The Convent Diaries
In 2006, Victoria Bennett undertook the challenge of giving up her usual Wild Life to spend 40 days and nights in an enclosed Franciscan Monastery, as part of the BBC2 documentary The Convent. An act of trust, the experience would prove life changing and liberating, as well as painful and challenging. Dismayed by the heavy editing of the film, and the choices made in it surrounding her own journey, as well as the subsequent media and public response, she decided to share a little of her most intimate journey through releasing extracts from her diaries , and answering a few of the main questions posed by public and press.  The following extracts and introduction followed the 4 programmes as they aired, and are here now for you to share.
The extracts are taken from my daily journal. As well as writing a poem each day (which are collected together in Fragments), I also used the blank page to explore and reflect on the moment by moment experience of what turned out to be an incredibly moving and important life journey. Rather than salacious insider stories (sorry - if you want that, you might have to go elsewhere!), these pages are a quieter glimpse into my own personal voyage...
Dear Wild Reader
I would start with answering a few of the frequently asked, here goes!
Q: What did you win?
A: Far from being a “first one to find God gets a million quid!”, there was no financial reward for taking part. What I gained from the experience was invaluable but was not in any way related to monetary gain. It would be a bit odd after all - since one of the main vows of the Order is POVERTY.
Q: So you got paid lots of money to do the programme?
A: No. We each received recompense for our basic expenses during the 6 week stay - rent, bills etc. This did not include salary or any additional payments. We have not received payment for any interviews or publicity linked with the programme.
Q: So, you did it to get on telly, didn’t you?
A: I do not own a television and I never have. In fact, I watched the first episode on a friend’s DVD player! The impetus for taking part was far deeper and personal. The fact that it was filmed was, if anything, a drawback at times. However, I was not naive to this factor and acknowledged that my journey would be re-presented in the public eye, and that only a small part of that journey could ever be shown.
Q: What was it like, being silent all the time?
A: I found it both challenging and enriching. It was very difficult to remain silent at first, because of the desire to get to know the other women volunteers, to share our experiences. But for large parts of the day and night, I was silent and that allowed me to hear my heart-voice much more clearly and to learn to listen more deeply, more willingly.
Q: How often did you pray?
A: During weekdays, the Office started at 5.45 with the Office of Readings. This was followed by Morning Prayer at 7.30, then reflection in the chapel until Mass at 8.30, followed by Terce. Then there is Midday Prayer, followed by grace before and after lunch, and None at mid-afternoon. Vespers was at 5.40 and this is followed by Exposition (silent prayer) at 7.15pm and the Night Prayer (or Lullaby Prayer as we called it) at 8.15pm.
Q: What about the rest of the day?
A: Most of the day was taken up by prayer, as this is the centre of the Contemplative life. Our meals were taken in silence at 6.15am, 12.30pm and 6.15pm (except on Feast Days - though they do have the wonderful practice of reading aloud during meals - what a treat to be read to at 34!). Between 9.30 and 12 we would work, either in the garden or the house, helping the community. We had 45 minutes free time after lunch, followed by 2 - 3 hours religious study in the afternoon, and recreation at 5pm (which is a time for the community to come together to talk and take up quiet recreation (knitting, crochet, embroidery - I can’t sew to save my life, so I took up sketching!). On some days this was replaced by Choir Practice and weekends would include Craft (candle making, wax painting etc) and a longer free-time on Sunday afternoon. Other variants to the norm included Gospel Sharing on Friday evenings, where we would sit in a circle and share a gospel passage, guided prayer sessions, and  Taize once during our stay - which includes singing and silent prayer - it was beautiful. We also had a 1 hour individual session with our mentors once per week. Our days were rounded up by having to do our video diaries. All in all, we did around 16 hr days, every day, for 40 days - all in silence mostly, and all including around 10 hours a day in chapel, praying. The prayers follow a set order, every day, 365 days a year, every year. When I went in I had been (reluctantly) to church 4 times. When I left, I had been approximately 254 times (as opposed to the 294 times I was meant to have been). Apart from prayer and designated period of the day, all this was meant to be done in SILENCE, which I have to say we really sucked at  in the beginning!
Q: You are an atheist. Did you find God?
A: I was raised an atheist, but I have always had a sense of being part of something more than simple physical existence. I think that being a poet is part expression of this. I have lived my life based largely on intuition and as a Wild Woman I remain open to that spirit. However, despite having a life free from religion, I recognised that I did hold prejudices and anger towards organised religions - both mainstream and cult - based largely on what I perceived to be their judgement and shaming of individuals, their divisive and oftentimes punishing dogma and their abuse of the huge power and influence they hold. I also had difficulties politically with the patriachy of Christianity - and for the historical abuse towards women carried out under this rule. I was, however, willing to confront those views and blocks head on, because I recognised that this rejection of religion had somehow got tied up in my rejection too of the spirit.
The nuns say that ‘God finds you’. I have always been guided by Love in my life, although that life had thrown some pain that had eventually led me to doubt my path - and this doubt took me to the convent. In there, I released my anger, confronted my own shadows, sat with my heart-whisper and re-found my way to Love. I do not see God as being outside, but inside - something within us all, something that I hear and feel within me and call Love. I doubt I will ever find religion, but it has opened my heart to people who live within religions, taught me a new love and respect for them, as spiritual people, and helped me to understand that yes, there are many problems and faults with the Church - but that does not mean that there are not wonderful, loving, truly spiritual women and men within that Church, who are really living the way of Christ - in love, tolerance, acceptance and peace - something we can all learn from, something we can all strive to practice.
Q: The programme says you have an ‘open marriage’ - how does this work?
A: I have known Adam, my husband, since school and we have been together 15 years and married since 1999. Our marriage is one based on love, trust, acceptance, respect, communication, growth and truth - we aim to support each other in our journeys and our self-discovery and expression. This means we are open to the possibility of loving and desiring others. Our cornerstone is honesty - with ourselves and each other, rather than imposed rules of behaviour.
Visit the wonderful Sisters of Crossbush
 One to Ten |
Eleven to Twenty | 
Twenty-one to Thirty 
| Thirty-one to FortyConvent%20Diaries%201-10.htmlConvent%20Diaries%2011-20.htmlConvent%20Diaries%2021-30.htmlConvent%20Diaries%2031-40.htmlshapeimage_4_link_0shapeimage_4_link_1shapeimage_4_link_2shapeimage_4_link_3