So, there I was . . . in the beauty department of Shoppers Drug Mart, taking a brief hiatus from the monastic life. After facing off with a small, but diversified selection of nail polish, I found myself like a child consumer again growing obsessively attached to this cheap, tiny bottle of sparkling hot pink paint. It had blue and red flecks in it which weirdly excited and comforted me. As I held the product in my hand, contemplating if it’s worth the cost, I think I experienced some sort of unassertive shift in consciousness. In writing this blogpost, I am attempting to unpack the inward significance of my presently varnished fingernails.
For me, the fact that I started wearing glittery nail polish and have been listening to pop music more than ever is curious and unusual, especially now that I live in a convent. You see, over the years, I have built up an all-black capsule wardrobe and never publicly professed – or even openly admitted to myself for that matter – my frequent fondness for top 40 radio. I’m sure it’s commonly thought that someone in my situation would (or should) grow more distant from worldly “trappings” like these. It appears, however, that the steady religious life is helping me discover a more spirited side of my personality.
When I was a kid, I used to believe I had to completely deny myself – jokes, boyfriends, dreams, and all – to get into heaven. My thinking was: We live in a sin-filled, fallen world, so anything widely pleasurable must be bad. As I got older, a feeling of shame and a sense of weakness grew with me. Too often it felt like my faith was taking away from my humanity, which is the reason why being a Christian was sometimes a miserable experience for me. I still struggle to reconcile my personal desires and material needs with biblical literature. Only a couple of days ago, however, as I was reading The Rule of Benedict: Insight for the Ages by Joan Chittister, I got some much-needed reassurance. “The development of spiritual life,” she said, “does not depend on suppression of beauty or destruction of the self.”
As I write we are in the third week of Advent. The readings we hear around the lighting of the third candle in the Advent wreath invite us to rejoice in our relationships with God. I feel blessed to be able to experience holy emotions like Joy, not only when anticipating the birth of Jesus, but also when I play a topical dance-floor hit in my bedroom or walk past creative store window displays on Bloor Street. My eyes and heart behold divine beauty in places where God is not obviously found.
Every day, I am gradually growing closer to my view of God as Redeemer and Creator. This has given me the freedom to live out the weekly themes of the Advent season all year round. With my new-found awareness, God has renewed in me a spirit of joy, that I may celebrate His love and understanding with a greater range of people. When I was moving in fast-paced modern society, I had this tendency to judge things I had no empathy for. Now, as I live out my Christian faith more intentionally, I’m beginning to accept that everyone reacts to life’s quotidian details and prepossessing spectacles differently. In other words, I’m developing a deeper respect for creation as an expression of God. And I enjoy discerning Christ in the whole mess of human life!
From where I stand, the glamourous trimmings of life on earth are fun and worth appreciating, because, in one form or another, God is always in the mix.
By A. Samuel, SSJD Companion