The Nuns and the Preachers.
I mentioned a few weeks ago on facebook that I am reading this wonderful book by Jennifer Worth called “Tales From a Midwife” and over the weekend something about the book struck a chord with me, I hope that you don’t mind me sharing.
The book is a real life memoir about Jennifer as a young midwife practicing in London’s East End during the 1950’s. The city was still suffering from the after effects of the second world war which, having only finished five-15 years earlier had left thousands homeless and put an additional strain on the bug-infested tenement homes of the Poplars estate. London in the 1950’s was very much a have and have not’s kind of place and the East End was the rough part of town. You may also recall that the Kray brothers frequented those parts during this period in history and reading the book you see that their outrageous antics were not unique as with poverty and overcrowding running rife the black market was thriving and violence was as common as that jovial cockney spirit.
Anyway, the young nurse Jennifer found herself based at a Midwifery practice run by the local nuns – a common practice in those times as historically it had been either the church (via nuns) or other women that had attended births. Having always had a free-form way of looking at religion (concepts and philosophies sit better with me than ‘labels’) I had always assumed that nuns were mostly just cooped up in prayer or scrubbing floors and other hard surfaces (I guess that I thought that hard, manual labour would be the thing to do in an abbey or maybe that’s what they did in The Sound of Music) , only venturing out to do a bit of teaching or fund-raising. This book woke me up to myself and made me feel more than a tad ignorant and judgemental. It was the realization of the value of a nun’s life that led me to my current thinking.
You see there are nuns and there are preachers.
The nuns are there, in the thick of things waking up early to perform their religious duties before spending long days out in the ‘field’ caring for the local people. The work that these devoted women did was tough both mentally and physically, they were the councilors, the cleaners, the social workers, the nurses and the spiritual leaders of the people. They were held with great respect and affection and they deserved it for their work was carried out with selfless devotion. They just got on with it and that’s what made me think about the preachers….
My mind wandered off to events of earlier in the week when a few things got me wound up and I realized that one of the problems with the world today is that there are too many preachers and no enough nuns. Not wanting to be struck down by the wrath of any holy men I wish to state that the preacher in my mind was the rhetoric loving, big picture, voice-on-a-stick type of character that we all have to play sometimes. The kind of person that says ‘to hell (sorry) with the detail, THIS is the BIG picture’. The person who delegates everything because they can and walks away, clean of hands and bright of smile. Have you ever been THAT person? I think that I have…..
In my mind we are in need of more nuns and less preachers. We all agree on what should be done, the big picture is there for all to see but we now just need people to do it. But before you think that to be a nun is to have unwavering devotion and unquestioning minds think again, the nuns in Jennifer’s book are full of passion, ideas and rebellion. They are not afraid to challenge the status quo, to listen and adapt both themselves and their methods to new situations and they are not afraid to be wrong. They just roll up their sleeves and take responsibility for their actions and that is what we need more of.
So next time I feel a sermon coming on I’m going to resist that urge as the time for rhetoric has passed.
N.B: Just to fill you in on my thinking (if you are interesed) these thoughts came to me after reading endless circular comments about the dangers of cosmetic products and the fact that the industry is untrustworthy and full of charlitans. In plain English and in relation to cosmetic safety I feel that it is time to encourage a more purposeful and self-effacing approach to thought leadership. So, using science (as a philosophy) as our faith and applied knowledge as our tools we should work among the people to first understand the concerns raised before empowering and supporting them to arrive at a conclusion that is right for their situation. We need to remain open to the possibility that that may take us outside of our comfort zone and may even result in a change or shift in our opinions.
Isn’t that what life is all about?