Stalking the Divine: Contemplating Faith with the Poor Clares
by Kristin Ohlson, Hyperion Books (2003), 272 pages.
“During most of my life I had considered faith a kind of sickness, something that softened the brain and allowed the soothing delusion of power. Now I wanted faith, but I wasn’t sure if I hadn’t inoculated myself against it for good.”
So writes journalist Kristin Ohlson in her spiritual memoir Stalking the Divine: Contemplating Faith with the Poor Clares.
Ohlson, a cradle Catholic, became a “radical communist atheist” during her teen years. Several years later, divorced and remarried, she felt a spiritual void in her life.
On Christmas day 1998, Ohlson saw an ad for Mass at St. Paul’s Shrine, a Catholic Church in Cleveland, where music would be provided by the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration
Ohlson admits she wasn’t specifically seeking communion with God; she simply wanted to be surrounded by the rituals of faith she remembered from childhood, and by people who believed in something greater than themselves.
Intrigued by the mysterious Poor Clares who remained
cloistered even during the Mass, Ohlson found just the excuse she needed to spend more time at St. Paul’s. She would write an article about the nuns. And by bombarding them with questions about why they have faith, she hoped they would give her a way to rediscover her own.
The inner argument
Stalking the Divine is interesting on two levels. The first is Ohlson’s frequent debates with herself about the logic of faith .
When her mother is critically ill, Kristin asks the Poor Clares to pray for her. Yet when her mother recovers, she finds it hard to accept that prayer had something to do with it. Why would God save some people who are prayed for but not others?
Ohlson doesn’t find the rational explanation she’s looking for, but one of the Clares tells her that prayer is a mystery and sometimes thinking is an impediment. Still puzzled, the author nevertheless finds herself praying quite often. In other words, she makes a leap of faith.
The second notable aspect of the book is its glimpse into the lives of the Poor Clares. Except for a few “externs” who handle transactions with the outside world, this silent order lives strictly within the walls of its monastery spending most of the day in prayer and adoration.
The nuns realize that theirs is a life which requires a special grace from God. It would drive most people crazy, they admit.
Yet this group of diverse women—one a painter who previously worked with Diego Rivera, another
a former fan of Aerosmith and Metallica —find comfort and strength in their mission to pray for people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
From ‘pathetic lifestyle’ to more life
that there was a period in her life when she would have scoffed at this choice of lifestyle as pathetic. Now, she admits, “I’m tired of a world with so little faith …I’m tired of people who give up on making the world better; I’m tired of people who cynically deconstruct everything for their
own amusement—and I’ve been all these people.”
Ultimately, it is more the nuns’ example of faith than their explanations of it that make the difference in her life.
But Kristin Ohlson doesn’t end her story by becoming a model Catholic with a saintly glow. She openly states that she doesn’t agree with the Church’s stance on a number of issues. She does, however, express a wish to someday be accepted into the Church again.
Until then, she remains a determined seeker who often turns to her rediscovered faith because “during these moments of belief, there is simply more of my life.” That’s a spiritual insight from which we can all benefit.