It’s been a few years since we’ve had a group photograph taken, and now that we have two postulants and a candidate, it’s definitely time for a new one!

Group photographs are like the rites of passage that they often document: they are likely to be formal rather than spontaneous and are approached with anticipation as well as some anxiety.

It’s hard enough to be a member of the group being photographed (remember to keep your eyes open and smile; now move two inches to the left); it’s much harder to be the photographer. We are a community of fourteen now, which means 28 eyes and 14 smiles to account for. Add to these challenges the general reluctance of most Poor Clares to be photographed, and you realize that this is quite an undertaking.

We are community of welcoming, loving, joyful sisters, and we hope that the photograph will show that. It will also become part of our archives because it captures the community at this point in time.

There are so many qualities that are difficult to capture in a group photograph, however. There is a difference between the spontaneous smiles and laughter of a close community and the carefully-coordinated and carefully-timed smiles of a group shot. You can’t see the way that we normally interact with each other because we are all looking ahead, towards the camera. We generally face the same direction in chapel, but often are eyes are closed in prayer, unless we are in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. As contemplatives, we are often solitary, reading our Bibles or breviaries, praying quietly, meditating while gazing on the natural beauty surrounding us, or, walking along the corridors, offering our sisters a quick smile and then averting our glance so as not to intrude upon their silence. When we do interact with others, we face them, looking into their eyes. Religious life involves ongoing conversion (“turning around” or “transformation,” from the Latin convertere) of heart and mind, and so we continually turn our eyes and hearts towards each other

In a group photograph, you also can’t see much of our personalities or detect the qualities for which we are known: Sr. Nancy’s laugh, Sr. Carolyn’s playfulness, Sr. Kathy’s dry wit. A group photograph can feel “flat” for this reason, but because it is an important record of our community, we are willing to sacrifice some spontaneity.

When I think of my sisters here, I don’t recall group or even individual photographs. I think of the many things we share with each other every day: love, prayers, laughter during our recreation times at dinner, and yes, even occasional silliness. I think of the unique personalities and rich inner lives that are expressive even amidst the silence. I think of my sisters’ gifts, the ways they express their love of God and neighbor, the pattern of their lives lived in faith. We are contemplatives, and so much of our lives are hidden from the view of those outside the monastery, but not from our fellow sisters.

There is no good substitute for a group photograph, but I thought I’d offer you, the readers of our blog, an alternative “mug” shot, one that captures the sisters’ good humor and reveals a small part of our hidden life. These are mugs that the sisters use for their early-morning coffee and tea. All were gifts. Can you guess which sister prefers which mug? How well do you really know your Poor Clare Sisters – ?! There are no prizes for correct guesses, and we may not reveal who uses what. If you want to know more about individual sisters, however, these mugs offer clues.