Imagine living the rest of your life in the same building and not being permitted to go outside the property, unless for grave necessity. This life, while it may be the life of those incarcerated in our nation’s prison system, is the life chosen by certain individuals for the sake of religion. They withdraw from the world and live within a cloister, more often than not, enclosed behind a grille, separating them from the rest of the world. A few of the more well-known cloistered communities include the Discalced Carmelites, Poor Clares, and Poor Clare Colettines.
While this life does not attract many, some women are inclined to this life of prayer and service to God. For most of us, we have no idea what their life is like, since we are on the other side of the grille. Two Ignatius Press movies have sought to capture this life, No Greater Love: A Unique Portrait of Carmelite Nuns and The Nun: The Story of a Carmelite Vocation. Today, Abbie Reese, a friend of the Poor Clare Colettines in Rockford, Illinois, desires to share the story of the nuns at Corpus Christi Monastery.
Reese began her project over 10 years ago when she approached the nuns and asked if she could undertake an oral history storytelling project. Reese, who does not profess the Catholic faith, wanted to make an inquiry into this radical and countercultural way of life. After a period of prayer and discernment, the nuns opened their cloister to Abbie who conducted interviews with members of the Poor Clare Colettines, allowing their story to be told to the world. Reese relays the oral history of the community in her work Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns (Oxford University Press, 2014).
In recent years, Reese worked on a second project with the nuns, which she hopes to release as a DVD film titled Chosen: Custody of the Eyes. Reese ingeniously provided the cloistered nuns with camera equipment, allowing them to capture their life on their own, rather than have an intruder on the inside. This allowed for greater transparency and openness on the part of the nuns when they recorded. Chosen follows the story of one of the newer members of the community, beginning with her discernment, entrance, clothing, and vows. The new sister, who uses the pseudonym Sister Amata to protect anonymity, reflects on her transition and life within the monastery. This was one of Reese’s aims—to capture the internal journey as some contemplated a call to this way of life.
The movie’s subtitle, Custody of the Eyes, reflects a moral principal for the Christian faithful, to be mindful of the glances they make towards others. In the four minute online trailer, Sister Amata uses the phrase custody of the eyes in relation to her watching other confreres as they perform their duties, as a way for her to learn. Perhaps for us, the subtitle has even greater significance. The world is not privy to the life portrayed in the film. For us as viewers of the film, we should guard our eyes to a certain degree, to keep custody, knowing that the movie allows a privileged glimpse into the life of hiddenness and anonymity that cloistered nuns strive to live.
At the present moment, Reese is ready to finalize the film and send it to post-production. The only hurdle she faces currently is the $15,000 price tag to do so. During this Year of Consecrated Life, please consider supporting the effort of Reese to bring the life of Corpus Christi Monastery to the world through film. Pray for the success of her work and if you are able, please consider supporting her work through her current crowdfunding campaign.
Please visit the “Chosen: Custody of the Eyes” website to make a tax deductible donation toward her cause. Donations can also be mailed to: The Storytelling Trust | P.O. Box 14 | Mount Carroll IL 61053