I have always been drawn to people who zig when the rest of the world expects them to zag. I delight in those who refuse to be defined by others. They are the ones who often make us see things in a different way.
Sister Wendy Beckett was definitely one of those people. She entered a congregation of religious sisters at the age of 16, and spent much of her life in silence and isolation. In many ways she might be considered old-fashioned. A consecrated virgin, she continued to wear the habit when many of her contemporaries were donning ordinary clothes. She was a member of the very conservative Carmelite order.
Sister Wendy was also highly educated and was drawn to the teaching profession. She was known as an art historian, and that brought her to the attention of the BBC. It is through her very popular appearances on the BBC and PBS that many of us got to know and love Sister Wendy, a woman who would otherwise have spent her entire life out of the public eye.
Having a nun wax poetic about the beauty of the naked human body was enough to make one blink. But she did so, enthusiastically and with no apologies. She had a delightful sense of humor. She loved art, and beauty in all its many forms.
She, herself, could not be considered a classic beauty. She wore thick glasses, had protruding teeth and a speech impediment. The rest of her was shrouded in black. And yet her beauty shone through in her enthusiasm, her intelligence, her thoughtfulness and her kindness. She is the only nun I have ever wanted to hug.
She also did not shy away from discussing controversial art, such as a photograph by Andres Serano of a crucifix soaked in urine. She did not react with outrage. She gave a thoughtful critique of this artwork. She did so confidently. According to this article, “The work could be interpreted as a critique of the way modern man had despised the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ, she thought. In her view, it was not a great work of art, because it was not the kind of thing one would want to look at twice, but it might be a valid piece of commentary.”
She would probably be shocked to hear that I consider her the ultimate feminist. She chose the life she wanted to live. She lived it. She didn’t take into consideration what anybody might think. She lived, she learned, she spoke her truth.
Sister Wendy Beckett was always true to herself. And from that position of strength and confidence, she loved her god, adored art, and treated her fellow humans with dignity and respect. She was an amazing woman, and the world will be ever-so-slightly less bright and ever-so-slightly more predictable without her.