary dispensation of my (first) marriage and settle my affairs.

Finally, my entrance date was set.

I gave away my houseful of stuff and said what I thought was a permanent good bye to friends and family, including my 19-year old son. I was going to live a silent life of prayer, study and manual labor in a medieval monastic tradition that had flourished in the 11th and 12th centuries.

I left “the world” in triumph and utter relief, with a certainty that by so doing I was at last embarking on my ‘real’ life’s journey to peace and fulfillment. A peace I had glimpsed in prayer and meditation; and a fulfillment I had failed to reach through relationships, therapy and outward success.

I believed in the life of the Spirit. That such a life was going to lift me up above human suffering, pain, loss, sadness, and disappointment. I believed in Merton’s stillpoint—that there is a deep and unalterable place at the core of my being where my soul is one with God. And I was going to find it.

I entered in the fall of 1996 and left a week later.

It took me nearly ten years to understand what had happened. This understanding dawned slowly during the time I wrote the novel Consolations.

My hope is that my story engages and touches you. Please let me know if it does.


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