Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'

If you cannot get your daily bread, is joining a convent the answer? What about the call of god as a spiritual experience?

The recession seems to have hit the women hard in UK and reports say they are choosing to become nuns. Although the figures aren’t alarming, the reason for the choice does raise questions. Giving up “sex, drink, shopping and worrying about making ends meet to spend their days in silence, praying for hours on end”, makes one wonder whether this is a temporary reprieve.

While recession denies them the right to livelihood, they are adding an element of self-denial. Do they pay for sex? Is shopping only about goodies and not essentials too? It is pertinent to note that men are not turning to priesthood, when traditionally they are considered the providers and the fear of performance in this area would be greater simply because of the archetypes and expectations.

Two of the nuns from the Congregation of Jesus at the Bar Convent in York told the Mirror:

“The recession makes people question, ‘What is really important in my life?’ For some, when they start asking those sort of questions they find what really matters is God. We are consciously trying to live a life that is not about consumerism. That is appealing to people. Maybe people are trying to get out of the hard times they are in. We’ve seen that before.”

How different is this from other forms of escapism? Many are in the stage of “formation”, the novitiate period. Will they give it up once things start looking up economically?

It is quite natural for people to think about god, and ask questions about life and destiny during difficult times. Recently, David Cameron’s girlfriend from college was in the news for renouncing the trappings of her life as a prominent socialite because she was depressed. I would imagine that a convent is to be taken more seriously than a soup kitchen or a rehab clinic.

Women are identified with seeking solace in religion in almost all cultures. It is partly due to the nurturing aspect of the female form, but it is also a potent denial of fertility. Even married women spend an inordinate amount of time in prayer. It appears that they are over-compensating for lack of or disappointment with physical intimacy, or purging guilt about bodily satiation with such penance.

Living with recession is most certainly not easy. However, this kind of spirituality is reductionist and opportunistic, even though it may be inadvertent. It assumes that on a scale there are two extremes – consumerism and abstinence. It negates the ability to take mature life decisions. It treats faith almost like an item on the shelf.

Life in a convent is hard. It might open up doors to hidden aspects of one’s being, things people forget in the daily grind. But such meditation is also about self-introspection, and the validity of it is vital to how we live and not how we shirk life.

The character of Maria in 'The Sound of Music' is a wonderful example. She follows no rules, not because she is a rebel, but she is naturally an ‘outside’ person as opposed to a ‘within’ person. The nuns do not shackle her and send her out to find her bearings. What she learns as she teaches the children is close to a spiritual experience that empowers her: “I have confidence in me.” Her finding love (“I must have done something good”) also has an element of spirituality. She is not breaking taboos, just being herself. She does not begin to indulge herself in the mansion, nor splurge on clothes and cosmetics. She wallows in the richness of a new experience.

The nuns were right when they asked, “How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”

You can’t. It is meant to spread light and be lit up.

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