The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence all over the world originate from common spiritual roots; we act and are perceived as spiritual inspiration as well as we assist others to act in a spiritual way. This sometimes confuses some members of the worldwide Order; in this article of my IMHO (“in my humble opinion”) column, I would like to take a closer look into some major aspects of spirituality among our work as and emotions of being a Sister.
The ideas of the Radical Faeries to redefine queer identity through spirituality and to constantly reconsider personal development seem to have influenced the Sisters strongly during and after their first appearance in 1979. The origin of the Sisters would not have been the same without the aspect of spirituality; the idea of queer nuns not focussed on a religious community but spiritually dedicated to a queer community, in my humble opinion, was the key to success of our movement.
From the very beginning the Sisters (just as the Radical faeries) ignored religious uniformity but did not throw their spiritual facets overboard. Thus we practiced (and a lot still practice) all the spiritual things without being attached to religious commandment: We meditate and we pray in order to come to a deeper understanding about our own development and about the nature of the world. Thus, we chose to take a more philosophical than esoterical or religious approach to explore the things beyond our normal perception.
Some people – and a lot of Sisters as well – consider spirituality a weaker or different form of religiousness; they believe that being un-religious has to consequently mean to be un-spiritual as well, but these people overlook the fact that every person on earth acts spiritually every day. We all wish each other luck for certain days or tasks, we all congratulate each other for certain achievements and we all (well, most of us) support each other with small gestures of compassion and help. All these acts are done in order to assist others in their wellbeing and the development of their lives and well-being. In my humble opinion, helping somebody automatically is spiritual work, because it supports the other to continue on the path through life and to explore the(ir) world; we consider everyone entitled to receive help to not only let their bodies function, but with helping them, we support that they can continue to think, to fantasize, to dream, to love and to feel. Helping others to continue to develop themselves and to feel emotions cannot be un-spiritual.
From the very day I joined the Sister I met a phenomenon among our Order which I would like to address as “militant non-spirituality”; quite some Sisters object and refuse all spiritual aspects of our work just as some former smokers will turn into militant non-smokers after they quit smoking. This naïve fallacy does not change anything, because in my opinion, we act in a spiritual way even if we consider ourselves un-spiritual. As we help others, they automatically will see in us spiritual (not religious) support; how could they not as we support them that they can further on explore themselves and the world.
The habit we all chose for our work usually is perceived as spiritual as well. There is a reason why we all decide to wear nunish outfits: Energy. Our habit and all the feelings of those seeing us in wearing it are full of power and can change lives. With wearing our habit and helping the community members, in my humble opinion, we touch people in their very heart and soul and innermost emotions.
In addition, I made the experience that the Queer Community considers us idols; they sometimes iconify us, but they always see us as role models for social behaviour, communication and beneficial work.
Regardless of what we feel or think: I feel we do spiritual work.
Although we consider our Order to be un-religious, we have a lot of Sisters privately practicing a religion among us; this has influence upon us. I always found those “religious Sisters” very correct in exploring how to differentiate between their private belief and the spirituality of our work. Sometimes I learned of Sisters who feel torn apart between their religious doctrine and their Sister identity; two of them told me that bearing this is the price they pay for the community and their own inner development.
Besides the “religious Sisters” we have much more things in the Order that often are considered “pseudo religious”: We do blessings, we form energy circles, we perform ceremonies (some of them with elements the Radical Faeries still conduct) and we speak prayers. But all this is not religion; it cannot be as those things differ strongly from country to country, city to city, convent to convent. These are ritualistic traditions serving two main purposes: First to give ourselves stability, second to be compassionate with the feelings we might touch by acting like we do. We all have our own private rituals (e.g. always eating the same sort of marmalade, taking a nap on the sofa at noon or jacking off before sleeping) and a lot of those are just because we feel better, perhaps more comfortable, doing them; why shouldn’t we then give ourselves let’s-have-a-good-time-rituals while working as a Sister? All those traditions perceived as “religious” are just things that help us, not to lose our hopes and strength and perhaps even our wits while helping others; our rituals help us to endure this that other beneficial workers would not be able to sustain.
A quite popular tradition is “The (Great) Goddess”; all the Sisters that “serve the (Great) Goddess” told me that they do not follow a religious figure or idol, but the Goddess is more a symbol for the spirituality in our work and for the common things that all Sisters share. In contrary to Christian followers the Goddess is not considered a god-like entity, but a summation of all the spiritual aspects of our work. Some Sisters like to speak of the Goddess as the blend of all the ethical correct ideals we should try to realize in life.
One reason so many are so comfortable with our own Sister-rituals is that we also enjoy being able to create traditions instead of following those who we cannot influence. In a religious order you have no hope to be creative on your own and create ceremonies, but being a Sister gives you this opportunity. This is an aspect of our work that not only benefits us but also the community as they get the feeling that there are “queer nuns” who create and offer them tailor-made, queer traditions instead of religious, redlining rituals from ages ago.
When thinking and speaking of “Sister spirituality” we obviously cannot deny that, in my humble opinion, all the members of our Order, deliberately or not, act and are perceived in a spiritual way. Disconnecting the spiritual aspects of our work, in my humble opinion, can and often will cause problems with and within a Sister identity. In the long run, the community members might (and - as I observed this – will) feel, if a Sister dismisses an integral part of their work; those Sisters might be appreciated for their sole deeds, but not for their (com)passion and their ability to connect in an emotional way.
This article has been edited as the first version was perceived as offensive by some fellow Sisters. I regret that this article caused distress, but would like to point out that I wrote from my heart and in the perspective which gave this column finally a name: In My Humble Opinion.