August 29, 2013


Annunciation ~ Fra Angelico
Whether married, religious, single, consecrated, or widowed, we all have a primary vocation to holiness. Nancy Shuman, of The Cloistered Heart book and blog, writes about how we can fulfill that vocation by making our lives a cloister - a total consecration - where "God is loved and lived for and served." We feel greatly blessed that Nancy will be sharing this way of living for Christ with us once a month.
Contributed by guest writer, Nancy Shuman.

When the idea of the Cloistered Heart first came to me, it was nothing more than a phrase.  A wispy, vaporous daydream involving ivy shrouded hermitages and candlelit Gothic windows.  I told no one about it, because I thought the very phrase sounded like the title of a romantic novel.  A few years later, I admitted my reluctance (and the reason for it) to a nun friend.  I thought I’d receive a smile in response, perhaps a bit of a chuckle.  Instead, Sister looked at me solemnly and said "Nancy, that's not off the mark."

God's call to us and our response, she explained, is the greatest romance the world has ever known.
One thing I knew, during the initial phase of daydreaming, was that monasteries of nuns or monks have special places not open to outsiders.  I realized that these areas were called cloisters.  It was enough information to get me started.  “The whole idea of a cloistered heart,” I wrote during my earliest musings, “is that the part of me referred to as the ‘heart’ – meaning my spirit, who I really AM – should be detached from the world in its attachment to the Creator of the world."

A corner in the old kitchen of the Mittenheim Cloister
 ~ T.C. Steele
A place of refuge, no matter where I happened to be.  A place inviolate, where I could remain with Jesus in a doctor's office, a traffic jam, the grocery, while refereeing kids.   It was an appealing idea.  It was also (this being most important), theologically sound. "The heart,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “is the dwelling place where I am, where I live... the heart is the place 'to which I withdraw.'  The heart is our hidden center,  beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. (Catechism  #2563)

So.  Just what IS a cloistered heart? 

The analogy, which is multi-faceted by now, has three main parts: 

The Monastery, which is the person’s own life.  A monastery is a place consecrated to God, a place of prayer, a place where God is loved and lived for and served.  Our lives can, and should, become every one of these. We can, in effect, be "walking monasteries," going through the world adoring God no matter where our bodies may happen to be. 

The Enclosure, which is within the will of God.  As a cloistered nun or monk lives within a specific area known as the cloister, we can make a specific choice to live within the will of God.  We can actively embrace the boundaries of God’s will as these are revealed in Scripture and Church teaching.

The Grille, which is the will of God.  As some monasteries have grillwork through which those in the cloister interact with the world outside, we can have spiritual “grillwork.”  We can practice seeing and responding to every person and every situation through the will of God.  How do we know God's will?  Through Scripture and the teachings of the Church - these make up the "bars" of our "grille." 

"I am a laywoman, married,” I wrote when this was just beginning, “yet I have a vocation to the cloister.  Obviously I am not called to the physical enclosure; I am called, rather, to cloister my heart.  The word 'cloister' speaks of total consecration.  It seems that compromise would not fit well in a cloister, nor would lukewarmness, nor would complacency.  The cloistered life is absolute."

I can now say, after twenty-plus years of living it, that the Cloistered Heart has helped me embrace my call to absoluteness.  It has helped me serve God as a woman, wife, mother, grandmother, writer, blogger, homemaker, friend.  It has been a “fit” for the various situations I’ve encountered.  

The Cloistered Heart is an analogy, but it's oh, so much more than that.  It is a way of life.

It is, for me, a participation in the greatest Romance the world has ever known.


  1. Nancy - your words speak right to my heart. Thank you!

  2. Wow, thank you for this! It's a strange yet beautiful idea, this Cloistered Heart. I have to ponder this a bit. May I ask where did you get the three analogies? Or were they the fruits of your own contemplation?

    1. Thank you so much! The analogies were the fruit of my own contemplation, and actually just seemed to pop into place (in prayer), in the late 1980s. I started really "living" them in the early '90s, and writing about them publicly in 1993. I'm glad to hear from you, Anna!

  3. Oh this is a wonderful post Nancy. I learned a lot! I appreciate the way you explained the Cloistered Heart. So great visiting you here. I will return and read through my inbox. Beautiful site and writing! God Bless...

    1. Thanks very much. I am so honored to be here at the Feminine Gift today!

  4. So very beautiful! I stumbled upon your blog a few months ago, and was delighted with finding a "lamp" or "guide" to what God had planted in my heart. I had been praying over the image of having an inner sanctuary in my heart: an altar with a monstrance containing the beautiful body of our Savior, with candles and quiet... a place I could come and adore Him any time, any place.

    Thank you for your beautiful words and sharing the treasure of the cloistered heart in the world.

    1. Doreen, what a beautiful image God has given you of the sanctuary in your heart. Thank YOU for sharing it here!



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