How do you become a nun

religion: My friend, the nun


Read on one side

I have three hours to collect myself, that's how long the flight from Berlin to Athens takes. I feel a bit like on a blind date - even though the person I'm going to visit was as close to me as a sister for a while. We were best friends back in our teenage years when Charlotte dreamed of becoming an artist and I wanted to write novels. Things turned out a little differently. I became a journalist, she became a nun.

Now I'm going to visit my friend in the monastery, we'll spend a few days together, for the first time in almost twenty years. I am nervous. My friend's name is now Diodora, the name is alien to me, and so is her life. She is an abbess. In the past, all girls wanted to be like her. Carefree, imaginative, cheerful. And today? Will I recognize her and be drawn to her right away, like when she came into our class and looked so grown up with her silk scarf around her neck? Will we understand each other? Will we compare our lives and, in the end, judge who does better?

I look out the airplane window in impenetrable white. I think of my twins, who are now five years old, and ask: where is God? Are the Nazis in Heaven? Can the Christ Child take a picture of God? Often I don't know what to answer. The children have not yet been baptized. As a faltering Protestant who has always had little connection to the church, I've been putting the topic off since birth. Theologically uneducated, I lack arguments. I feel a vague longing for spirituality. Religiousness is a void in my everyday life, that bothers me, but I can't prescribe it like back exercises or piano lessons or whatever else you do as a woman in your early forties. My journey, that is the hope, should bring movement into the confused situation. In whichever direction.

And I want to see what makes a person so strong that he completely breaks with his old life without need. I want to feel what gives my friend this certainty that raises her above the rest of us. Nobody else in my circle of friends had dared to take such a drastic step. Most of them have become exactly what was inherent in them as teenagers: the clever J. went to Washington to the World Bank, the comfortable F. took over his father's practice, the bustling B. made a media career. Nobody had escaped - at most an actor had become an actor instead of a doctor or had become gay.

I wear sturdy mountain boots for my expedition to the spiritual area and I have chocolate in my luggage as a present for the nuns. My imagination is insufficient for something more meaningful, I no longer have any idea what my girlfriend could be happy about. I also packed a book for Diodora that portrays women who are mothers and have careers. The book is my safety net: The hot topic of my generation could get us both talking if things get stuck. What I'm most afraid of is speechlessness - that we will freeze in polite phrases. When packing, I made sure to bring enough warm things with me. I'm afraid it's cold in the monastery.

"What a great pleasure to hear from you again after such a long time. I am happy that you want to come to Greece and I am expecting you so much. You will experience our life here with your own eyes and your heart," Diodora had replied to my email that started the reunion project. Shortly before landing, I write down questions that I want to ask her. Do you never have problems with obedience and submission? What do you miss? Then I note in bullet points what keeps me away from the church: Problems with authorities, a feeling of paternalism and a lack of individuality.

It only takes seconds for my eyes to find Diodora in the arrivals hall at Athens Airport. I recognize her immediately, although her slim, tall figure is completely hidden under a black nun's costume. Only the face can be seen, her glowing complexion, the large brown eyes and perfect teeth are framed by the tight-fitting veil like a drawing through a mat. We embrace, I want to kiss her and awkwardly meet her veil. Diodora laughs and says: "It's nice that you are finally here, after all these years." Then we go to the monastery in Thebes.