• © Sheila Foster

First Vows

When I was a sophomore in high school at St. Catherine Academy, taught by Sisters of Saint Joseph, I was still very devoted to Blessed Mother Mary. In March of 1964, I went with the nuns and some of the other girls on a bus to the cathedral in Worcester, Massachusetts, to witness the new graduates from our school take their first vows as nuns. As usual, we were dressed in our frumpy uniforms of calf-length red plaid skirts, white blouses, and charcoal blazers. These young women were committing themselves to live as brides of Christ and a communal life of prayer, service, and celibacy. When we arrived, we were told to go to the mezzanine to witness the ceremony from there. Once up there, without any nuns around, we were chatting about what we were seeing below as nuns and the families and friends of the young novices arrived. I was standing at the railing looking down when the huge, booming pipe organ sounded the first booming notes that signaled us to be quiet as the ceremony was about to begin. I had never before witnessed one of these rituals and I was so eager to see girls I knew take this extraordinary step to become Brides of Christ. In grade school, I saw and loved the movie called “The Nun’s Story” and I was fascinated by nuns. They didn’t talk about themselves or their lives, so I wondered about odd things: did they have hair under their veils? The Sisters of Saint Joseph wore long black dresses with big sleeves and deep pockets, huge, black, wooden rosary beads circled their waists like a belt and the beads clacked against each other when they walked. This sound became a Pavlovian warning to us to stop talking or laughing. They also wore huge, stiff white ‘collars’ the shape of a half moon, that covered them from neck and over their breasts. Their necks were also covered by starched white cotton and there was a stiff white triangle that held up the long, black veils that went from the top of their heads and down over their shoulders. Did they wear bras and have periods like other women? Hair shirts? I thought they were all supposed to be holy women, but some of them were so mean and often shaming. I was shamed by a few of them over the years I had always loved the Latin High Masses with thunderous, bone-shaking, organ music, mysteriously evocative Gregorian Chants and devotional songs, also in Latin, with their heart-piercing high notes sung by angelic women’s voice. I especially loved singing the songs devoted to Mother Mary. The intensely evocative smell of burning Frankincense and the unique clinking of the metal incense burner always took me into an altered state. At times in high school, I wondered if I would become a nun, but when I realized how much I liked boys and kissing, as well as my own budding body, I gave that idea up. Father McGuire, our school priest, could not talk me into a ‘vocation’ in the nunnery. Nevertheless, my devotion to Mother Mary remained deep, and still is, among other Goddesses who came into my life later. In high school, she was still my only confidant, and by then, my life was even more complicated by hormones, boys, intense sexual energy rising, boys, a lot of conflict, boys, confusion, boys, deep depression and grief. Academics were easier than all of that and I felt the pressure to do well, so I did. In my junior year, I discovered the popular book called The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran, and was taken by how spiritual I felt when I read his spiritual poetry over and over again. I had only read Catholic lives of saints prior to this, and this book evoked that mysterious spiritual feeling that I love so much. When the boom of the magnificent pipe organ heralded the beginning of the procession, the two giant, carved oak doors were opened and two altar boys in white cassocks emerged with lit candles and lead the procession. They were followed by the priest who was swinging the ornate metal container with its unique clinking sounds and the burning Frankincense, from which the mind-altering (to me) smoke began to fill the cathedral. Behind him was the Bishop who would do the honors of marrying these precious young women to their Beloved Jesus. The old, gray-haired bishop was wearing his tall, fish-shaped headdress, a gold brocade chasuble, and a huge golden crucifix hung on a cord in front of his heart. He proceeded to his ornately embellished throne in the center of the sanctuary in front of the altar, which was replete with vases of gorgeous white lilies and countless candelabras of burning white, beeswax candles. The mixed scents of flowers, beeswax, and especially, the intoxicating Frankincense, along with the booming pipe organ vibrating through my body sent me into an ecstatic state of consciousness as I looked down at all of this from the mezzanine. My attention was riveted on the procession and I was increasingly aware of the sensual feelings and energies that were arising in my body in response to all the sights, sounds, and scents, not to mention responding to the sacred Presence I felt in the energy field that was becoming more palpable within my chest. The rest of the Catholic hierarchy of nuns and priests, dressed in their finest ceremonial garb, followed and processed to their seats around the bishop in the sanctuary It was a stunning setting for a Sacred Marriage, and my anticipation and excitement were rising to the point that my whole body was tingling. My heart was beating with excitement and filled with wonder when the procession of young brides began. Each young bride was dressed in a long, white wedding gown, and her face was indistinguishable behind her bridal veil. The each walked slowly through the gigantic wooden doors, her hands in prayer mudra in front of her heart, head slightly bowed in humility.

As I took all of this in, I suddenly experienced a bolt of energy that felt like lightning come through my whole body and it pierced my heart. It surprised me, was not painful, but was intensely blissful. It took me into a state of ecstasy and I had no way of knowing then that this was Kundalini energy. It took me into a deep silence, tears of joy, and the ecstatic vibration continued at a lower frequency for the rest of the ceremony and the bus ride home. It made me think of Saint Teresa of Avila, and the fits of ecstasy that she experienced but I could not grasp then that what happened to me was what she experienced. I never spoke about it to anyone but relished the feelings while they were with me and the memory of this remarkable experience. I can say now that I have no doubt that it was Kundalini energy, and that in the quickening stages, Kundalini makes Her early appearances by creating longing in our hearts. I already had the longing and this blessed event deepened that. I have since felt that this was a confirmation of my own devotion and vows to serve the Holy Mother. Longing is a direct path to the heart. The best thing to do when we feel longing is to direct our focused attention into the longing and not the object of our longing. Directly experiencing longing in our hearts without any story or object is the ‘direct path’ to awakening, as Ramana Maharshi and other enlightened beings have discovered. Longing can feel like a fire and can be very subtle or intense. Either way, it is both an extraordinary gift and a pathway. Take time to notice your own longing…place your attention into it and off the object… and feel what happens. The poet Rumi says, “Longing is the core of mystery…” Jai Jai Kundalini Ma!