The Expression of Longing
"Art, like prayer, is always the expression of longing," Sister Wendy Beckett once wrote. She has a knack for discerning the transcendent beauty of paintings ranging from the realistic portraits of the Renaissance to the ambiguities of modern art. There is no one else around who can as easily and perceptively ponder the spiritual dimensions of art.
An Extraordinary Guide to Art
Sister Wendy Beckett is an English hermit and art expert. In the 1990s she was featured in a BBC documentary series on art history. Beckett entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in1946 and graduated from Oxford University in 1953. She now lives in a Carmelite monastery where she leads a life of solitude and prayer, allotting two hours of work each day to earn her living.
Reflections on Saints
In this paperback, Sister Wendy reflects upon 14 popular saints portrayed in works of art that reveal their holiness and spiritual activities. She sees these artistic creations as ways in which God gives himself to us in art:
- In paintings on John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene, humility and surrender to God's presence are expressed.
- Looking at The Martyrdom of St. Agatha, we are aware of the dark clouds brought into our consciousness by shocking images of death such as this one.
- In the painting of St. Jerome in a Rocky Landscape, Sister Wendy Beckett sees him reveling in solitude and pondering the love of God.
- In Saint Francis Renounces His Earthly Father, Beckett picks up on a major theme in this popular saint's life: poverty.
- An oddity ends this brief journey with saints: a photograph taken of Therese of Lisieux when she was only eight years old. Looking into her face, Beckett writes:
"Therese sought truth and she grasped, as very few others have done, that it is only God who knows the complete truth. Neither family nor the closest of friends, nor we ourselves, really know the full truth of what we are and what we can be. The whole range of our weakness and of our strengths, the full weight of early experience and what it has made of us — all these factors are known only to God. Of all the saints, I feel St. Therese teaches us most surely about what it is to love."