Sunday, March 16, 2014

And Then There Were Nuns by Jane Christmas

And Then There Were Nuns: Adventures in a Cloistered Life, by Jane Christmas

Bestselling author Jane Christmas decides to enter a convent to discern whether she is, as she puts it, "nun material." But just as she convinces herself to take the plunge, her long-term partner, Colin, surprises her with a marriage proposal. Determined not to let her monastic dreams get sidelined, Christmas puts her engagement aside and embarks on an extraordinary year-plus adventure to four--one in Canada and three in the U.K. Among these communities of cloistered nuns and monks, she (and occasionally rails against) the silent, reverent, pared-down existence she has sought all her life. With insight and humour, she provides a glimpse into a seldom-seen lifestyle. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: R, 4 stars
Trigger warnings: sexual assault, sexism

I thought the premise for this memoir was really interesting. I was raised Catholic, and for awhile when I was a kid, I thought that maybe being a nun was the path for me. Add to that the fact that I spent some time last year at a Buddhist monastery with a bunch of nuns, and you can tell that nuns interest me a lot. I thought the idea and perspective were really unique in this book, and I love that it did include some interfaith dialogue, since the author spent time among both Catholic and Episcopal nuns.

Where I had trouble with the book was with the inclusion of Christmas’ backstory and her experience with sexual assault. Her coping with her assault and her time spent among nuns are completely interrelated, but the way the book was written, I felt that it was either too short, and more time needed to be spent on both the past and the present, or that it needed to be two separate memoirs entirely. I recognize that the author spent a lot of time coming to terms with what happened to her while she was exploring a monastic life, but so much of it was glossed over that the emotional balance of the book just felt off. Also, the book’s blurb mentions nothing about the sexual assault, and I would caution anyone who picks up this book that there is a huge trigger warning for that aspect of the book.

Overall, this book was really interesting, and it was very thought-provoking for me. Again, having grown up Catholic, I learned a lot about other denominations of Christianity (I didn’t even know other denominations had monastic communities!), and I learned a lot about monastic communities in general. Having spent some time in a Buddhist monastery, I was surprised by some of the similarities and differences between Buddhist monastics and Christian monastics. I’d recommend this book to anyone who is interested in monastic life and would like to get an insider look from an outsider.

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