“When I began this project, I thought of nuns as always dour and serious.” So says Marcela Taboada in her beautiful photo-story “the Secret Lives of Mexican Nuns”. She quickly proves this wrong with her photos of cake-slice waving sisters, a habited exercise biker and a volley-ball playing Carmelite. Marcela spent three years photographing religious sisters in Mexico, and the finished article, found in November’s National Geographic, has a touch of Wes-Anderson-like absurdity and joy. I love these photos. Their striking, color-block elegance beautifully reflect the varied lives of the nuns and reminded me of the good times I have spent in the company of religious sisters. Though I learnt myself that their lives too were full of struggles, frustrations, paperwork and chores, they all had one thing in common; joy.
“I soon learned that they have fun. They laugh and dance, play cards and games. They listen to rock-and-roll. One nun I met is a big soccer fan. She’d watch TV and follow the teams she liked, praying for the players and jumping for joy when they won.”
I still remember the times I was in stitches over the pithy and on-the-spot jokes of a Mother Superior I met in London, and wishing I could aptly explain to others how much of a good time I had had with her. Religious sisters are so necessary in that they give to us a heightened example of how all our lives should be- a dedication and whole-hearted love for Christ. They are signposts to heaven. But simpler than that, they are friends, even if they are friends that we will never met. They are friends because they work for us in their prayer life. They do what those of us with spouses, children, studies and jobs cannot do. They pray for us. Its often been said that religious brothers and sisters, especially those who are contemplative, are the “lungs of the Church”. Their work is prayer and they pray for all our intentions, for the Church and the world. This prayer is vital! Yet while this analogy is great, we might forget occasionally that they too, have daily lives, loves and hopes.
“My aim with this series is to show the daily lives of people whose seclusion makes them invisible. I want everyone to see how alive they are, how human and feminine. Maybe one day their centuries-old way of life will be extinct. But it’s not yet.”
I’m so glad that both Marcela Taboada and National Geographic have given us a glimpse into their world and work, which although it may seem irrelevant in our modern times, becomes more and more vital in our increasingly fractured world. We need nuns and religious!
“Heavenly Father, in your wisdom you have called certain women and men to a life of special consecration so that in prayerful observance of a lifestyle of poverty, chaste celibacy and obedience, they might be witnesses to us that as St. Paul says, “our true citizenship is in heaven.” Give them, Lord, the grace of joy and perseverance in their holy vocation. We ask this through Christ, our Lord.”
Additional Resources on the Lives of Nuns
37 Photos that Prove that Catholic Nuns Live Boring Lives. Or not? Pope Francis explains the joy of giving one’s life to Christ and to the Catholic Church.