Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nuns! Everywhere!

Well, perhaps a bit of an overstatement, but not by much.  Over the course of the weekend I have seen more nuns that I would have seen in months back up north.  And not all of them at church, either (some, yes, which isn't terribly interesting, so I'll leave them out of my account).

One in particular struck me.  I was at the local produce market picking up milk (because it's cheapest there, which still isn't that cheap - oh how I miss Wisconsin in this respect - but if you think I'm going to pay $3.99 a gallon at the grocery store you're crazy) and a few other things when there, by the windows at the end of the checkout lanes was a little, wizened nun.  She wasn't dressed like the stereotypical nun - you know, with the long flowing habit and the wimple (the starched white things that frames the face and holds up the veil); rather, she was wearing the same garb as Meryl Streep in Doubt (here), but with a much less prominent bow and no glasses.  This little old nun was presiding over a table of baked goods, about which other residents of Hyde Park (my significant other, specifically) had informed me.  I would have stopped by, but I was in a bit of a hurry to do the rest of my shopping and then return home to get some work done, so I didn't pause.  "But," I found myself thinking as I walked home, "why?"

I have no doubt that they're excellent baked goods - if sisters are selling things, you know they're good, because they wouldn't sell them if they weren't.  There's just something about the nuns - at least, those who are still alive - that makes me think of hand-crafted works of art.  After all, nuns were the ones who used to be responsible for embrodering altar cloths and vestments.  They used to be - and in some places still are - the only ones allowed to bake the host used in Catholic Eucharist.  And in the Middle Ages, some prominent women like Hildegard of Bingen were responsible for great works of art, like the illumination to the right (it's from the Liber Divinorum Operum (A.D. 1165), one of the several books Hildegard wrote - you can see Hildegard herself in the lower left-hand corner).  So it's certainly not fears of quality that made my shy away from the little table at the produce market.

Are we - am I - apprehensive of nuns?  We've all heard about the horror stories of the nuns who taught in Catholic elementary schools across the country up to the last few decades of the previous century and some of them taught my mother, so I heard stories from her as well as from society in general.  (If you haven't heard the horror stories I'm referring to, watch Doubt - you'll get some idea at least.)  And the figures clad all in black, nothing but faces and hands visible from under their robes, do seem somewhat intimidating.  But I'm not unfamiliar with that sort of nun.  Perhaps it was the Meryl-Streep-like garb - the blinder-like bonnet, especially - which unsettled me.  Perhaps that I was hurried.  Perhaps I wasn't sure I wanted to be seen consorting with a nun in public (but why?).  Perhaps any number of things.  What is most likely - and what I realized eventually - is that I anticipated needing to spend the cash I had on hand on groceries at my other two stops that afternoon, and didn't want to go up to the table, look over the baked goods, and then leave without making a purchase.  Even if the reason were my own tightness of budget, it would look like I was unsatisfied with the goods being offered, which would be rude.  And you don't want to be rude to a nun - for all you know, she might have a big yardstick under her habit to whip out and beat you with.  And we wouldn't want that, would we?  No, Sister.

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