Sarah Moesker is in the Companions on an Ancient Path program, run by the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine. The SSJD’s convent is in Toronto.
Companions on an Ancient Path is a year-long discernment program for women ages 22-40 who find themselves uncertain about what is next in their lives. In addition to that, it aims to invite younger generations into the monastic life, with the hope that the values and wisdom we learn continue on even if our journeys lead us somewhere other than a monastery or convent.
I heard about the program in the bulletin at St. Benedict’s Table, the Anglican church I was attending while haphazardly working toward a degree at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg. It was intuition alone that compelled me to apply, though I did spend a self-allotted two weeks in prayer about it for the purpose of discernment. When, at the end of that time, I was still moved to apply, I figured that was reason enough.
The best thing about the program is the formative learning. I found university to be an excellent environment for a particular type of learning that cultivates a distinct form of knowing. While I am grateful for and love it, I nonetheless began to sense that intellectual knowledge alone in regard to the spiritual life is insufficient. I did not know, until coming to SSJD, that I was aching for tangible ways to act out my spiritual life in ordinary life. I think that doing the disciplines of prayer and chapel, even work and meetings, on a daily basis, whether I feel like it or not, is teaching me something about the Christian journey that reading a book never has.
The worst thing is being accountable to the community in all of my and their humanness – even when I don’t feel like it. It is difficult to unlearn my pattern of separating myself from the group, as well as my habit of doing things only if I feel like it.
I was born in Chatham, Ontario and raised by two lovely humans with my three siblings. I moved around a bit, both with my family and on my own in the fashion of “emerging adulthood” – returning to my parents’ home every so often in times of transition. When I graduated from high school, I was determined not to pursue a higher education because the lingering shame of the ungainly adolescent in me still associated education with unfortunate social encounters. So, for a year or so I did the “freedom” thing – still inhabiting my parents’ basement.
But God called me to an internship in Vancouver with Urban Promise Ministries and so I went, working at an after-school and summer day-camp program located in an “under-resourced” neighbourhood in Surrey, BC. Soon after I was accepted at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg. I spent three bewildering years there when God called for a time-out and suggested the Companions program. So I finished the year, spent this past summer as a live-in host at the Foothills Mennonite Guest House in Calgary for my practicum, and then moved to Ontario. My other pursuits have essentially involved an indefatigable strive toward understanding myself and who the heck God is. This has mostly just involved an alternating pattern of reading and lying on the floor. And now here I am – a pseudo-nun and loving it.
My faith journey was pretty one-sided for most of my life, particularly in adolescence and the first years of adulthood. I feel a little silly saying “my darkest time” with no explicit tragedy in the near quarter-century of my existence, but I really was quite close to volitional death several years ago and so I refer to it as such. It was at this time that I began praying again and discovered God to be alarmingly present – suspiciously close, as though He’d been there the whole time. I did not consider the significance of this much then because of depression.
Not long after, I went to Vancouver for the internship. It was there that I was immersed in an intentional Christian community that enveloped me even after the internship, despite all of the rather uncomfortable idiosyncrasies common of the socially inept. I was like a stringy plant after a good rain: I exploded into life and vibrancy under such gentleness and attunement. I refer fondly to this time as my “spiritual infancy” because God was only a thought away. Everything I saw and heard, every person I met, felt to me a love song. I was still a mess of course, and I cannot say it was a great time for those who interacted with me, but I know that season was necessary for me. Like a newborn child, it was really more about receiving than giving.
Naturally, one cannot stay there any more than a child can choose not to grow. After a disastrous betrayal of trust, I spent some time on the isle of Iona, where God basically asked me to make the decision between Him and whatever exists apart from Him, which I had certainly had enough of. So I chose God. What followed was a year of intensive and thorough healing of mind, body and spirit. It continues, but in the context of a convent!
The Companions program has absolutely changed me. I have a proclivity to separate the spiritual from the daily, which in the past meant that I believed it necessary to dedicate large portions of my time to immobile and distinctly “spiritual” activities. So when I came here and the days were structured and endlessly full of activity, I felt very anxious. But I have found that my spirit just needed me to remove my hand from its pulse so it could move freely. It is as though the daily routine and communal worship — coupled with private prayer – actually draw out my spirituality. I notice God in the mundane and only now realize that God has been there the whole time.” How strange. How wondrous!
I am participating in the program to discern what is next, but my loosely-held plan is to return to university with more purpose.
Five years from now, I hope to be praying, hoping, and trusting; seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God. I hope that I will be loving God with all of me and loving my neighbour as myself. I hope to be writing, traveling, and listening well. Other than that, I am pretty open.
Currently I am loving the book of Job. Sure, it can be somewhat dismal and long-winded, but something inarticulate within me leans forward, intrigued by the author’s extraordinary trust in God parallel to his demand for a reason. It feels strangely intimate.