I entered the convent at the age of 16. Undeniably, this was an unusual place for rafting the developmental white waters of late adolescence and early young adulthood. Nonetheless, my years in the nunnery provided me with many powerful life lessons, some more challenging than others. One happened early, my first day.
The members of my cohort were being escorted through the dormitory where we would be sleeping. Our escort was an elderly nun, who seemed to me agitated and even angry, the second in “command” in this new environment (“command” being appropriately descriptive). She seemed to see her task orienting the new applicants as onerous, saddled with the spawn of the devil which she needed to deliver from the gates of hell. My younger brothers nicknamed her “Lumpjaw”, a current Disney character; it was not kind but it was apt.
The dormitory was made up of large rooms with three curtained “cells” per room. (Yes, they were called “cells”). Each occupant also had a storage wardrobe built into the wall. One side was for hanging the unfamiliar outer garb of our immediate future. The other side had shelving, and Lumpjaw began explaining where, on each shelf, we were to store everything else we would be wearing under our outer garb, all of it as unfamiliar as that outer garb.
As she precisely directed locations for each undergarment, I rather spontaneously asked the question I had been asking for 16 years and would go on to continue asking for the following decades: “Why?” She looked at me shocked and disapprovingly, stared me down and answered: “It is God’s Will!”
Whoa! My first response, silent outwardly but inwardly shouting was “Really ?!!??”. I then slid easily into my sardonic humor mode, again outwardly silent while inwardly muttering: “I had no idea that God was into precise underwear storage.” I ruminated. What made Lumpjaw think she knew where “God” wanted me to store my socks and undies? Indeed, what made anyone think that “God” was busy giving directives about underwear storage? Had I been older or wiser, I might have noticed that this rumination was a harbinger.
And the lesson took root. I have a deep respect and regard for persons who invest in their spiritual self-actualization, sometimes involving a deep intuitive sense of what they perceive as “God’s Will” for them in their life journey. Lumpjaw taught me about the others, those who invoke “It is God’s Will” carelessly, imposing their desires and goals on others by implying they have personal inside information on what “God Wills” for them.
This Lumpjaw tendency is widespread, as if burning bushes were popping up all over the planet telling select individuals what God wants and encouraging them to impose this information (and precise expectations) on others. The intent of control and dominance is not subtle. The damage is substantial. It is a particularly pernicious version of authoritarianism, with “God” as the identified instigator. It seems unfair that “God” should be the fall guy for their bad behavior.
Over the years I have studied those who accept this directive from others, and find often they are fearful humans, desperate to find a “right answer”, embracing the assurance that they have “the truth” directly from the powerful force they most want to “please”. Others exploit their fear. Though I feel some compassion for these fearful humans, I also believe that they are accountable for their choices and consequences. I know I struggle to feel compassion for those manipulating them with pronouncements of “It is God’s Will”. I go back to that day in the dorm, back to my incredulous “Really ?!!??”
“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”