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Intersting background - a fresh angle
on 19 January 2014
My mother was a midwife who worked with the sisters of the Community of St John the Divine in the late 1940s - so I had a particular interest in finding out more
The book was very instructive in terms of the development of the Community over a long period of time and indeed the development of professional nursing and midwifery as a profession in the UK and the significant role played by the religious orders in that development.
It was also fascinating to gain some insight into the experience of a nun who has lived her life in Holy Orders and how the Community has not been rigid over that time but has evolved. To read of the dedication and commitment shown by the Sisters was humbling; but the individuals are never portrayed as "saints" (with halos) - but rather real people with real struggles, doubts and difficulties. I was pleased that I had read a book based on nuns who had remained in orders/community - and this was a balance to Karen Armstrong's books (such as "The Spiral Staircase") which I would also recommend.
I was brought up short by meeting with a life based on a different mindset and values; for example, when training alongside "lay-people" they were due to receive their first monthly pay. There was much discussion in the group about how the money would be used (party, clothes etc). For the nun the money was paid direct to the community, because she did not own anything...... Some of her colleague expressed the opinion that they would not do the work for no pay - but for the nun it was a privilege to be serving and pay was irrelevant..... that certainly made me think!
My one disappointment with the book was that there was little revealed about the consolations to be drawn from the religious life - mention was made of spending "nights in prayer" but this is something rather alien to me, and so some attempt at sharing the experience or explaining how this can work would have been very welcome. The nuns had done amazing works of service - but the source of their dedication inspiration and strength was not explored in any great depth.