Tag Archives: convent

A Taste of Convent Life

3 Mar

When Akiko and Fumiko arrived at the Trappist° Convent of Our Lady of Imari in the Saga Prefecture° (northwest of Kyushu island in Japan), they were not there to join the Order. They were not casual visitors either. They had set aside three months in their lives for a program in which they would live with the Nuns as temporary members of the community. The Convent started this program to give young people a chance to make prayer the center of their lives, not only during their stay but in their lives later too. The Convent sits on a mountain overlooking Imari Bay in Saga Prefecture, some 940 km west of Tokyo.

Prayer is like the pulse of this convent. The first prayers begin promptly at 3:50 am, and the day ends with a Marian hymn at 7:40 in the evening. The traditional form of Christian devotion at Our Lady of Imari focuses on the Mass° and the daily office°. Akiko and Fumiko joined in this experience and devoted more than four hours to prayer each day, in addition to three and a half hours set aside for study and about three hours for manual labor.

Fumiko (23), who lives in Fukuoka Prefecture (Kyushu Island- southern Japan), heard about this program by word of mouth. ‘I was in a tough spot psychologically, so I wanted to get to know God and find my path in life,’ she says of her motivation to participate. Akiko (28), from Aichi Prefecture (between Osaka and Tokyo), had embarked on a career but maintained an interest in the consecrated life. She learned of this opportunity during a chance visit to a church that she did not usually visit. She quit her job, persuaded her non-Christian family members to give her decision their blessing, and filled out the application.

When they first joined the program, the two women primarily worked in the garden ‘with a sickle in the hand, morning and afternoon,’ says Fumiko. ‘It was really hard at first,’ she added with a pained laugh. Under the Nuns’ instructions and supervision, Fumiko and Akiko not only helped grow rice and vegetables for the community’s table but also assisted with the production and packaging jelly to be sold.

It was about a month into their participation in the program before they were admitted to the private cloistral living area of the nuns and, thus, into the innermost communal life of the convent.
The two had bedrooms on the second floor. ‘Really, there’s the bed, and there’s the dresser, and that’s it,’ says Akiko. In this new life, they exchanged cell phones for simple poverty. They prayed from early morning until night. It is a life they could scarcely have imagined before, but it helped them turn toward God. As with all Benedictine orders, the Rule of Saint Benedict° governs life here. ‘I don’t really know much about the specifics of the Rule,’ says Fumiko, ‘but I can see it is aimed at helping people love both God and man.’

For Our Lady of Imari Convent, the program was something of a trial run. Sister Setsuko Shibuya, Prioress at the Convent, says, ‘The life of this community is something that you can’t really grasp just by thinking about it. We take joy in coming together to praise God; that’s really what it is. We think of it as ‘getting close to God,’ but that’s something that you can’t do if you don’t make space for it.’

That is why the Nuns made this ‘wholehearted’ decision to open a portion of these ‘religious practices dating back to the sixth century’ to women who are not consecrated. For Fumiko, occupying the space provided by the program had a crucial impact on her faith. ‘When I was working, I would not even go to Mass on Sundays. But now, I really understand the meaning of the words, Happy are those who are called to his supper.’

[Edited for TRODZA by T.D’Souza: taken from ucanews.com –Sept 2013]

Notes: [signposted at these words in the text with a ° sign]
Benedict: Sant Benedict (480-547 AD), is the patron saint of Europe. He founded 12 communities of monks in Subiaco, Italy (about 60 km to the east of Rome). His main achievement is the ‘Rule of Saint Benedict which has precepts for his monks, which later influenced many religious Orders.
Mass: the main liturgical function, held daily, in the Catholic religious belief and practices.
Office: a set of psalms, readings and prayers: said seven times a day –basically a call to prayer.
Prefecture: an administrative division in Japan, with a Governor at the head.
Trappist: The Cistercian Order had become lax in their observances in the monastery in La Trappe, in France, and so the Abbot there enforced stricter discipline. Later, all monks and nuns who follow these new revised laws are called Trappists. Ordinarily the Cistercians are also known as Trappists.