I hear the word at home, I hear the word making the rounds of my parish, and I find that lately I say the word quite often about myself: overwhelmed. The poet W. H. Auden dubbed the middle of the last century “The Age of Anxiety;” based on a complaint one hears everyday, we might dub our era “The Age of Overwhelming.” Whether one talks to a working mother who “has it all” or a conscientious high school student who also seems to have it all—much of it stuffed into a ponderous backpack—the sense one often gets is that of a person struggling in deep water, which is what the word “overwhelmed” suggests. To be “whelmed” is to be “covered by water.” To be “overwhelmed” is to be drowned, or nearly so.
Photographer Toni Greaves first visited the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, in 2008. She was accompanying a writer working on an article about how nuns were using the Internet to promote their communities. Greaves was so taken by the vibrant life she saw in the monastery that she visited the place repeatedly over the next seven years and documented one sister’s journey toward final vows. Greaves’s book of images, Radical Love, came out last month (New York Times, September 5).