Dominican Sisters on Oprah


Novices in chapel, observed by Oprah’s crew

The Dominican Sisters of Mary will be featured on Oprah Winfrey’s show tomorrow, and the gals were kind enough to send along an exclusive picture from the crew’s visit to their Ann Arbor Motherhouse. They have more pictures here.

A peek at her teaser for the Tuesday show (H/T the Deac) indicates that the Sisters will share the hour with a look at the “the word’s only Western Geisha.” One serves God and thereby all of humanity, one serves a single man and makes him feel like a god. I don’t think that Ms. Winfrey meant to make it sound like a carnival barker selling a “freak” show.

I guess Oprah’s “theme” here is that two rather “secret” lives are being looked into, but I do wonder at the mindset that puts Consecrated religious and Geisha on the same footing. Either one of these subjects could easily fill an hour’s worth of television, and by reducing them to 23 minute overviews, both features promise to be as penetrating as prop knives; superficial, shallow and sensationalistic.

But then again, I’m not an Oprah (or daytime tv) viewer, so perhaps that is par for the course?

What disappoints about the teaser is something that consistently disappoints on those rare occasion when news people talk with Christian religious: the interviewers are so hung up on sex, and so lacking in imagination or depth of thought, that it is the first thing they talk about, and an issue the cannot seem to get past: “you give up sex? How do you not have sex? What about sex?” It is literally the first thing Oprah brings up in her teaser: “they’re young, and gave up sex! careers! and children!” Note the emphasis. And the priority.

They never harangue Buddhist monks and nuns about celibacy, or call the Dalai Lama “hung up” about it. But when talking to Christian religious, it’s all they’ve got. I recall an “insider” visit Diane Sawyer made to the Poor Clare Nuns of Roswell, New Mexico, where she confronted 700 years of mystery and monasticism, tradition, sacrifice and silence, and all she seemed capable of talking about was “no sex? How can you not have sex?”

The inability of these people to get beyond the corporeal and into the spiritual bespeaks a discomfort with depth, an unwillingness to consider all they do not know as anything but “oddball.” That is ironic, when they purport to be broad-minded sorts. Their opportunism sees an interesting topic to exploit for “sweeps” week, but their imagination has perhaps been stunted by forty years of hearing that sex is the be-all-and-end-all-of human reality and happiness, and their curiosity extends only far enough to get a few pictures and soundbites (and a “gotcha” if you can manage it), because in their conflicted worldview, religion is both too boring and too provocative for their viewing audience to endure.

It’s sad, isn’t it? The reason I don’t watch daytime television is because it is generally insipid and brain-killing. The cheap emphasis on trends, “instant” solutions to real problems and the over-reliance on sex as a subject and selling point can only serve to delude people into thinking that “the world” has all of the answers -that as long as they are reading a particular book, using a particular product, watching a particular show or espousing a particular mindset, they are progressing toward their happy-place. But they can never get there because every week the happy-place is redefined; the paths are changed, the next enlightened counselor, psychic or charlatan is the guy or gal who can tell you how to make your life perfect and achieve “inner peace” and ten-minute orgasms, by simply taking their vague advice.

You never hear one of these daytime-answer folk say that life is hard, and often unfair, and that sometimes the best way to deal with it all is to just buck up, stop whining, stop thinking about yourself, and go do something productive for someone else; find something greater than yourself in which to expend some energy, and much of your real or imagined grievances will fade away.

Take away the complaint, ‘I have been harmed,’ and the harm is taken away.
— Marcus Aurelius

We have have had four decades of incessant sex-chat, sex-counseling and sex-advice, particularly in daytime television, and -if the constant arrival of new (or newly discovered “ancient”) sex theories being foisted on the public is any indication- people are still grasping in the dark, and coming up empty. This indicates to me that all this talk has meant less-than-nothing, and that most people are still not having great sex.

The truth is, if your sex life is great, then you don’t need to talk about it all the time. Just as a bride who is insecure about the strength of her marriage may overdo the gushing and “protest too much” that she and her husband are “solid,” the person (or the society) needing to go on and on about sex is the person (or the society) that is insecure and unsettled about it.

I suspect much of that comes from our losing sight of sex as something more than a recreational entitlement, wholly detached from meaning beyond the moment. Lovemaking is sacred. The co-creative function that drives it so powerfully is Holy, and because it is Holy, it is wrapped in mystery, as well. Society has lost touch with that notion because it has so fully detached sex from procreation, and the politico-socio zeitgeist has demanded that all sex be “freed” from the religious perspective, which can only be “restrictive” and “limiting.” And here we are.

We have a very odd notion, really, of what makes us free, anymore. Sex that lives in fear of life, that must be protected from disease, that exposes the human body to degradation, the human heart to constant shielding and the human spirit to constant uncertainty, is not sex that makes us free. It is sex that entraps us, distracts us and ultimately makes us strangers to ourselves.

I believe that the Holy Spirit uses the most surprising people and circumstances to work toward God’s purpose, and that most of the time the purpose goes far beyond our imaginings. So, I am very hopeful that the net result of Oprah’s look at apostolic women religious will be a positive in the obvious way -that women who have had little exposure to this option might find themselves attracted enough to be open to the workings of grace.

But I am also hopeful
that there will be a less-obvious benefit as well: that the show may get some people to wondering what else they might be missing while they’re obsessing on the trendy, the sensational, the sexually-titillating; that they may find themselves inspired to turn away from the superficial, and go deeper.

Margaret Cabaniss links and adds the hopes of the sisters.

Related:
John Paul II’s Theology of the Body
Fr. Dwight Longenecker: Some thoughts on moral theology


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