In praise of... being barmy

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music... ~ Nietzsche

A friend is entering religious life in a monastery today. If the years and months ahead confirm that this is how and where God wants her to be, then she will spend the rest of her life in this one place, going elsewhere only for specified purposes. Her days will be structured and ordered towards personal and liturgical prayer, reading, study and whatever work she has been assigned in the house or its grounds. She will learn to become more silent in her actions and to measure her speech, as a means of deepening her interior silence, infusing her day with prayer and her whole life with this single-minded quest for God. This, and a life of austere simplicity, will be her response to the manifold needs of our world. 

She is, in short, embarking on a way of life which even she has admitted can appear the height of folly - crazy, barmy - even to devout Catholics. That word - barmy - was the same one used by a good friend almost 25 years ago when I was preparing to embark on my own adventure with God. You're barmy, I can still hear her insisting, absolutely barmy. No other word for it - barmy. She was unswayed by the fact that I was joining an apostolic order (heaven knows what she'd have said to my would-be monastic friend!): no amount of usefulness or mission or engagement with and in the world could cancel out the fact that I was... barmy.

And at one level I was - still am; and at another level entering was the sanest, most logical and reasonable thing I could ever have done. There was music I could not leave unheard and un-danced to; an enchanting Love I could not resist; an urgent, compelling call being written in my heart which I could not leave unanswered. So I left many things behind, vaguely trusting that I would gain so much more. And twenty-something years on, that music still plays, more sweetly than any sacrifice; that compelling call is engraved deep within, and Love still holds me enthralled.

Today monasteries are celebrating the feast of all those who have lived this call according to the Rule of St Benedict. It's also the feast of St Stanislaus, who in Ignatian circles is the patron saint of novices, those people in the early stages of formation and incorporation - and still in the very early stages of this utter folly for God. Today I pray for them, and very especially for my friend; and pray too, that many more women will hear and respond to Love's call, however barmy it may seem...