Sister Miriam

March 8, 2016

It’s the first week of March, and the trees are starting to bud. It’s odd—this much life shouldn’t be, so early in the new year. Not by this North-eastern farm girl’s reckoning. But I don’t mind, and won’t complain. It’s sunny, windy, and 69 degrees (a record high for March 8th, according to Google, since 1987). It’s long past bare feet weather. It’s sun-dresses-and-short-sleeves weather. I’m sure it won’t last—Michigan is temperamental and they say it will rain tomorrow. But I’ll enjoy it as long as I can. It’s beautiful out.

x7nfjdr2This past week was full, and it’s taken me many days to recover from it. I have thought much about few things, none of them homework. I’ll regret that, come Friday.

Last Wednesday, Hope invited Sister Miriam James Heidland, a nun from Texas, to speak at the morning chapel service. She gave a talk in the evening as well, which I skipped out on other responsibilities in order to attend, like the desperate senior I am. Her talk in Chapel was amazing – you can listen to it here, if the player below doesn’t work. I encourage you to do so – it’s only eleven minutes long, and I promise it is worth it.

I wish her evening talk had been recorded, but it wasn’t. It was titled “Merciful like the Father: Living in Forgiveness and Freedom.” I can no longer remember the specifics of her message—she spoke on forgiveness and mercy and Star Wars and mother-love, and the overwhelming wonder of Christ. Afterwards, there was an Adoration of the Eucharist and a Mass—I stayed for the Adoration (which I could probably write a whole other post on). Sister Miriam’s talk was the most amazing thing I have heard in pretty much ever.

And it shook me to my small spiritual core.

I know slightly less about Catholicism than I do about my own church tradition, which is to say, not much. I’ve never attended a Catholic mass or anything like it. I know the Catholic church is just as broken in its own ways as the Protestant church is. But I left Sr. Miriam’s talk with my head swimming.

Every word Sr. Miriam spoke bled with a profound wonder and passion for the Lord like nothing I have ever felt. I have been deeply discouraged by the fact that many of the Christians I know seem only able to talk about their faith from an impersonal, passive position, speaking from head-knowledge rather than heart-knowledge, regardless of the strength of their faith. They seem only able to vocalize established truths of the Church and Christianity, and speak about and through an intellectual faith that doesn’t seem to reach their heart. Perhaps this is because of the terror that is opening oneself fully, especially in matters of faith, to another.

Sister Miriam spoke these same truths, and yet her intensely personal belief in, her heart-knowledge of, every word she spoke flew at me. It was unavoidably evident, and its force overwhelmed and overthrew me. Her wonder, passion, and personal conviction were too much, too real, too full.

It seems that the faith, mine or anyone else’s, which I encounter in my life is so petty. So substanceless and weak. Posturing. Intellectual. Unimportant. Never life-changing. Never a Thing to be dwelt in, to color every word and deed. And yet the words I listened to Sr. Miriam speak were anything but. It’s easy, and tempting, for me to attribute that to one of the most obvious differences between us: Sr. Miriam is Catholic, I am Protestant, and no Protestant church I have ever set foot in has held out to me the image of a faith like that. The liturgy of the Protestant church, if it exists at all, cannot offer the support I see in Catholicism. I long for that support. I joked with my roommate after Sr. Miriam’s talk that I wanted to become a nun. I was a great deal more than half serious—it’s something I’ve thought about before, and will think about again.

I am hungry for the profound reverence and awe that filled Sister Miriam—that slipped out in the deep stillness behind her voice—that filled the whole sanctuary. I am realizing slowly that I have lived off of General Revelation for a long time, and that it is no longer enough. If there is one thing my Religion class this semester has taught me, it’s that so many of the things I believe I only believe by accident—through the time-clouded memories of Sunday School and family devotions when I was little, through the assumptions I’ve made and not bothered to verify, through half-heard conversations other people have had. Through what I see outside my window. And I’m exhausted by that.

I suppose, when I listened to Sister Miriam talk, that the unbearable longing I felt was not to be like her in her expression of faith, the habit she wears and all it stands for, but to be like her in faith itself. Yet I don’t know who could teach me. For days after Sister Miriam’s visit to campus, I felt utterly worthless—as though me and my sorry excuse for faith were too pathetic, too painfully inadequate and petty and useless, to go on with any hope. I’ve been slowly pulled back to my feet by the thread of a verse in 2nd Timothy I memorized many years ago, which trickled into my mind a few nights ago as I lay sleepless, brooding hopelessly in ever-sinking spirals. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. If anyone has a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline, it’s Sr. Miriam, I thought, but mine is only timid.

But that timidity isn’t from God. And therefore, it is something that I can fight. I don’t know how. I don’t know how Sr. Miriam fights, how my pastor fights, how my parents or my roommate fight. I know that the devotions I try and fail to read daily feel utterly worthless and petty. I know that I find prayer pointless because, rightly or wrongly I don’t know, I don’t believe my Lord bothers about the prayers of the unrighteous. And I know that I desire fervently to do whatever it takes to learn how to fight, and to claim the spirit of power, love, and self-discipline God has given me. Regardless of where that leads me in faith.

Are nuns allowed to have cats?

Sister Miriam also has a youtube channel, which I am slowly working my way through watching every video on, and a blog. And she quotes C. S. Lewis. And she’s awesome.


10 Comments Add yours

  1. EmilyAbroad says:

    Yep, the Catholics do faith-as-performance like nobody’s business.


    1. AnnaEstelle says:

      But you’ve missed the entire point of the post. Faith-as-performance is exactly what ‘m done with. Faith-as-performance, intellectual faith, is good and all, for as far as it goes. But it’s like in Perelandra, at the end, during the Great Dance and the “Blessed be He!”s–someone says how there are tiny crevices and great pools, and one is much smaller than the other but both of them are equally filled until they spill over. Intellectual faith, faith-as-performance, is the tiny crevice. My faith is the tiny crevice. The faiths of people like Sister Miriam are the great, deep pools. That’s what I want–what I yearn for with the deepest groanings of my soul. It’s not performance I want. It’s support, community, the deep pools. I’m sure Catholicism is as prone to performance-faith as Protestantism is. But that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve never come across faith so alive and tangible in anyone else I have met as the faith I saw Sr. Miriam living out. I crave that.


      1. EmilyAbroad says:

        Faith-as-performance is the opposite of intellectual faith. It’s faith
        + art/drama/theater/aesthetics/beauty, and that latter part is incredibly seductive.

        Also, as someone who spent four years watching people convert to Catholicism on the basis of art and extremely charismatic friends, I would hope very much that you take time to gain some differing perspectives, especially from people who have explicitly *left* the Catholic church (I’m sure Mr. Ricker would love to have a dialogue with you on this). Because, like everything in life, it has a dark side. I’ve seen it vividly in the lives of several people I love. And I know that I, personally, want absolutely nothing to do with Catholicism because of it.


        1. AnnaEstelle says:

          Beauty is an important aspect of Christianity, though. You went to Hillsdale; you know all about the Good, the True, and the Beautiful ;) Beauty should catch and hold our attention. It’s one way God speaks to us. And I suppose we are working off slightly different ideas of “intellectual” faith. To me, intellectual faith, head-knowledge-faith, is the faith that clings to the performance in order to stay alive–that goes through the motions because they are the traditional motions to go through, and not because one truly, deeply believes in what they stand for. Faith that knows but doesn’t believe.

          Like I said, I know very, very little about Catholicism. I know that you have had very bad experiences with it. I know that art and charisma are not good reasons to convert to any cause, faith, moral system, etc. I’m not currently planning to convert to Catholicism–I know nothing about it. I’d need to think very, very long and very, very hard, and talk to many people and learn many things, about both Catholicism and Protestantism, before I could do that.

          But you’re right–like everything in life, it has a dark side. So does the Protestant church. As there are many people who have left the Catholic church, so are there many people who have left the Protestant church. I know people who have converted from Protestantism to Catholicism. I know people who have converted from Catholicism to Protestantism. The Church, whether Catholic or Protestant, isn’t perfect. I think both Catholicism and Protestantism have gotten some things right and others wrong. I don’t think one can or should write the Catholic church off because of its flaws without also taking note of the flaws in one’s own church tradition. Humanity is fallen. It’s impossible to have a Church made up of humans that isn’t messed up somewhere. Not all Catholics or Protestants are the same. Because you have been hurt by a few representatives of Catholicism does not mean all representatives of Catholicism are that way.

          If living the best life I can for the Lord, being in the fullness of His presence, filled with the Spirit, and claiming a faith that is strong enough to overflow in every word I say means I need to think seriously about Catholicism, I’ll do it. I’m not sure that is what it means, yet. I don’t know how I would even go about figuring that out. But my greatest longing and goal and hope in life is to reach a place where my faith changes from the tiny crevice to the deep pool, and to live all of my life from that perspective. That’s what I want more than anything. Much more than cats. I don’t know what or how long it will take to get there. But I want to, and hope I can, do what it takes in order to reach that point.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Lulu says:

    Cool story bro.


  3. Rivka Ray says:

    I pray you are able to come to faith as alive and deep as you saw in Sr. Miriam!

    Now I want to know if nuns can have cats! There are hundreds of orders with their own ministry. So maybe there is one where they have cats? Either way, I hope you find where God is calling you to be :)


  4. mariertps says:

    *timidly pokes head around corner* I’m… not gonna try to convince you one way or another. I don’t think you’d really… listen to me, me being not terribly brilliant and stuff. But I just wanted to tell you that a life of good works or even a “good” life won’t necessarily bring you closer to God. And that even the smallest person can change the course of the future. (Doesn’t have to be a nun.)


    1. AnnaEstelle says:

      Of course I’ll listen to you…I value your opinions and insight. One needn’t be extraordinarily brilliant to have valuable and important things to say. =) And I think you’re plenty smart anyway, so.
      I’m not sure I’ve got this under control–I’m not really sure what it is I am trying to get under control yet. ;) But you are right, of course. That’s a bit of what I’m thinking about/struggling with in this situation–it’s tempting for me to take the easy way out and write Sr. Miriam’s impact off as a result of her kind of faith, her walk of life, the things about her that don’t apply to me. But that’s a bit silly, and a cop-out. I don’t want to be let off the hook because someone who impacted me is different than me, and thus I can’t do the things she is doing. It’s not what Sr. Miriam is doing or the way she is doing it or the fact that she’s Catholic and I’m not that was important and impactful. It was her faith alone. I’m still not quite sure what to do with that information, or how to go about finding the deeper pools of faith myself without ending up searching for an action that will make me feel more Christian. That’s not what I want.
      Thanks for commenting. =)


      1. mariertps says:

        Thanks. (-: I’m sure you’ll find a good in-between. And I’m still praying for you. ;P

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Rose says:

    Hi Anna,
    I really enjoyed this post and I can relate to your experience. I was raised in the Protestant faith but became Catholic when I was 20. Now I am 23 and am preparing to enter a community of contemplative nuns. They don’t have cats, but they do have two dogs! :)
    I really enjoy watching Sr. Miriam James’ YouTube videos. She is a wonderful speaker. Her Order, SOLT, does wonderful work.
    I will keep you in prayer!
    Peace in Christ,

    Liked by 2 people


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