Texts and images of millennia past affect us without our notice all the time. Their cultural residue is the foundation upon which we stand, yet we often fail to feel it, despite its wide-reaching repercussions in not only our anxious consumption and production of art, but our day-to-day lives. Wired into the self-perception of our lives is the construct of linear time: a beginning, middle, and end. The text of the Sister Book is not bound by this linearity. Each moment is equally valuable and useless. In the depiction of holy acts of those who died, the text seeks to overcome any notion of time or death, even though at first glance it appears preoccupied with just these subjects, for death represents the ultimate union with the eternal in Christ. Such depictions have taught me perforce that we furiously, indomitably decorate and rearrange our lives, plant flags declaring our sovereignty over our selves, times, and even our methods of measuring time. Further, and perhaps most importantly, they have taught me that the stories we forge on paper and project on LCD screens operate skillfully and desperately to obscure the fact that we cannot live in a linear plot line and that our lack of clear purpose cannot be hidden by any lace shawls or icing of words.

The nuns whose brief vitae I have translated built lives of rigorous piety and asceticism in the convent in order to prepare for their deaths. Life stories are never full; they are partial at best. They are reworked by flimsy and temperamental memory, constantly reinvented, and stand in sharp relief against the horror of the vacuum. Hence, we cling to dreams of ongoing natality, fragmentation, and ultimate redemption. A wise medievalist and cunning atheist, Dr. Madeline Caviness, has pointed out that the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and Christianity, with its ever unfolding fables and tropes, are, whether we like them or not, the foundational myths of our Western culture, yes, even now. We rip our lives into bits of order and hope to find ourselves reflected back to ourselves: strong, enduring, self-made, and real, even in mere reflection. But we never make ourselves, no matter how many times we write our story.

The vita of Sister Adelheit von Schollenberg consists of only two sentences: “There was a sister called Adelheit von Schollenberg. When she died, the sisters heard the holy angels sing.” The account of her life in full is the account of her death. The logos, the word, the rational principle, or, in the lingering force of the Western and Christian imaginaries, the hope for a flesh and a way of living that redeems us in our present, can be unraveled like a pile of knitting—by the same hand that bound the threads—with a sudden reduction of a life to a single moment. Mending efforts at making sense will falter, language will fail, and what is left is and will be silence. What is left are stories of anonymity that lack utterly nothing for beauty, writing that signifies by what is left unwritten as much as what is written, and the collective human force to regain sense out of death by making words, by making birth new again.