January 18, 2021

The Insight of Nuns

By Chaplain Mike

Many years ago, I read an article about Bill Leslie, pastor of the inner city Lasalle St. Church in Chicago. This demanding ministry had brought him to a point of exhaustion. On the advice of a friend, he went to a nearby Catholic retreat center that the church had used and spoke to a nun known as a wise spiritual counselor.

Pastor Leslie had hit bottom. When asked for one word that described how he felt, he said, “Raped.” He also described feeling like an overused water pump. Everyone who walked by grabbed the handle and pumped. He was drained and dry.

Using the pump imagery, this kind sister helped him see that his pipe didn’t go deep enough into the reservoirs of God’s fullness. Because his own inner resources were not sufficient, his supply was quickly used up. She made reference to John 7, where Jesus says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”

Then she winked and said, “I guess what I’m really saying to you, Bill, is that you need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Wait! Isn’t that what an evangelical pastor is supposed to say to “heretical” Roman Catholics?

In Eugene Peterson’s memoir, he tells about a friendship he developed with a Carmelite nun, Sister Genevieve. An acquaintance had introduced them and they became friends. The pastor visited the monastery to learn about contemplative prayer, she visited the Peterson home for meals, and even came on occasion to stay with them in Montana when they were on vacation.

Sister Genevieve was one of many who reminded the pastor that spirituality is earthy. Once, when she suspected he was romanticizing her “holy” life of prayer and community, she responded by asking him if he found it hard to be married. When he admitted it was the hardest thing he had ever done, she replied, “How would you like to be married to thirteen women? Some of these nuns can be real bitches.”

In another conversation, we had been talking about the Lord’s Prayer. I interrupted the flow of conversation by saying, “Do you know the petition that I have the hardest time praying, entering into, knowing what I am praying?”

“Of course—’Deliver us from evil.'”

“How did you know that?”

“Oh, you Protestants. You are so naive about evil. You know everything about sin, but nothing about evil—the prevalence of evil, the persistence of evil especially in holy places, like this monastery—and like your congregation. The mystery of evil. You make cartoon characters out of evil so that you don’t have to deal with it in your own households and workplaces, crouching at the door every time you open it. Or else you deny it and label everything that is wrong with the world as a sin you can name and then take charge of getting rid of.”

• The Pastor: A Memoir, p. 229

Here’s one Protestant saying, “Ouch.” What is it about these nuns?


  1. Protestants need to shed the trappings of bad doctrine. Just like Catholics.

  2. I have been having some similar thoughts while going through “Practice of the Presence of GOD” with my Fri morning group (all protestant); we are slowly walking through the book, being led into a life of simple faith and “personal relationship with GOD” by our monastic friend, Bro Lawrence. He is also showing us how NOT to hold onto our sin, and the shame that goes with it.

    Not bad for a gimpy, wine guzzling kitchen monk-ee.

  3. “Sister Genevieve was one of many who reminded the pastor that spirituality is earthy.”

    Amazing insight.

  4. Some nuns (like in every other Christian sub-group) have a good deal of spiritual insight and wisdom.

    As a Lutheran Christian I am well aware that “the day is evil.” We speak in our corporate confession each Sunday at worship, that “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves”.

    I do know that I ought not look to myself and “my spirituality” to fight this battle.

    As Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God” so aptly states, “If in my own strength confide, my striving would be losing, I’m not the right man on my side, the man of God’s own choosing.”

    We are thankful for all faithful Christians, of whatever stripe, when they point people to Christ and His great love for sinners.


  5. Never doubt that the spirit works through women, despite our man-made structure.

  6. Paul Davis says

    Thus Saith Sister Mary Martha: ‘Life is Tough, Nuns are Tougher!’

    My wife and I have been blessed by meeting Nuns in our journey to the Catholic Church, in fact once a month we attend a bible study given by a hermitage Nun. I’ve done my share of bible studies over the years, and hers are simply the best.

    Nun’s are where it’s at!!!


    P.S. For a good daily humorous read, with an old fashioned dose of good common sense, I highly suggest looking up Sister Mary Martha. You will not be disappointed.

  7. One more Mike says

    Love that Peterson excerpt. Reminds me of this quote from W.H. Auden:
    “Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table.”
    Sister Genevieve was on to something.

  8. I wonder how many evangelicals are doing cart wheels in their grave to know that a Catholic Nun could offer a better perspective on Christianity. After all…I was taught and believed that Catholcis are not Christians nor saved.

    Ironic post…I wonder if some of the evangelicals I knew would be willing to say..”Yup we screwed the pooch bug time….in our description of Catholics”

  9. having been instructed by many nuns in my parochial school days, i must admit, the actual interaction with nuns during the impressionable years of my childhood do not match the more spiritually robust examples being given here…


    if you were to look thru the lens of children being raised in a very ‘cloistered’ religious environment, you would actually notice that nuns, no matter the style of habit worn, are really just regular people with faults, quirks, & even very obvious hypocritical behaviors misrepresenting Jesus as other professed Christians also do…

    same with priests or brothers. heck, the whole bunch simply consisting of flawed human beings with no special unction or shortcut to the divine than any other humble saint journeying along the narrow way…

    having moved from Roman Catholic to Evangelical Protestant faith expressions of various types, i can say this: no one has a corner on the market of Christian life-in-action. every one of the various faith expressions that claimed to have the added benefit of religious ‘rightness’ associated with its worship expression did not have an obvious greater percentage of saints-in-the-pew expressing Jesus to the least of these. in fact, the reverse has been my observation: the greater the claim to spiritual rightness & doctrinal purity, the worst forms of hypocrisy result…

    along the way i have encountered some saints more in tune with the spirit of God than others. and these saints i cannot state were of one particular faith expression or doctrinal variant. usually they are not as much interested in proclaiming a specific form of doctrinal purity as much as living out the reality of their relationship with God in such as way as to bring glory to Him. funny thing that. actually letting Jesus be expressed thru them to such a degree any doctrinal jot-and-tittle simply moved out-of-the way…

    yes, i am sensitive to the way one represents the God they claim allegiance to. clanging symbols have little musical pleasantness apart from their very specific use in a transfixing symphony. maybe the doctrinal protectors thinking themselves sufficient to divide bone from marrow & soul from spirit, but really, the Trinity is not expecting a vacancy anytime soon so such an appointment unavailable for the foreseeable future…

    • Amen. I have been back and forth from Catholic to Evangelical to Catholic and have found deeply spiritual and deeply disturbed in both places. The spiritual have a similar bent (refreshing, vibrant, resonant, simple and downright fun to be with) in every place. …..they will know you by your love, one for another.

  10. Joseph you said: “in fact, the reverse has been my observation: the greater the claim to spiritual rightness & doctrinal purity, the worst forms of hypocrisy result…” I agree 100% or more if I could! Spirituality IS earthy and messy and that is just not something most Christians want to wrestle with. It’s not a science that we can dissect and figure out all the whys and wherefores. The older I get, the more I realize that to try to understand God leads nowhere. He is who He is and that’s all I can grasp. The quest for absolute doctrinal purity, in my mind, is simply an attempt to envision God as a being like us only bigger and stronger, a being we can fully understand and, therefore, control.

  11. cermak_rd says

    “Evil is Alive and Well” is the title of a Jakob Dylan song. Evil is alive and will be alive as long as mankind is alive. It comes into the world with every birth just the same as goodness does. Both impulses likely helped our ancestors survive at times in the distant past.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    “You make cartoon characters out of evil so that you don’t have to deal with it in your own households and workplaces, crouching at the door every time you open it.”

    Well, that explains lame & bombastic Romanian Robert Redfords…

    “Or else you deny it and label everything that is wrong with the world as a sin you can name and then take charge of getting rid of.”

    And that explains The Culture Wars — or should I say Witchfinders-General?

  13. Ten Fingerpuppet Sisters

    Minute figurines,
    Decked in black and white,
    Rest in a row
    Atop an old rummage sale mirror.

    Sister Dechantel,
    Sister Margarita,
    Sister Catherine Thomas,
    Marilyn, Joyce and Patricia

    Sister Peggy
    Who, in eighth grade,
    Took us all to Wyoming,
    Taught us to climb mountains.
    Said I looked darn good
    In my brushed denim suit.

    Ancient Euthele
    Who was pleasantly surprised
    When three of us pulled out rosaries
    From our sweater pockets.

    Mary Anthony-
    A tiny woman
    With an enormous mind,
    Theology Du-Jour was her culinary forte.
    We eagerly devoured.

    But Oh, Sister Shirley
    Who, in a dimly lit room,
    Before I embarked
    On official confessions,
    Cajoled my secret out of me
    And held me tight and gentle
    As the flood of tears
    Broke my youthful and lonely prison
    Washed me out of my closet,
    She whispered in my ear,
    “Your’s is a gift
    to love in a special way.”
    She saved my solitude
    From alienation
    And thousands of dollars
    To some future analyst.
    One moment in her robust arms
    And God became forever
    A Woman…

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