I recently read a short story called A Practical Guide to Becoming a Nun and was entranced.
The story — told in the second person — is about a girl who wants to become a nun and her mother, who struggles with accepting that choice.
As a teenager, there was a time when I thought that I wanted to be a nun (although I’m not Catholic). But unlike Molly in the story, it wasn’t because I had a devout sense of religiosity.
I didn’t know anything about what went on behind the scenes at a Catholic church but books I’d read indicated that there was a lot of time for study, silence and reflection.
In an episode of Michael Pollan’s Cooked, a nun, who is also a microbiologist makes cheese using traditional French cheese-making techniques. That was the kind of nun I imagined myself being.
But A Practical Guide to Becoming a Nun reminded me that it wasn’t as simple as that. There’s a line in the story, where I think Molly also begins to realise that it’s not all study and prayer.
When she is asked if she wants to speak to the priest, the story goes:
“You can hear him now, a man old or young, explaining the rules you’ll be expected to follow, the rigorous training and prayer that lies ahead.”
It’s here that she starts to consider whether a life as a nun is what she wants for herself.