When Nuns Change your Life

I promise one day i'll quit writing about Spain, but it's not time for that yet.

We had five concerts over the entirity of the trip, and one of them was at a convent for Carmelite nuns, in a town called Lerma. We had been told how excited we should be, because the nuns living in the convent are cloistered nuns, and that means once they commit their lives to the Carmelite order, they are completely restricted from the outside world in every way. Dr. Shaw told us how much of a priveledge and rarity it was for us to be able to sing in their convent; a concert had never been done there. No one except nuns and priests and the like were ever invited in, not even the locals. We listened to what she told us excitedly and respectfully. "What a nice opportuinity" I thought.

We had no idea.

In February, Spivey performed at the National ACDA (American Choral Directors Association) convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. The national convention is the choral world's equivalent to the Olympics or the Super Bowl, so that experience has to be written about on another day entirely. The point is, one of the songs from our ACDA set is called Nada Te Turbe. The piece is stunning, in it's musical composition and also in it's text.
The translation goes
"Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing, God never changes.
Patience obtains all things,
whoever has God lacks nothing.
Only God is enough."

It was written by a woman named Saint Teresa of Avilla...who just so happens to be one of the most influential figures in the history of the Carmelite Nuns. She lived about thirty minutes from Lerma, and is hailed as a Saint for the incredible woman that she was.
Dr. Shaw had no idea we would have that connection between Nada Te Turbe and the convent when she picked the piece for the convention a year ago, so when we found out there was such a deep connection, we were thrilled. Still, we had no idea.

We were provided a flat across the street from the convent to get ready in before our concert. Mounted on one of the walls in the flat was a poster/plaque with the words to the song. We saw it and squealed about how cool it was that of all things they could have in that room, they had the words to the very song we were about to sing for them. Perspective was starting to set in.

When it was time for the concert, we lined up to walk on stage and watched the room flood with audience members. It was our most crowded concert of the tour because the people of Lerma were desperately eager to see inside this vieled-from-the pubilc-mystery that sat in the midst of their town. By the time the concert started there was standing room only.

Alright, so it was cool to have so many local people in the audience, but where were the nuns? Being cloistered, they literally aren't allowed to be in the same room as us, even if we're the ones invading their space.
On the back wall above the pews, and on both sides of the stage were these cut-outs in the wall covered with metal bars. We referred to them as grills, they basically give enough room to see out of them but not to squeeze between them, and that's where the nuns sat.
Talking about it sounds pretty weird, but we got excited really fast when we saw the nuns, even from far away. Nuns are usually something you see pictures of in history books, not in the same building as you.

The concert was thrilling, definitely my favorite or second favorite concert in terms of singing the entirety of our set. We had energy and control and expression, but we were holding our breath until we sang Nada.
That song already means so much to us, but singing it in a room where there are literally statues of the woman who wrote the words of the song mounted on the walls, and where the people watching us hold Saint Teresa in higher regard than any other audience ever will, puts you in a mind blowingly inspiring position.
The nuns gave small and appropriate reactions to the songs we sang prior to Nada Te Turbe, but when we finished Nada, they gave us a standing ovation, they were smiling and clapping and then one of the nuns squeezed her hands through the grills and waved to us. That gesture sounds so small and trivial, but we were floored. We quickly waved back and smiled so big and they did the same.
The energy that wave brought to us carried through the rest of the concert, and the way that performing felt that night only comes every once in a blue moon.

After the concert we talked with the audience some, grabbed our uniform bags, and next thing I knew half the choir was gathered around one of the grills, and the nuns were face to face with us on the other side. Our tour guide Nacio was standing there interpreting what the nuns were saying to us. He told us that some of the nuns have had no contact with the outside world for forty years. Forty years.

And we were the people they got to talk to after all that time.

They asked simple questions about where we were from, how long we would stay in Spain, etc. with their eyes wide and hungry for words from our foreign mouths.
Then one of the four or five women standing there said the most stunning and humbling words I heard the whole trip, the words that are always on my mind, although i've failed to consistently act on them.
"If you will pray for us," she said, "we will pray for you too."

We repeated our si's in response as earnestly as we could to her, to show how much that statement meant to us, and that we truly cared for them and their lives that are so drastically different than ours. Eventually we had to leave, so Nacio pushed the concert programs through the grills for them to keep, we said goodbye, and walked back to the bus in a daze. I remember wondering out loud "They had never let anyone perform in their convent. Why us?" and a friend responded "God. There's no other explanation."

I don't know about you, but when I've just met someone, especially a group of fifty someones all gathered around me, staring at me like i'm an alien, my first thought isn't to tell them that i'm going to pray for them.
In my own sin , my thoughts about nuns and monks prior to that concert were something like "I get the significance of what they're doing, but it just seems selfish. The Bible tells us to share God's greatness with the broken world, not to hide ourselves from it. Don't they know that?"
How wrong I was about what their purpose is. In many ways, the people who choose to live their lives in seclusion dedicated to the Lord are more brave and dedicated than I ever could dream of being. They leave their homes, their lives, to go and pray and read and work. Period.

I was telling someone about the experience with the nuns, and her comment at the end shifted my perspective entirely. "It's just crazy to think about what the world would be like if we didn't have nuns and monks around the world praying. My life could look different without the influence they may have in it."
The nuns asked to pray for us because we were a tangible representation for them of what they may have already been praying for.

Before the concert, I went along my merry way and judged the people who choose that way of life. "I actually talk to people who don't know God. I'm such a perfect christian." I would tell myself.
That night, God looked at me square in the face and said Claire, I'm about to blow your sick theory out of the water.
I would probably cry if I had the slightest idea of how much they pray compared to me. Not only for themselves or the other nuns, but for people they have never met, and for us, who they only spoke to for a sliver of time. I barely have time to go before the Lord with my own problems, and with the problems of the people I love in my small circles.

I don't even want to think about how much they've prayed for us since that moment a month and a half ago, because i've probably prayed for them three or four times. It hurts my pride to know that people who live their lives differently from me have more love for God and discipline than I could dream of having right now.

God ordained that night for both the Carmelite nuns and for Spivey. I will always be thankful for the hope that we gave a good impression of the world to those precious women. My choir members and I may be the only glimpse of outside they see for a very long time. I pray they were blessed by it.
Speaking for myself, and I think the other choir members, we are forever humbled by that night. The magic of that concert and that conversation will remain in the handful of memories we may hold on to a long time from now, when we're withered and tired and old.

Between Georgia and Spain, two groups of drastically different people were given the gift to extend grace to one another and connect across a span of differences.
Solo dios basta. Hallelujah.


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