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Nun of the Above
August 25, 2008 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Are nuns keeping up with the times and are they having fun? From blogs to running, to the arts and union disputes, nuns are busy. Even a beauty contest is being planned. But, the old ways persist.

I've always been both afraid and in awe of nuns. Their dedication was something I still can't conceive or remotely master. And then there is that whole"brides of Jesus" thing which totally screws up my head. There was also nun sexual abuse. Go figure.
posted by Xurando (42 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nuns on the run.
posted by fixedgear at 1:38 PM on August 25, 2008


I gotta point out, the URL http://anunslife.org/ is prone to a very unfortunate misreading.
posted by adamrice at 1:40 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hopefully this beauty contest will increase their profile in the mainstream media, so that The Times can keep up with nuns.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:42 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's really the ultimate means of control.

Take one of the most basic biological urges, the urge to reproduce, and stifle it, turning it into some sort of sin. Every time you think about sex, you are doing wrong. You must seek forgiveness.

Someone who is ashamed of sex, someone who is contorted to believe a basic physiology of life is somehow something to be shunned can never really be free unto God, because it is hardwired. You can fake it with God himself, but it is never real.

Nunnery is just the next step in this terrible vacating of life. Almost the greatest waste of the limited time afforded to someone, and certainly the ultimate sadness.
posted by plexi at 1:51 PM on August 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


Take one of the most basic biological urges, the urge to reproduce, and stifle it, turning it into some sort of sin.

In Freudian theory, that kind of sublimation of the Id is largely responsible for civilisation (and its discontents).

But more pragmatically, monasticism is largely just an archaic way of dealing with inheritance & underemployment, from a time when family planning was less controlled than today, and social security mostly channeled through the church.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:55 PM on August 25, 2008


I have a group of nuns as clients at the moment, and I have to tell you they blew away any preconceptions I had about nuns. They're older and have a gentleness about them, but some of these women have been CEOs/COOs of hospitals and run large construction projects and done other tough professional tasks. They are very engaged and not "locked away" or distant from modern culture at all. They also are very frank and accepting of the fact that within a few years their particular branch/order/whatever will all have passed away. It's really interesting.
posted by jamesonandwater at 1:57 PM on August 25, 2008 [8 favorites]


Do the nuns who run use running bras?
posted by Postroad at 2:01 PM on August 25, 2008


I don't believe nuns can really change. They're clearly creatures of habit.
posted by rusty at 2:07 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Do the nuns who run use running bras?

True story: I was not Catholic as a child (still not). My only image of nuns was of them wearing their sexless habits. I had a friend whose aunt was a nun, so at the age of 11, I asked him "Do nuns get their tits cut off?" He howled and then set me straight. "They wear running bras."
posted by Xurando at 2:13 PM on August 25, 2008


groan
posted by empath at 2:14 PM on August 25, 2008


nunning bras, surely.
posted by boo_radley at 2:26 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nuns are seriously some of the hardest working, progressive and under-appreciated people out there today. No wonder they are a dying breed. (Yeah, there are also some bad mean ones out there too...I'll give you that. If I had the inclination at the moment I'd regale you with the stories of Sister Alexius, she of the metal hand - yes, metal hand.) On the whole, though, totally misunderstood.

A family member who is a longtime nun (50 plus years) is without a doubt one of the most liberal people I know. Her whole 'minsitry' was running low-cost/free daycare for teenage moms. It's thankless work and she was paid a pittance. So, yeah, nun jokes run a little thin with me. She thinks they're hilarious though.
posted by brain cloud at 2:30 PM on August 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


How do you solve a problem like Maria?
posted by yhbc at 2:30 PM on August 25, 2008


Nunnery is just the next step in this terrible vacating of life. Almost the greatest waste of the limited time afforded to someone, and certainly the ultimate sadness.

I don't know about that. I'm a cultural Catholic* at best, which means I violate church rules all the time but still say 'Good Evening, Father/Sister,' when I pass priest and nuns on the street, but I can't help but have a grudging respect for them. Abandoning the self-indulgent pleasures (and at the end of the day, boozing and screwing and fighting are just that) and I can't help but be...impressed (?) by someone who's forsaken them, whatever other qualms I might have about the institution they might represent**.


*Cultural Catholicism rears it's head in weird ways. I'm still uncomfortable with blatant blasphemy. I still go by the 'Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged' rule etc.

**and my Dad attended Catholic grammar schools in New York's outer boroughs in th '50's and '60's as did my uncles so I grew up hearing all the usual horror stories and as a budding intellect/rebel/whatever I disagreed with just about everything the church was saying, but somehow, it persists at some level. Maybe other people raised Catholic are the same, I don't know.
posted by jonmc at 2:37 PM on August 25, 2008


I have a friend who gives me this calendar every year without fail!
posted by lumensimus at 2:38 PM on August 25, 2008


I like nuns. Even now, years after I realized that the whole Catholic thing was kind of silly, I retained my respect for the Church's architecture and it's ladies.

So it made me happy a few years ago to pull up to a gas station and see two fairly young nuns who were clearly not English speakers trying to make sense of the pump. I smiled, offered my assistance, and got them squared away before returning to my car. It was then that I realized that my window had been down, and Supersuckers, Born with a Tail had been playing the entire time at a not inconsiderable volume.

To this day I like to believe that they thought of me as the nice guy who helped them out, and not the person who was playing a song with lines like "you know, I'm in league with Satan, and you know there can be no debating my hellbound trail..." but to be honest, either way, the whole situation gives me a little frisson with it's unexpected awesomeness.
posted by quin at 2:39 PM on August 25, 2008 [6 favorites]


To this day I like to believe that they thought of me as the nice guy who helped them out, and not the person who was playing a song with lines like "you know, I'm in league with Satan, and you know there can be no debating my hellbound trail..."

Ha! I sung along with that song, too (I'm a huge Supersuckers fan), but felt incredibly guilty about it, even though I realizeit's a colossal joke. I'll bet you Eddie Spaghetti was raised Catholic.
posted by jonmc at 2:41 PM on August 25, 2008


The Immaculate Heart of Mary would be a great name for a nun band.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:45 PM on August 25, 2008


Maybe other people raised Catholic are the same, I don't know.

Mmmmmyep, pretty much.
posted by brain cloud at 2:52 PM on August 25, 2008


Maybe other people raised Catholic are the same, I don't know.

Almost every gay republican I've met has been Catholic. That mix doesn't make much sense until you realize that Catholics are a little strange.
posted by stavrogin at 2:56 PM on August 25, 2008


stavrogin: well, it's that old conflict between respect for tradition and respect for your own individual morality, both of which are kind of ingrained in Catholics.
posted by jonmc at 2:58 PM on August 25, 2008


*checks wikipedia*

Eddie Spagehetti was born Edward Carlyle Daly III, and that sounds like an Irish catholic name to me, tilting the evidence in my favor.
posted by jonmc at 3:01 PM on August 25, 2008


Even a beauty contest is being planned.

T. T. I. U. W. P.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:17 PM on August 25, 2008


Nunnery is just the next step in this terrible vacating of life. Almost the greatest waste of the limited time afforded to someone, and certainly the ultimate sadness.

They're doing what they love, even though it goes against the cultural norm, and somehow it's a "terrible vacating of life"?! I can only assume the friends and family in your life who've become nuns are particularly odd, because this statement doesn't apply in any way to the ones I know and have known.

If you were going from work, to home to watch TV and eat crappy food and go to sleep only to do it again the next day and the next.... well, your statement might apply, by my standards. Repeat: by my standards. And since it's not my life, guess what? Not my business to judge.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:19 PM on August 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


AUGGGHH GIANT PENGUINS QUICK WHERE ARE THE SPEARS?
posted by loquacious at 3:46 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nunnery is just the next step in this terrible vacating of life. Almost the greatest waste of the limited time afforded to someone, and certainly the ultimate sadness.

So, if you don't reproduce or have sex you haven't lived? Is life just about sex? I love it, but I do more than rut in the tall grasses. The nuns I've known, and I've known more than my fair share (Catholic school boy), have been self-sacrificing and generous. The tradition of celibacy is long over due for a reevaluation, but in the mean time nuns are out their living.
posted by Mojojojo at 4:23 PM on August 25, 2008


huh. The unexpected things one thinks about in this place.

It really pisses me off some priest wants to have a beauty contest for nuns. It just really ticks me off. I want to thwack him upside the head with a Communion Plate or worse. grrr. He's probably some sleazy incarnation or meme descendant of Urbain Grandier.

But the delightfully snarky comment by Chuck after her post, suggesting nuns at the Olympics, perked me up no end.

The thing is, I wanted to be a nun once. It was after the 60's and I'd had my, er, fill. Having become Buddhist officially at 21 I could see the sweet serenity of renouncing a sex life, living simply and dedicating my mind to the enlightenment path. I was informed that the feelings of lust would still arise but that would be part of the act of renunciation of the attachment to worldly existence.

All the Western Buddhist nuns I knew in India had had a full life and decided they wanted to focus on their spiritual path. So I can see the pull to this choice, that of a renunciate.

But there were no workable places for Buddhist nuns to live and study at that time in India or the West in the mid 70's. There were many places for monks but not nuns. Monks were called "Venerable", nuns were called "Auntie". It seemed like a ripoff.

The problem, imo, is organized religion and the insanity that goes on in religious groups. It ruins spiritual paths somehow and gets them all caught up in bureaucracies, power plays, ugly mind and body games, rituals of obedience not to the path but to various bureaucratic authorities within the organized religion, lots of bizarre materialism while preaching the higher path. I thought no, not this bs. However, I do think there are people who are drawn to quiet lives with a focus on the spiritual, on meditation.

A young woman I once knew as a little girl is now a nun and teacher. Her father, Mindroling Rinpoche, was my meditation teacher. In looking her up I just found out he died. aww.

Christian nuns are in a whole other level of rotten bureaucracies. There is a such a vast history of Christian abuses of women throughout the last five hundred years or so. After seeing The Magdalen Sisters I feel really badly for those abused in that system.

It must be difficult to be a thinking nun these days. Maybe these blogging nuns can innovate a healthier way for women inclined to have a spiritually focused life, maybe in smaller, saner, less hierarchical groups?
posted by nickyskye at 4:42 PM on August 25, 2008


Almost the greatest waste of the limited time afforded to someone, and certainly the ultimate sadness.

I run into a lot more nuns in North Philly, bringing food and clothing donations to the homeless at Saint Francis Inn and running refuges for prostitutes on Kensington Avenue than I do metafilter posters.
posted by The Straightener at 5:20 PM on August 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter is an online medium. Matt wouldn't waste the money on printing posters.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:29 PM on August 25, 2008


More seriously, all that charity work is - literally - the nuns' vocation, and they're highly visible.

In contrast, you're not generally a party to what MeFites do for a living, or how they contribute to society in other ways. Moreover, the nuns are subsisting & doing their work on the foundation of people working away in whatever regular jobs they do, and contributing income to charity. If it weren't for regular people doing that, the nuns wouldn't be able to survive.

I'm not disparaging the good work that the nuns do, but calling out the strawman that shows up here from time to time: the notion that just because people here spend some time typing stuff on a website, that it's *ALL* we ever do.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:36 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just played Sister Berthe in The Sound of Music and despite having to deal with that flibbertigibbet Maria, I will say there was something soothing about donning my habit and chanting in Latin. Oh, and thwarting Nazis.

I was taught by Sisters of Mercy, and grew to have much respect for their founder, Catherine McCauley and her mission of education for women. Nuns are often at the forefront of social justice movements.

Did you know there are Anglican and Episcopal nuns?
posted by Biblio at 6:01 PM on August 25, 2008


I'm impressed by people who willingly choose the monastic life. Catholic, religious or not. I don't even care if they do charity, or if they just lock themselves up in a monastery and meditate. I just can't even imagine the willpower it takes to do that for years on end.
posted by empath at 7:22 PM on August 25, 2008


I have to say, that when I heard about the nun beauty contest, I started thinking of the nunneries from the 10th century. You know, the places where the other meaning for nunnery comes from. Someone's trying to bring back that old time religion.

The only nuns I've ever met were Tibetan Buddhists (I was in Lhasa at the time). Despite a language gap, they came across as some of the most genuine and down to earth people I've ever met.
posted by Hactar at 8:27 PM on August 25, 2008


lock themselves up in a monastery and meditate

Monasteries are usually intensely social in many ways with studying, all the monks living together, performing services for the dead, the ill etc.

It's the retreats that put the focus on meditation.

the willpower it takes to do that for years on end

Having lived a meditative bunch of years and knowing quite a few others who did the same and more, it wasn't anything to do with willpower, it was sublime, a pleasure, a joy, fun, interesting, peaceful, a pain in the knees.

A Cave in the Snow. A book about Tenzin Palmo, a Western woman, Buddhist nun, who spent twelve years living in a remote cave in the Himalayas, three of those years in strict meditation retreat. Here's a photo of her a couple of years ago, still looking pretty sparkly eyed.
posted by nickyskye at 8:53 PM on August 25, 2008


lock themselves up in a monastery and meditate

Also: work. Making chocolate, cheese, beer, running farms, hospitals, &c.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:10 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have a great deal of respect for nuns, and not just because I work for them now (big healthcare organization run by a religious order). I went to parochial schools for part of my childhood, and the nuns were always decent; it was the lay teachers who tended to flip out and talk about the Bermuda Triangle during religion class and whatnot. That's why I was always like WTF when I'd take creative writing in college and some guy would submit his work for class review that would be about a kid being bullied by a nun who was basically Darkseid in a wimple.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:23 AM on August 26, 2008


"No wonder they are a dying breed."

My understanding is that that vocations to Catholic religious life for woman are actually up. While many congregations of Catholic women religious are expected to die off in the coming years, conservative and orthodox orders are growing. Numbers of nuns/religious sisters are expected to eventually stabilize and then grow again.

Check out for instance this AFP article from 2007.
posted by Jahaza at 8:48 AM on August 26, 2008


I have a group of nuns as clients at the moment, and I have to tell you they blew away any preconceptions I had about nuns.

We live in the Irish-Catholic-est neighborhood in Cleveland proper (you can count the numbers of shamrocks on the bar signs as you drive down the main drag into the dozens) and there's a ton of nuns within walking distance (such as...). You see them at the coffee shop, the post office, everywhere. They're uniformly pleasant and kind and fun to talk to -- then again, I wasn't raised Catholic, so maybe I don't have the childhood associations with them that some do.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:08 PM on August 26, 2008


Plexi, you're making a big pile of inaccurate assumptions about nuns there. I wouldn't assume that nuns who have previously had seven children are ashamed of sex, for example. Historically, becoming a nun was one way (often the only way) for women to escape stifling social conditions - the only escape from marriage and children, and the only route to education and reading. Today, while the choice to be celibate isn't mainstream, I don't think there's anything wrong with it. And while it may, to you, be the defining characteristic of nuns, I don't think any nun would define herself that way. These women feel they are getting back far move than they've given up, or they wouldn't be doing it.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:53 PM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jahaza: Thank you for the link. That was an interesting read and suprisingly good news to learn. I don't think they got many nuns out of my generation.
posted by brain cloud at 9:17 PM on August 26, 2008


Nun story: My grandmother married late because she wanted to become a nun, but the nuns didn't want her because her health was "too fragile". Yeah, right. My grandfather and her lived on to have a farm where she did almost as much farm work as he did, and she lived to 76, healthy until 74, had 8 children (the last one at the age of 40) and was still fishing a year before her death.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:24 PM on August 26, 2008


It was cancelled.

"My superiors were not happy. The local bishop was not happy, but they did not understand me either," Father Antonio Rungi told Reuters by telephone from his convent in southern Italy on Tuesday.
posted by cass at 6:16 AM on August 27, 2008


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