The soundtrack of enclosure


There is a community of Discalced Carmelites that lives up on Highland Boulevard.  This road is “high land” indeed, looking over Brooklyn from a crest where you can see southward all the way to Jamaica Bay.  The back of the property abuts Highland Park, where old-growth trees and runaway vines change city air into forest sweetness.

The park is not quiet, though.  On Saturday there were a live band and traditional dancers under a canopy playing for a small crowd.  More “high lands”–melodies from Guatemala.  On any given day the park hosts dozens of family barbecues and serious sound systems, usually playing salsa, merengue and other genres I’m still learning to distinguish.  Occasionally some Marvin Gaye, some Marley.  “One love …”

All you can see of the sisters’ home is a wall and a statue of the Virgin Mary opening her arms to picnic tables and volleyball nets.

But I doubt there is even one hour of the sisters’ chanted Divine Office unaccompanied by distinctly un-Gregorian sounds.

The best part of the vow of stability taken by the enclosed communities has always been about stewarding the land, witnessing the place, praying upon the locale.

Being there for what’s there.

I’m far from a nun or enclosed.  But the teaching-and-writing life sometimes makes me feel like what a friend once dubbed a “monkette in the city.”  Ritualized interior life is a comforting touchstone in a family that might be more monastic than Catholic.  A sister danced years of “Weekly Rites.”  A brother does freelance cenobitism and builds pine coffins, monk-style.

I like the angels along the wall of the monastery.  This wall marks a real “in” and “out”: a thousand pieces of broken glass jut up between the angels.  Stay in.  Keep out.  But walls also have witnesses.  Which is sort of what the sisters are doing.  Being there for what’s there.  Marking betweenness.  Noticing seepage.  There’s a “natural mystic” in the park.  Nothing stays all in or all out.

Maybe on this side, that’s the most “one love” it gets.


  1. Sound systems in Highland Park. Location, location, location back then but now, buyers remorse, too late to change course for the Sisters. Yes, you’ve taken a vow so you fold the music into your witnessing of the world. Here at Melleray Farmstead we have that darn noisy highway that rumbles through the trees! Same thing.

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