“Do not grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry…” (Rule of St. Benedict, 56:1)
In most monasteries, people entering go through some rite. It varies by community, but at the start of their novitiate, they stand in front of the community and are asked, “What do you seek?” The answer goes something like this, “I seek the mercy of God and fellowship in this community.” Then usually the budding monastic takes a version of vows, signs some document stating that promise, and then recites the line, “Receive me, Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in your hope.” Then other various things happen according to local custom and order, including a blessing from the other community members, a full prostration before them, and some sort of clothing ceremony, if the community wears a habit.
A friend kindly reminded me last night that one’s doctoral exams aren’t much different than the contemplative life, and it struck me that this is a rite of profession, of sorts. It’s not so much the exam, itself, which terrifies me, but failing, rejection, and the disappointment of others. Yet my chair has reminded me, repeatedly, that they want people to pass, and that he wouldn’t let me get to this point, if there were no hope, whatsoever. I’ve also been told that I’m not a unique snowflake in my freaking out.
Said friend also reminded me that this is the first entrance into life as an academic, and that it’s designed as a time for me to shine. Ignoring the voice in the back of my head predicting doom, ruin, and failure, this is my first big appearance before the community. In a sense, like the young monastic, this is a sign of my promise to persevere in this life; and my committee’s promise is to support me in it, as the novice would receive the support and blessing of his/her community.
But I’m going to be very glad once this is over with.