Convent Culture

Growing up in suburban Bowie, Maryland–the last suburb developed by the Levitt Brothers–you were always at home when visiting a friend’s house. This was not necessarily because of the quality of your friend’s hospitality, but because of the literal lay of the land. There were a limited number of floor plans in Bowie, so if you’d been in one Cape Code, Colonial, Rancher, or Country Clubber, then you knew where the bathroom, kitchen, closet, living room, and parental bed rooms were located.  There was a certain level of comfort in that reality, truth be told.

This month, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the mother houses of two different religious communities. My sojourn in the mid-west is rapidly coming to a close, and so I finally made two long promised trips to visit with young nun friends. Both trips were lovely, in no small part due to the hospitality of my friends and their religious communities.  I also realized that there is a certain level of comfort and “at-homeness” when I am in nunland (as one young nun friend calls it), reminiscent of my experience growing up.

To be sure, there are nuances and peculiar flavors of convent culture. But when you are a guest at a motherhouse, there are usually some things you can count on:

  • Your room will be ready and waiting for you, most likely with a welcome sign, a well-made bed, your own set of towels, and a note detailing some of the particular customs of the house.
  • Most likely the bathroom and shower is down the hall, so remember to bring a bathrobe and some slippers or shower shoes! However, you might be surprised by the gift of your own private bath. Best to be prepared in either case.
  • If you want coffee or tea, chances are it’s always available. And if you need anything else, all you have to do is ask.
  • Interested in a game of cards or a solving a piece or two of a jigsaw puzzle? That can be arranged.
  • Newspapers are usually available in the library or reading room.
  • Finished with your mystery or novel? Chances are there is a spot where you can pick up a new book and maybe even leave the one you just finished for someone else.
  • Looking for a group of women to pray with? You are welcome to join the Sisters in the chapel … just check the schedule in your room.
  • You will be greeted in the hallway, repeatedly, by a pleasant smile and maybe a hug from complete strangers.
  • There’s always a spot for you at the table in the dining room, complete with buffet style meals and interesting conversation. The water glasses might be smaller than you are used to, however.
  • When it’s time to leave, most likely the Sisters would appreciate it if you’d strip your bed and leave your sheets in the pillow case near the door. Sometimes there are even clean sheets for you to prepare the room for the next guest.  You get to participate in the cycle of hospitality!

There are variations in the mix of these bits of convent culture, just as there are different flavors of religious charisms and communities. But when it comes down to it, we’re all Sisters and it’s so nice to be “at home,” even as a guest.

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