The wisdom of Sister Wendy

March 22, 2013

Sister Wendy
I saw a documentary the other day on the PBS art nun, Sister Wendy, and can’t stop thinking about what she said.

I think I am an inadequate woman
lacking in many things that make a full and beautiful character.
But it doesn’t matter because that’s who I am
and that’s the self I have to give to God
for Him to take to himself.

Just before I saw this program, an ad for plastic surgery aired, an ad that played on women’s insecurities about themselves. And so, when Sister Wendy said that she felt inadequate, I was so clear that she didn’t mean her looks, like so many of us would. She meant character flaws. And yet, she’s put them in perspective.

She accepts that she is who she is. Regardless of flaws, she knows she is a gift to God. Wouldn’t it be amazing if everyone could think that way?

Sister Wendy also talked about sex, confiding that she has never had any sex drive at all, and so her vow of chastity was easy. For that, she wasn’t grateful, she was regretful.

“I haven’t got that gift (chastity) to give to God.” Talk about turning the concept of asexuality on its head.

Instead, Sister Wendy sees her gift to God as a life of prayer: six hours of constant contemplation daily. Here’s what she says about it:

God speaks in silence.
Prayer will show you the truth about yourself
and that’s something that most of us go to a lot of trouble to avoid.
All deep experience does that
Great art does that.
It challenges you; raises you to a new level.

Something most of us go to a lot of trouble to avoid. Yes.

So many of us need to be constantly entertained. I’m guilty of that. Quiet contemplation, meditation, stilling my mind? Hard. And yet, by not developing a practice of prayer and contemplation, I know I’m missing something deeper than my life currently provides. I’ve been working on this.

Life is short. If you can give it to God, it uses it all.
That’s why I don’t believe in this happiness and unhappiness business.
You take what comes and you give it to God.
And if it hurts he will use that for the world as healing.
I don’t think we’re all that important
we’re only important to God, not to ourselves.

I was taken by this total acceptance of the way it is and giving it up to God–it’s uniquely Catholic, something I’ve seen among the seriously devout. And it may well be the best of Catholicism.

Here in Silicon Valley, where wealth and success are barometers, I love the grounded statement that Sister makes when she notes that we aren’t all that important in and of ourselves. Only to God.

Sister Wendy said that she thanks God every day for a life of indescribable happiness.

And while few of us would find that happiness the same way she does, we can find it in our own way.

And should.

7 comments on “The wisdom of Sister Wendy
  1. Graciewilde says:

    This is a thoughtful post. I am familiar with both Sr Wendy and with Catholicism. Yet I still find the God thing confusing and unclear.
    I do think self acceptance is both uncommon and valuable. Can’t say that I have achieved it. I am a big fan of solitude but often can’t hear the silence b/c the voices in my head argue and reprimand pretty much constantly.
    Nice post.

  2. Other than your statement about “It’s uniquely Catholic”, I am in agreement that we are never enough. And that’s okay, cuz God loves me anyway.

  3. I’m the same way, Gracie, that voice in my head keeps me from real solitude & contemplation. I admire Sister, wholeheartedly. And I love giving who we are to God. She’s an amazing woman.

  4. I first heard of Sister Wendy 15 years ago when my mother-in-law sent us a PBS series of hers on video (!) while we were living in the middle east. My husband and I adored her quirkiness, her playfulness, her centeredness. I think I’ll get those out again — I still have a VCR!

  5. Grace says:

    I haven’t heard of Sister Wendy but do agree with her statements but feel this is presented in most forms of faith.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I loved your post Carol, and I like Sister Wendy. Being raised catholic, I loved nuns and the idea of spiritual contemplation. But as I grew up I started to be less comfortable with it. I mean, six hours a day in prayer? Wouldn’t that be better used helping others- the sick, the poor, those in dire straights. That’s my own personal struggle, but I loved your post and thank you for sharing. Virginia- FirstClassWoman

  7. I think spiritual contemplation is alluring for many of us–I’m the least likely nun in the world but surprising myself, from time to time it’s come to mind. If I remember correctly, Sister is more than a little socially awkward and lives almost monastically. Her prayer is her way of helping people and of course, she deeply believes it does.

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