As I get older, I find that I know even less about everything than I thought I did, but in this case I’m pretty sure I’m smarter than the Pope.
Or more likely, he was joking in his voicemail when he asked what was keeping a group of Carmelite nuns so busy they couldn’t take his call.
They are Carmelite nuns. It was mid-day. They were saying the mid-day Divine Office, a prayer all fully professed religious must say every day or it’s a for real, straight up SIN. Like a serious enough sin that if one nun is a coma, the other nuns will go in and pray it with her, just in case.
Which is an extremely boring answer to an extremely interesting question.
To make up for inserting tedious facts into this conversation, I’m sharing the story of why if you had tried to call me, one Friday morning when I was a nun, I wouldn’t have been able to come to the phone. This is also 100 percent fact, but I think you’ll find it a bit more interesting since I was pretty much the world’s worst nun.
This is me Sister Mercy, when I was a Missionary of Charity aspirant. Do I look innocent? I was trying.
“…every minute of our nun lives was spent scrutinizing our actions for selfish motives, or engaging in some type of manual labor or self-flagellation. I guess the idea was that if we just worked hard enough, and hated ourselves enough, we wouldn’t have much time or energy for any particular friendships.
“Particular friendship” is the convent euphemism for nun on nun action. The measures they took to prevent this type of behavior bordered on ludicrous. We were exhausted. We smelled awful. We wore multiple layers of complicated clothes. At 4:40 a.m. it was completely dark when the first bell of the morning rang to wake us, but we could only get dressed after we had pulled the top sheet completely clear of our respective beds and each nun had created a makeshift tent to cover every single one of our sexy body parts. Even our hands were supposed to be under the sheet. At that time of morning, who could have a lucid thought, let alone a lusty one?
But despite the harshness of our life, or perhaps because of it, I became more deeply in touch with my sapphic nature. The constant and close proximity to these other tough-ass nuns, united by a deep purpose and living life on the most basic level I found I was as horny as…well, a repressed baby dyke in a convent, I suppose.
When we were supposed to be meditating I’d be imagining a very fey Jesus wearing a pink chiffon scarf in addition to his hipster sandals and white robe and leaning me over just…so. One of Sister Milagro’s (our aspirant mistress) favorite lunch table conversation starters was, “How did you experience Jesus this morning in meditation sisters?” I was always stuck for an answer. Jesus was supposed to be our spouse, but I was fairly certain that didn’t include gender bending physical fantasies that might have even included a rear entry component.
Maybe if I would have talked less and prayed more, my convent experience would have been more successful. Maybe.
I wasn’t the only nun who dealt with carnal feelings that emerged out of our distinctly spiritual life. One morning when I was cleaning the upstairs bathrooms in the part of the convent that was used a homeless shelter, I was bent a the tub, scrubbing it with a tiny bit of steel wool. I straightened up to rinse my hands –the lye and Ajax combination that the nuns swore by was lethal to both lungs and skin– and felt a presence very close behind me.
It was Sister Maria Shanista, a professed sister with whom I was often paired for visiting. She leaned into me and whispered “Where is it? The woman’s one.”
I stopped scrubbing.
“The woman’s one?”
She pointed to an area near the middle of her body. At first I thought she was gesturing to the large crucifix the professed sisters all wore tucked into their waistband. But then she added, “People touch it,” she said, “and it feels nice?”
I didn’t want to admit that I had been touching mine to make it feel nice every spare moment I had since I’d walked in the convent doors. Sometimes even during the fifteen minute nap we took every afternoon. Even though we slept in a collective dorm with beds merely inches apart, I huddled under my seven blankets believing they concealed my actions.
I nodded in response to Sister Shanista’s not quite a question query.
“That’s a mortal sin,” she whispered., very very close into my ear.
I wasn’t sure if she was accusing me or asking me. Convent guidelines held that we were supposed to pray the rosary aloud whenever we were working in order to, “elevate our minds to God and help avoid useless chatter,” or, as in this case, to keep an aspirant from getting herself into even deeper shit than she was already in by preventing impromptu anatomy lessons.
I pulled out my rosary.
“The first sorrowful mystery,” I began, aware of the irony of my choice. The first sorrowful mystery, I thought, was not The Agony of Jesus in the Garden, but rather that this thirty-year-old woman did not know where her clit was.
As I started the Apostles’ Creed, I realized could no longer see Sister Shanista’s right hand.
She had parted her clothing and was clearly groping around trying to locate the topic of conversation. Since we wore no less than four layers between our skin and the outside world, this was not an easy feat. She was close enough to touch me, and she reached over, grabbed my chin hard and made me look at her.
“Where?” she demanded.
“I don’t know, everyone is different. But it’s not far from where you pee. It feels different when you touch it than any other place on your body.”
And then, without realizing it, I made that two-fingered universal gesture for female masturbation which even if done somewhat hesitantly is a very good communicator of the type of touch one’s clit generally needs to provide immediate pleasure. Especially when you’re working with a very motivated learner, which apparently I was.
I watched Sister Shanista’s face turn pink in surprise and pleasure and I suddenly found myself sitting on the side of the tub because my legs were shaking. Because I didn’t know what else to do, I resumed praying the rosary.
I was not even through the first decade when Sister Shanista became completely silent, her whole body turned very red and her face took on a very specific countenance. That look was familiar, I realized, because she had the same expression when she took communion.
We made very awkward eye contact for several moments.
“For the love of Jesus,” she said, her face still very, very red.
“For the love of Jesus,” I agreed.
We resumed cleaning and praying the rosary, and never spoke of it again.
In the eyes of the Church, my actions were definitely a mortal sin. But my conscience tells me it was a corporal work of mercy.
Want to hear more about my life as a nun? You can read Sunday Morning In the Convent, Mostly In Pictures right here. But for the whole hilarious sad and sometimes sexy affair, you should get your own copy of Freak of Nurture.