26 November 2014

Followup, The Sisterhood

 Well, I have to say that so far and much to my own surprise I am relatively impressed with the program. The Sisters are doing just what one would expect of contemporary women religious and we are seeing the clash of worlds that is so much a part of the vocation crisis today. Yet while the drama is, to some extent contrived and stereotypical, and while so much of the hype betrays a woeful lack of understanding of the nature of becoming a Sister (these young women are emphatically NOT Sisters (or nuns)-in-training, nor are they discerning a call to religious life; they are discerning WHETHER to discern a vocation WITH a congregation!!) some of it is quite compelling and important.

The "makeup meltdown" was one of those moments, I thought, because it underscored so much about what religious life seeks to witness to in contrast to "the world" of masks, lack of transparency, insecurity, and the struggle to love self as well as others, etc. In what consists real confidence? How do we let go of our fear of others' judgments, etc. How do we minister to others as those with our own sometimes visible defects, etc? I also thought the way Sister Mark handled the matter was good; she set the standard in a straightforward unequivocal way and pointed out that subsequently they would deal with matters as they came. (I thought her explanation of why the rule re makeup was imposed could have been a lot better and more substantive, but it seemed the pressures of the situation with cameras, Francesca's surprising and emotional response, and the need to keep things simple (as in sound bite accessible) caused her to struggle a bit to find the words.) Meanwhile, Francesca is a physically beautiful young woman; her acne doesn't change that and it certainly doesn't touch her inner beauty. If, in place of a deep insecurity regarding her appearance and the judgment of others, she can take away a sense of a much deeper security rooted in the love of a God who delights in us and calls us "imago dei" just as we are, that alone could make the series worth it.

After a night's sleep (I went to bed immediately after seeing the show which was on late here on the West Coast), what has stayed with me re the Sisterhood are the more positive aspects, and especially the overall dynamic of Sisters' authenticity vs the inauthenticity of so much of the culture which is resistant to or at least relatively naïve of Christ and integral faith in God. (That, by the way, includes inauthenticity framed in terms of certain forms of piety as well.) In this regard I especially liked Marie Therese's comment about traditionalism and concerns with whether or not such persons can pray with and otherwise minister effectively to those who are different than they. In that I think she had her finger on the most neuralgic problem of traditionalism, namely the relative inability of those holding this form of faith to evangelize rather than to proselytize.

I very much disliked the stereotypical approach to entering the convent because one has "trust issues with men". This is such a cliché! But I am also quite sure that many young persons will mistakenly perceive the world of religious life as the undemanding safe haven Eleni did. Certainly versions of this are operative in young adults who, before they have had time to explore anything else, occasionally seek to become hermits! It must be far more prevalent in those seeking to enter life in community. The character (Claire?) pronouncing on the prayer experiences of others or pretending to a theological and experiential sophistication in these matters made me both wince and smile. Hopefully she will outgrow this tendency. Meanwhile, I think Stacey most impressed me as having the potential to become a religious one day because of her (apparent) honesty and maturity. It may have been Sister Maria Therese (turns out it was Sister Cyril) who characterized her as comfortable in her own skin. While the process of this initial "come and see" experience will stretch her, she seems to me to be the only one truly comfortable in her own skin and that is a good place to start in approaching religious life! (If, of course, I can believe anything of what Lifetime is showing me here.)

Of all the characters, I found Christie to be the most obnoxious --- despite (or maybe because of) the fact that I resonate personally with the nuptial or 'Bride of Christ' imagery. Her references to Jesus as some sort of super lover or flirting boyfriend ("Whoa, Jesus, whoa! or, "Jesus is the best boyfriend/lover ever!"), etc,  really grated. (The same is only somewhat less true of Stacey's Surfer Dude Jesus.) Unfortunately, I think these images reflect an insufficiently eschatological, overly romanticized and even eroticized image of spousality in consecrated life which many CV's have naively embraced and witness to today. It is one which most religious have rejected, not because they necessarily reject the entire idea of being spouse of Christ but because the language, imagery, and other trappings which accompanied that iconic identity for so long actually distorted it. But Christie is young and spiritually naïve too; she can and hopefully will outgrow this as her relationship with Christ and her own sexuality (which involves a healthy and mature celibate expression for religious) and capacity for love matures --- unless of course, she is really just an actress  playing a stereotypical part --- who knows? It is unlikely to happen in six weeks though -- even if she is not simply playing a part in a TV show.

So, my overall evaluation of the show? A definite, if restrained, thumbs up and a commitment to watch other episodes to see how this really goes. It has genuine potential --- not least in its capacity to start conversations as folks seek to ask real Sisters and Nuns questions about religious life and the more usual and realistic process of discerning a religious call along with discussions re the difference between 'come and see' periods like this and actual formation. I also think the show thus has the potential to bring Sisters together in bridge-building ways that might not have occurred otherwise! Sisters are watching the show and are open to the conversations it can open up. I hope young people in particular take advantage of the opportunities this creates!