The Allure of the Unknown

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The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

–Albert Einstein

On Easter Sunday I had the pleasure of attending mass at a new church near my house. I must admit that I have been absent from the church scene these past few weeks. The church right next to the convent is absolutely enormous and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming to have hundreds of people stare at me for an entire 4-hour mass.

This new church is on the grounds of a monastery that houses a sect of cloistered nuns. These nuns live an extremely private life, hidden away behind the towering walls of the monastery. Within the confines of the monastery the nuns lead a contemplative life dedicated to God with a few extracurricular activities (like gardening, flower arranging, and cooking) thrown in every once in a while between the praying.

The beautiful little church is divided in half by a wrought-iron gate and a white curtain. It is designed so one half allows public access while the other half is reserved for the cloistered nuns. The walls of the church are covered in beautiful paintings depicting scenes from the Bible and the “public half” of the church also acts as garden showroom that displays many of the nun’s spectacular flower arrangements. Most of the light entering the church is filtered through blue and green stained glass windows that, with the combination of the numerous candles scattered about, give the room a very soft and welcoming glow. We arrived a few minutes before the start of mass so the white curtain was still down, hiding the nuns from our sight with the exception of the occasional flicker of a candle or the scuffling of chairs being moved. I found that as the minutes passed my curiosity grew and I was really excited when the curtain was finally pulled aside to reveal the nuns on the other side. The service was beautiful and there was lots of wonderful singing and dancing. I found it interesting that all of the songs were initiated by the nuns and then the other people would join in after a verse or so. It was as if music was their way of calling out to us, acknowledging our presence while extending an invitation to join in their festivities.

I am completely enthralled with the mystery of this group of nuns. They live their entire lives (once they become nuns) locked away in a mysteriously hidden world that no one else has the privilege of entering. No one is allowed to enter the monastery and they are only permitted to leave under very special circumstances. They are not even allowed to leave to attend the funeral of a family member. Family is allowed to visit during designated visiting hours but must remain in the “public” half of the church. When a woman commits to this life she agrees to spend her entire life separated from those she loves by a physical boundary, communicating through a metal gate.

I spent the entire two-hour mass enraptured by the beauty of their secret world and stayed until the curtain went down, yet again sealing off their world from ours. The falling of the curtain signified that our glimpse into their world was over and we were once again limited to the flickering of muted candle light and the distant sounds of drums floating on the afternoon breeze.

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