The original post on my reflections on leaving the religious Order I thought I’d joined for all my life was lost when I tried to be too clever by half, and clicked a couple of buttons when I wasn’t quite sure what they did. So, yeah, don’t do that, kids. Or, if you do, back everything up first.
This is partly an attempt to recreate that original post, because I can’t say how I got here without starting from there, but mostly some reflections on where I am, some months later.
(Some background, for those who don’t know – I joined the lay branch of the Order of Preachers. I wasn’t a nun or a Sister, lay members of the Order do not make the vows of poverty, chastity or obedience, but live out their vocation to preach the Gospel “in the world”. Lay members of the Order can marry, or not, they have secular jobs, and do not live in community).
One of the ways I lived out my calling was going to Spurgeon College, the Baptist training college in south London, to talk to a class of Baptist and Pentecostal Ministers-in-training about being a Catholic in general and a Lay Dominican in particular. And you can’t talk about being a Catholic without talking about Mary, and transubstantiation, and the rosary and intercession of the Saints, and prayer for the dead, and you especially can’t talk about being a Dominican without talking about these things. These are things which Protestants, especially some Baptists and Pentecostals, find tricky. So I was going over my notes for the talk I was due to give later in the year, and by the time I’d finished, I knew I was not in a position where I could defend any of it with any sincerity. Oh, I could say the words. I could probably say them now. I still maintain that my finest hour on Twitter was when I explained Purgatory in under 140 characters. But the words mean nothing if there isn’t sincerity behind them, if you don’t believe with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind that veritas, the truth of God, is behind every word you are saying.
And then the next morning, my alarm went off in time for Keen People Early Mass with Extra Latin, and I sat down at the sewing machine instead.
Do I regret my time in the Order? Absolutely not. Could I have stayed? Possibly, for a little while longer, but, looking back, my doubts had been growing for a long time, and that afternoon going through my notes was the end of one journey, and the beginning of the next. It would certainly have been easier to stay, at least in the short term, but in staying, I would have done myself, and the Order, a grave disservice.
It’s been odd, making the change from religious to secular. There was a time of grieving, because it was a huge part of my life for a long time, and it was, I think, rather like losing a friend after a long illness. But this too shall pass – I realised late yesterday, with something of a jolt, that the Solemnity of St Dominic had passed with barely a wistful thought.
But in some ways, there’s been barely a change. As someone said, shortly after I announced I was leaving “you’re still you,” and I think she’s right. In essentials, I am still me, for better or worse. I still have a “to be read” pile which will see me to the grave, but instead of a heavy theological slant to the pile, my next books are a biography of Agrippina the Roman Empress, a history of opium, and a book about the history of Europe. To be fair, these would always have made it into the pile, but they are no longer rubbing shoulders with the Divine Office, the Summa Theologica, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a Study Bible you could brain a burglar with. I still walk miles, I still value solitude and silence, and I appear to have taken up paddleboarding.
Will I return to the Church? I don’t know. I thought I’d made vows for all my life, but that didn’t go to plan, did it? But at the moment, I can’t say that “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God,” and here I am. Still seeking after truth, I hope, but not currently able to find it in the Catholic Church.
As for this blog? Watch this space.