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Sister Wendy, My Semi-Spiritual Guide

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I'm not a particularly spiritual person. OK, fine. I'm not actually spiritual at all. That said, I do try to be a good person, you know, in general. (Except that I tend to judge people. A lot. But at least I admit it, right?)

Anyway, that's totally not the point of this. The point is I'm not spiritual. I'm a twenty-something female living in New York and I work in fashion. I probably read too much Gawker and I think that there is a whole lot going on in this world that is just not right. I'm cynical and I rely heavily on the use of sarcasm. I spend too much of my paycheck on clothes, food, and drinking, and while I give the occasional homeless person the occasional five-dollar bill, I don't do much else for the betterment of my inner self, let alone humanity. Although, I did spend most Thanksgivings in college cooking and handing out turkey dinners to the homeless hanging out around Port Authority! (In the interest of disclosure, I am Canadian, so I was pretty much the only person on campus and really, it was better than eating hot-pot ramen by myself in my dorm room. But I digress.)

The point? I once did a semi-spiritual post on Eckhart Tolle. And by semi-spiritual, I mean, I realized, publicly, that The Power of Now was not for me. Apparently, that struck a chord and the all-seeing, all-knowing entity that is The Huffington Post has given me both a challenge and a follow-up opportunity: To publicly embark on a spiritual journey*. (Translation: It's kind of like a live-blog! Of my soul.)

And to be honest, I had no idea where to start. Everything seemed a bit daunting, and a bit too, well, religious. And then I heard that Sister Wendy was in town. And by "in town" I mean stateside, and talking! And if you don't know who Sister Wendy is, here is a crash course:

Sister Wendy is the most adorable old lady on the face of the planet (see photo). She's also a nun. And not just any nun! She's a Consecrated Virgin nun. (Not that I know what that means, but it sounds very important and most definitely deserving of Capital Letters.) She's also a genius art historian who graduated from Oxford and has this video series through BBC and PBS in which she goes to museums and talks about art. She's written a few books, but her most recent (and the reason for her visit) is Sister Wendy on Prayer. Oh, and did I mention she's taken a vow of solitude?

(And if you're at all confused about how a Consecrated Virgin who has taken a vow of solitude can have a video series and/or a book and/or participate in a press tour, I'll get to that a bit later.)

But in the meantime, back to me: I decided that if I was going to be a Spiritual Journalist (Get it? Spiritual Journey? And I'm writing about it? No? Okay.), I was going to need a Spiritual Guide. Or at least someone to get me started. And if you don't know Sister Wendy, you might be wondering why a heathen such as myself would choose to start with such a devoted representative of the Catholic Church, of all things. Well, this interview is going to thoroughly enlighten you. Also: I read that Sister Wendy liked a sip of Bailey's here and there, so in that sense, she seemed right up my alley! (More disclosure: I was raised Catholic, and even went to a Christian camp or four, but only for the boys, so, for me, this did seem like a more palatable way to start.)

*Author's Note: I, in no way, mean to imply that I will actually get anywhere on this spiritual journey. Author is not accountable for any non-spiritual and/or poor moral choices made over the course of the journey. Also: expect some mockery and judgment. (Except not of Sister Wendy. She's too cute. And a nun.)

And thus, I bring to you: Part I of My Spiritual Journey, in which I interview Sister Wendy and she makes me feel like a better person for it.

This is Sister Wendy.

Hi Sister Wendy. This is Verena von Pfetten from-

I know who this is. They told me you'd be calling.

Oh...well, thanks for taking the time to speak to me!

Thank you for wanting to speak to me about the book, because it's very important to me.

Well... I haven't actually read the book. But I like the idea!

Dear me, I wish you'd read the book. Then you could ask me why I said something or other on page 97 and how page 32 really speaks to you.

I know! I'm sorry. I really plan on reading it. I have some questions in the meantime. Do you believe there is a difference between "Being Spiritual" and "Being Religious"? Is one better than the other? I was raised Catholic...

No. Well, there is technically a difference in that you can be religious and go through all the duties and particularities of religion and still never reach beyond the surface. Religion is a means to an end; it's not the end. God is the end. Religion is a scaffold that, I think, we are very foolish to discard. But it should never become over-important. It keeps us open to God - we spring from religion to god. It's a springboard.

I think people sometimes say, "I was raised"...they've only been given the bones of their religion. They've never really been taken into the depths of the religion. It comes from within, not without. It's profound. Once you've experienced it, you can never fall away. It's like two plus two makes four. It's an absolute. My book is all about believing that God loves you and trusting your ability to find his peace.

How do you pray?

I go about it as I think everyone should go about it. I look to God and let him love me. Prayer is God's business, not everyone's business. That's where mistakes are made: people think they're responsible. Just be quiet and let God draw you into his peace.

What do you recommend for someone, like me, who wants to strengthen their spiritual life?

Give it some time. I usually just say to people: Start with ten minutes every morning.

Your description of prayer makes it seem a little like meditation. Would you agree?

It is meditation, but it's meditation without any rules or conflicts. Just asking God to be with you for the day. Then look back on the day and say, where did I miss God? He was coming to me when I was in the car and I was so angry at the other drivers. I should have been praying for the other drivers. Like that. And then you start the next day wanting to do better.

You've spoken out about gay marriage. How do you balance what you believe with what you have sworn to uphold?

I believe in loyalty. We should respect our church, but never believe that the church has the last word. The church is saying "this", but I believe that sooner or later "this" will change. "This" is not the mind of our Lord. God is all love. It's a delicate balancing thing. The Church has changed it's position over the years, and because the spirit is with the Church, in the end the Church will always get it right. But in the end. The spirit of the Church is the meaning of love, which hasn't yet, perhaps, been fully understood.


You obviously have a love for art. What is art to you? How would you define it? Is it just paintings, or is it music...


I live in silence, so if I were to be sacrificing something, it would be music. I'm not going to dilute [silence], even with music. For some people though, music is hearing the love of God. I had a discussion in school once. We were asked what piece of art has most lifted you to think of heaven. I was still sort of baffled, thinking of this. The other member of the team, and Episcopalian vicar said, "I can't think of any art, but I do think of music." So, music is art. Not for me because it's something I've sacrificed. Literature as well. Poetry.

Is there a particular piece that you can think of now that inspired you?

No, I don't really think so. When I realized that one could talk about the beauty of art and so show people the beauty of God without using a word that might frighten them...People that don't believe in God are in contact with him when they are looking at him, at beauty. God is found in all art. Ballet dancing, hunting scenes, Carraveggios. Wherever you've got this great power of beauty, you've got God.

You've taken a vow of solitude. Is it jarring for you to spend so much of your life in solitude, and then to have these "press tours" where you have to speak to people like me?

I wouldn't say it's jarring, but it's difficult. I don't even speak to the other sisters. I really do live in silence. But I think if there is something one wants to share with people, then one has to speak with delightful people like you. You are going to draw people to read the book, in which I have painfully put so much of myself. My desire is that the book will set them free. I'd love it if people read the book and said, "I've been praying this whole time, I just didn't know it."

On that note, I'm just starting out on this sort of spiritual journey. And I'm going to be writing about it. Any words of advice?

Wait until you've read [the book] fully. Spirituality must be something that resounds within you. We can't get spirituality from someone else. Advice is one thing, but I think - and I try to make this clear in my book - as adult Christians, we have to take responsibility for ourselves. We can't have anyone telling us how to relate to God.

We find what we desire. The real question is always: What do you want? You will get what you want. And if you want God, you will certainly find him. Though it may not be in the ways you would expect or like, but you will find him. So I would say, if this were a search for God, conducted, as it were, in public, in the print medium, your struggle is to work within the realities of your life, and look for God within it, not without it, and that will inspire people to do exactly the same. This is a wonderful opportunity you've got. God bless you.

Check back every Wednesday for updates on the Spiritual Journey of Verena von Pfetten.

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