A Rolling Stone article on this emerging religious group — GetReligion
Those PR-loving, food-loving Valley Sisters are back. I’m sure this is shocking news (#NOT) for readers familiar with the history of this group.
Here is a flashback from GetReligion. Some journalists struggled in early happy discussion articles about this group to make it clear that these “sisters” were not, in fact, a progressive Catholic order. A classic piece inspired a blog post by Catholic deacon Greg Kandra — a CBS News pro in his career before he took to the altar — with this classic headline: “Newsweek, Go Home. You’re drunk. They are not nuns.”
We now have an update on the Sisters of the Valley in, logically enough, rolling stone. Here’s the two-story headline about it:
Our Ladies of Perpetual High
How a New Age order of feminist nuns is reinventing spiritual devotion and trying to heal the world – one joint at a time
Yes, some headline writers can’t resist “Notre Dame” jokes, which is unfortunate. However, the second part of this title is clear about the content of this feature, which helps readers know what is what and who is who. This clarity is what makes this story worth reading.
Before we get to that, let me remind readers of a key point from this “thinker” who ran here at GetReligion last weekend: “Two thoughts on changes in American religious life, with some political twists “. One of the pieces I recommended was an article by Rod “Live Not By Lies” Dreher pointing to a new explosion of information from the Pew Research Center team.
Forget politics for a moment. The title of Rod’s post — “Christianity Declines — But ‘Spirituality’ Doesn’t” – is what connects this Pew data to this new rolling stone characteristic. Dreher wants to note a resurgence of a trend that’s been around for decades (think “sheilaism”). Here is a key passage:
America continues its transition to its post-Christian reality. … One of the most interesting and unexpected developments is that in the United States relatively few of those people who stray from Christianity become atheists. Rather, they cobble together a bespoke DIY religion, designed just for them.
This brings us to the Sisters of the Valley. Here’s the colorful opening anecdote:
In the middle of California‘s Central Valley, in a modest milky blue house on an acre of farmland, lives a small group of nuns. They wear clothes and keep a set of vows, but when the door opens, it is clear that the Sisters of the Valley, as they are called, do not live in a traditional convent. Because the fragrance that emanates from it is unambiguous: it is the earthy and pungent smell of grass.
When we visited, five women were living in the house: Sister Kate, 62; Sister Sophie, 49; Sister Quinn, 25; and currently, Sr. Luna and Sr. Camilla, both 34 years old, from Mexico. Sister Kass, 29, lives off the property with her two children and her partner, brother Rudy, the collective’s crop director. On this sunny day, the house of the Sisters of the Valley is flooded with golden rays of light; a cream colored piano stands against the wall with an ashtray and seal placed on top. Sister Kate picks it up, lights it, and inhales thoughtfully as she sits down to play “America the Beautiful.” She uses a piano learning app filled with Christian songs and national anthems – the two genres of music she hates the most. But there’s an underlying motive: “Christian kids nearby have contests, so if I train a lot in a month, I can beat them,” she says with a hoarse laugh. “There is a certain satisfaction in beating Christian children.”
If you doubt me about the connection between this emerging faith and the Pew numbers, as interpreted by Dreher, consider the summary paragraph immediately following this introduction:
The Valley Sisters are not a religious organization, but an enclave of self-proclaimed sisters dedicated to spreading spirituality and selling cannabidiol healing products. “Listen, the average age of a new Catholic nun in America is 78,” says Sister Kate, founder of the sect, which has 22 sisters and eight brothers worldwide. “Christianity is dying all around us. What are people going to do? They need spirituality in their life; we need it for meaning. We are very spiritual beings walking a physical path, and that is why we will find ways to connect. And we are just one example. »
Correction: The Sisters of the Valley ARE a “religious organization”, but they are explicitly not a Catholic or even a Christian order. It is a new faith, but one that openly claims ancient roots.
What is going on? Let’s look at two more paragraphs which, to the Rolling Stone team’s credit, are much clearer than previous reports on this band (at least those I’ve seen):
According to Sister Kate, her downfall in nun began in 2011, when the Obama administration lost a fight to have the Department of Agriculture declassify pizza sauce as a portion of vegetables in school lunches. “I said, ‘Oh my God, if pizza is a vegetable, then I’m religious,'” she explains. Shortly after, when she was planning to go to an Occupy protest, her nephew reminded her of a nun costume she had in her closet and suggested she wear it. “When I protested with the Occupy movement dressed as a nun, people wanted me to organize in religion and I kept saying, ‘No, this is supposed to be crazy. It’s supposed to be a thumbs up to the establishment, that everything is broken in this country.
There are links in this story with an unorthodox Christian current (it would seem, in this context) called the Beguines. Again, there are explicit links to earlier currents of paganism.
You put that together and you get something new that can also claim to be something old. Sound familiar?
Let’s end with this passage, which is long, but essential. It connects all the dots.
A religious order that no longer exists, the Beguines date back to the Middle Ages. Due to a multitude of single women and a desire for spirituality, all-female groups found a way to live in devotion without officially joining a religious order. These women, who lived in community and supported themselves by making clothes or caring for the sick, insisted on living like Christ; they were spiritual, and some even delved into mysticism. “We’re not trying to romanticize the past, but there are things we love about it,” Sister Kate says. “It’s the way these women worked in harmony with nature that we try to emulate.”
Part of the Valley Sisters’ business plan is to dedicate their work and life to the cycles of the moon, which they believe to be what their ancient ancestors did. Their harvest ceremony, which takes place during a full moon, begins with a reading of the “Book of Beguines”, a pamphlet written by the enclave. “There is no ‘Book of Beguines'”, confesses Sister Kate. “They were all burned. We do our own readings. You have to imagine what our ancestors would have said, what they would have done and how they would have reacted to local political forces. Our closing prayer is from season four of game of thrones“, she says, laughing.
This is the ticket.
Read everything, then read Dreher’s article again and follow the links to the Pew Research issues. It is the spirit of the times.
FIRST IMAGE : Promotional photo featured on the Sisters of the Valley website.