Sister Wendy saw television as “a way to tell people about God”

Sister Wendy Beckett poses with a fan during a book signing at St Pauls bookshop in London in 2011.

CNS photo/Jo-Anne Rowney, courtesy of St. Pauls Bookshop)

According to publisher and author Robert Ellsberg, art critic and hermit Sr Wendy Beckett saw her popular 1990s television series as a coded way of telling people about God.

In a Tablet webinar Ellsberg spoke about his friendship and his long correspondence with Sr Wendy between 2016 and her death in December 2018, which is published under the title, Dear Sister Wendy: A Surprising Story of Faith and Friendship by Orbis Books.

He explained that she doesn’t see her television appearances as an opportunity to be famous or well-known.

“She felt she had this amazing opportunity through art, to talk to people; trying to open people’s eyes to the source of beauty. She felt that it was really a kind of coded way of talking about God to people who didn’t know that language, waking them up to the idea that there is a deeper dimension, a deeper underlying meaning. , if only we could look at it with the eyes of the love she brought to art. She often said that heaven is here, if only we could see it.

Ellsberg is editor of Orbis Books and worked closely with Dorothy Day early in her career. He is also the son of Daniel Ellsberg, who played a crucial role in the Watergate affair.

He described the elderly consecrated virgin and hermit who lived within the grounds of the monastery of the Carmelite community of Quidenham as “remarkably insightful” regarding the opposition Pope Francis has faced from parts of the Church .

She had “a deep sense of trust in the Holy Spirit in the Church and people of God” and she saw opposition to Pope Francis as the counterpart of those antagonists of the Gospel who were offended or scandalized by the mercy and tenderness of Jesus towards sinners and strangers.

“Meanwhile, we were cheering him on [Pope Francis] continued our prayers, but I also wrote her letters regularly to tell her about the books we [Orbis] published and how much his ministry meant to me. Although he received no response, Sr. Wendy urged him to continue sending the letters to the pope, telling Ellsberg that he may never receive them, but your prayers, your intentions will surely be very significant to him. “In the book’s epilogue, I mention that among the things that happened right after his death, I finally got an answer from [Pope Francis].”

On human sexuality, she told him that the attitudes of the Church are still those of past centuries when the mystery of what it means to be a sexual creature was not understood. “She was pretty bold in her thinking about that stuff,” Ellsberg said.

Her non-judgmental attitude regarding her divorce was a turning point in their relationship.

He also noted that most articles about Sr Wendy have focused on the fact that in her television programs she was not afraid to comment on the human body. “It irked her a bit because it reflected people’s prejudices and stereotypes about a prudish nun who shouldn’t know anything about sex.”

“She was shocked by the kind of subtext [in the Church’s attitude] this [human sexuality] was wrapped up in sin and that there was something ugly and terrible and dangerous about it. She instinctively felt that it was something that was part of God’s creation and could be abused, but there was a goodness in it and it wasn’t something dirty or mean or fraught with danger.

She felt that the obsession with sex, as an embodiment of sin and a source of guilt, was misplaced.

He said there was “another worldliness, an innocence, about Sr. Wendy. She did not see the world through the prism of fear, guilt or judgment, but through the freedom, mercy and love of God. It was just the air she breathed.

The webinar was part of the Tablet Autumn Festival. More details on past and upcoming events here.

Read Robert Ellsberg on the letters that reveal what was written on the altar of Sister Wendy’s heart.