“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.


~ by Jen on February 10, 2006.

3 Responses to “”

  1. I compared my going into the military to joining a religious order. Some steps are out of order; vows are taken at the *beginning* of one’s journey, before leaving home. Once there, your identity is changed (at Reception, you don’t even have a name but a numerical designation), you’re dressed in the habit, and from then on everything is done in common with the other brothers (and sisters if they’re there).As you said of your advisors, drill sergeants WANT you to succeed. It’s one big initiation ceremony, going from death to self to rebirth in new identity.On Family Day, I was wearing my beret for the first time. Steve noticed privates who were wearing their patrol caps, and he asked, “So when do you get a baseball cap?”I explained that the beret marked that I was now at the end of basic training, but for some reason he didn’t quite understand. So I rephrased it as, “The patrol cap is the white veil. The beret is the black veil.” After that he understood.

  2. Yeah…thankfully the Ivory Tower doesn’t have a chapter of faults. 😉

  3. Exactly! For the most part they *do* want you to pass; having people fail comps actually looks pretty bad for them and not necessarily on you.

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