"Heaven and Earth in Little Space"


"Your life is hidden with Christ in God."

-Colossians 3:3

The mystery of the contemplative life is woven tightly with the mystery of the Incarnation. This mystery finds an especially vivid expression in the life of a cloistered nun, when a woman chooses to spend her whole life within the walls of a monastery, hidden from the world for the sake of intimacy with God. The cloister is a shocking thing, and sometimes non-Christians (and Christians!) are scandalized by it. But even more shocking is the idea that an infinite God chose to take on a finite human nature, to confine Himself within the limits of the created world, which, to Him, must have seemed far, far smaller than the bounds of a cloistered monastery!

Yet here is the mystery: the smallness of the world did not stifle the Incarnate God. Rather, he brought his infinite love into the cramped quarters of our fallen world and transformed it into a truly boundless place. God was not trapped in the cloister of Mary's womb. He went there willingly, out of love, and by coming to dwell in Mary made her greater than the universe itself. A medieval carol in honor of the Incarnation expresses this well, saying of Jesus' Mother, "For in this Rose containéd was / heaven and earth in little space. Res miranda! [Wondrous thing!]"

Those whom God invites to the cloister understand this. Within the walls of their monasteries, in the solitude of their cells, in the intimacy of the Eucharist, they discover "heaven and earth in little space." Like many facets of the Incarnation, contemplative life presents a paradox: the world, with all it has to offer, becomes too small for the heart in which God plants the desire for Himself alone. Only the cloister is big enough for the love such a heart contains.