Sunday, August 01, 2010

And I’m a stickman

My cousin sent me this clip a while ago, and I’ve only just got around to watching it. I feel like she’s given me a gift in introducing me to Sister Wendy, who evidently is something of a BBC celebrity, but new to me. I had the same reaction that many people do upon seeing her—a vague discomfort at listening, seriously, to a nun with a lisp talk about art. Then I slowly realized how intelligent she was, how true what she was saying was, and then I began to see the glow about her, the glow of someone passionately engaged with God, and art, and life. Someone who knows exactly what she was put on earth to do, who has made conscious choices about the life she wanted to live. By the end, I didn’t see her habit. I didn’t see her overbite, or hear her lisp. I saw the beautiful face of someone who had discovered her path.

The first moment I had of epiphany I had was when she said, “We moderns are called upon to make a practical and informed choice of the pure as opposed to the comforting.”

Bill Moyers then asks what the difference between comforting and pure art is, and she says:
“There’s quite a lot of art, you see, that gives that instant satisfaction of feeling that I know I can judge this without having to look, without having to take trouble. I just know because it’s so obvious. That’s comforting. Whereas, you see, the real art makes demands.”

I love that line: real art makes demands. I also love her saying that we’re called upon to make a choice for the pure, as opposed to the comforting. It’s so true in so many aspects of modern life. All we want is comfort—in our art, our food, our homes. When what God calls us to, all of us, is purity. Not that purity means discomfort, because when we follow the path of the pure, what we find, as Sister Wendy has, is joy. Which brings us to sex.

Sister Wendy:
“Why did [that critic] think that anybody should not delight in the created work of God? I mean, it’s to me very illogical. God made the body. And this suggests that God made mistakes about certain parts of the body. You know, that unfortunately, He’s done these shameful things and we must do our best to cover them up. This is not the faith. The faith is that God looked at His creation and thought it was good. Thought it was beautiful. We’re made in the image of God. There is nothing—nothing--amiss in any part of the human body. There is something far more salacious about these sniggers and criticisms, than in just a Christian delight in God’s skill.

“None of the sisters are cramped by the false idea that sexuality is something wrong. It’s something we have sacrificed. The vow of chastity doesn’t mean we just don’t get married. It means that sexuality is something you give to God, because you want to be free for something else. It’s a wonderful gift, and I delight that people have it, though it’s not a gift for me.”

These words are so beautiful to me. I’ve always loved the monastic vows. I love Thomas Merton’s writing about the monastic life, and Kathleen Norris’s exploration of the vow of stability. If I had several more lives to live, in one of them, I’d be a nun. Right after I finish my career as a Bob Dylan impersonator. The idea of sacrifice, that one chooses to give something to God, freely, as a gift—it gets right to the heart of what this blog is about. We have to Cast Off—cast off the things that easily entangle us. Leave them behind. Whether they be a mortgage, a boat, children, health insurance, sex, marriage, indoor plumbing, running water, a cubicle, or the bottom half of a toothbrush.

That’s what Sister Wendy is saying. We don’t give these things away because they’re bad, because they’re evil. We give them away because they belong to God. We give them away when they do us no good. They don’t make us happy. What makes us happy is faith. Faith that God gives us the desire of our heart, and that if we follow that desire—whether for art, or literature, or politics, or cattle farming—we’ll end up with that same glow that she has. We’ll end up exactly as beautiful as Sister Wendy.

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