Sunday, 10 July 2011

Nuns Have Fun (Mostly in the Sun)

Nuns are only human and as such they deserve a little time out to kick back and relax. Here discover, through some amazing photographs, the hitherto rarely seen world of nuns having fun in the sun and learn a little about their world and ways.

Beach Nuns
Playing nuns on the beach in Sydney, Australia  There is nothing like a good run on the beach to get the blood running ready for the day’s other chores and these sisters are full of life on this lovely morning.

Is there a difference between the terms ‘nun’ and ‘sister’? After all, they are used interchangeably, as in the paragraph above.  Strictly speaking, there is.  A nun is a person who lives a life of meditation and prayer in a religious house while a sister has an active vocation in the wider community, working among the sick, uneducated and poor.  In other words, the needy.

Ice Cream Nuns
The Vatican is a magnet for nuns the world over and each nun likes to pay a visit to the Holy See at least once in her life.  While there, however, it would be a sin not to take advantage of the fact that Italians make possibly the best ice cream in the world!

Where do nuns live?  The English term is ‘convent’.  Shakespeare’s Hamlet told Ophelia to ‘Get thee to a nunnery’ but this term is used less and less.  In the Eastern Orthodox Church, however, religious houses for both men and women are referred to as monasteries and those domiciled within called monastics.  This is particularly true in the US, where monastery is the term most often used for a religious order’s ‘hood’.

Paddling Nuns

Kerala, India and three nuns take time out from the school trip they have organized to go for a paddle, albeit a tentative one.  They look a little unsure about it, but if, as the Joan Osborne song goes “God was one of us” there is surely little doubt he would give them encouragement!

Roman Catholicism has the widest form of ‘nun diaspora’ with a number of different orders.  Each order has its own ‘charism’, a word for the unique characteristics the order has.  It is closely related to the word charisma.

Double Ducth Nuns
A great picture of a pair of nuns having a go at skipping.  Learning, it is widely acknowledged, should be fun. So, in that case, why shouldn’t nuns have a little fun while learning a new skill too?

When a woman chooses to go in to a convent, the initial period is known as her postulancy.  This is a period of usually between six months and a year.  She and the order must determine at the end of this period whether she has a true vocation.  Many people believe that the convent door locks firmly behind a woman as she enters and this is a complete fallacy.

Picnic Nuns
New Zealand is a lush and green land and here a group of nuns take advantage of this by preparing a picnic in the sun.  Unless, of course, what they doing is spreading out the pirate map to find the secret treasure.  This writer would love to go with the second theory but fears the picnic is closer to the truth!

When the postulancy period is over a nun will receive her habit, though it will be a variation on a theme because the period of her testing is not fully over. The next period is one that is known as the novitiate.  This is where the nun still has not taken vows and it is a time that lasts between twelve and twenty four months. 

Gun Totin' Sisters
While taking a breather in the great outdoors, why not take time out for a little target practice.  It is important to be have an aim in life, whatever your chosen vocation and this is no less true for the nun, particularly if she has chose the busy and demanding life of the sister in the community.

After the novitiate period, it is still not time for the full uniform, to be put it in civilian terms!  The next and (almost the last!) period is where she takes her initial vows, also known as temporary vows.  These vows will last between three and six years.  So, don’t apply to be a nun unless you are willing to undergo a thorough period of testing!

Roller Blading Nuns
It is important to keep with up with the times or seem something of an anachronism - and that includes summer sports too.  Here, three sisters are determined to enjoy the sunshine and do it with a little speed in to the bargain.

The three sisters above are among those who have gone through the long hard slog to become a nun.  After they had taken their temporary vows each one would have petitioned her order.  Then, she will have made her permanent and solemn vows, which made being a nun her ‘perpetual profession’. Yet you still have to keep up with the times.  Even nuns get bored and then there is nothing like a game of solitaire on the laptop.


Hula Hoop Nun
You may not get much of a chance to get to Gold's Gym when you are a nun but that is no reason not to take advantage of all the modern sports equipment that the convent provides!

There are various branches of orders within each Catholic tradition (such as Benedictine, Cistercian, Camaldolese, Franciscan and Dominican).  Likewise their vows are a variation on a theme to reflect the order they have chosen.

Ice Cream Nuns
There's nothing quite like a nice ice cream to cool down in the summer...

In the branches that make up the Benedictine tradition, nuns must vow to remain within a single monastic community.  This is known as the vow of stability.  They also take a vow of obedience and that is to a prioress or an abbess who leads the community.  Their third and final vow is one of “conversion for life” which does what it says on the cover.  It also included the ideas of chastity and poverty.  Incidentally, poverty does not mean starving yourself!  Chastity means exactly what it means!

More Beach Nuns
The beach may not be for everyone, but these nuns seem to be taking it all in their stride.

The Poor Clares live a cloistered vow and likewise take a three fold vow of poverty, chastity and obedience.  Most orders of nuns will follow the two patterns of vows now mentioned.  Some orders will take additional vows which are order specific and reflect that the work does in the community.  Other vows may concern their ‘devotion’, which is prayer for a specific purpose.

Tourist Nuns
Diggin' the shades, sisters!

Cloistered nuns live in convents which have walls and grilles separating the nuns from the world outside.  They will rarely leave, unless it is for medical reasons or for purposes which relate to their life of contemplation.  They may, however, have visitors and there is a space within the convent known as the parlor in which they meet outsiders.

Bicycle Nun
A nun waits for the traffic and gives a photographer the opportunity for a photo which shows juxtaposition between cultures.  On the one hand we have McDonalds and its culture of gluttony and that of the sister who has vowed to live a life of ‘poverty’ which will most certainly include not over-indulging.  One wonders which global brand will outlive the other!

Convents are usually self-sufficient.  Money is earned by selling whatever the nuns chose to make or grow.  There are some convents that make vestments for their own and other orders, Holy Communion bread and candles. 

Beach Bum Nuns
Something has grabbed the attention of these four nuns and as it is out of camera shot then it must be left to your imagination.  This photo, though, is begging for a caption of some sort.  Perhaps you could post your suggestions in the comment box at the end of this article.

There is, of course, a power structure within a convent (or monastery as they are sometimes called).  A nun who heads up a convent is known as an Abbess.  More specifically, they are almost universally known, thanks to Hollywood, as the Mother Superior.  The other nuns will call her ‘Reverend Mother’. 

Stoned Nuns
These nuns may be late for mass today.

Non Catholic churches, those that can claim direct descent from the resulting schism of the Reformation do have small monastic communities.  These tend to play a much smaller part in the practice of religion that in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.  In addition, although there are protestant monastic communes, they tend not be organized in to orders.

Surf’s Up Nuns
A group of nuns contemplate the ocean and its enormity while having their lunch al fresco.  Many people assume that nuns are not allowed to have fun.  While they are expected to fully live up to the expectations of their order and their vows, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!

Nuns have a peculiar history of portrayal within the media and Hollywood is no exception with many people taking their cue from the film world in terms of their attitude and knowledge of the nun.  Films have come and gone over the decades, with possibly the best known being “The Sound of Music” and the more recent “Sister Act”.  Although both portray nuns in a generally sympathetic manner, those within the ‘profession’ often find them risibly inaccurate.

Happy Nun
Nuns take vows of chastity, of course, but there is nothing to stop them from experiencing happiness at the sight of others.  After all, love in its physical manifestation is natural and good.  Here, a nun takes obvious delight in the sight of a young couple having a cuddle.

Other nun films include ‘Black Narcissus’ about a small group of nuns sent to open a convent in the Himalayas.  Beautifully and colorfully shot the film’s portrayal of nuns on the edge of reason gained it rave reviews on its release but the response from the church was muted.  Another is Nuns on the Run, which has Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid from the Harry Potter films) as a pair of small time crooks who disguise themselves as nuns to escape the mafia.  Some film types even call the whole genre of films concerning religious women ‘nunsploitation’.

A walk in to the sunset
Nuns continue to play an important role in the imagination of people across the world.  Whether this ancient form of religious observance can survive the twenty first century and the drive towards secularism has yet to be seen.  Perhaps the world would be a poorer place without the occasional sight of nuns having fun in the sun!
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