Sister Lauren has rosy cheeks and a shock of red hair. Sometimes wisps of it escape from under her white veil, which she began wearing at the age of 22 after her Clothing Ceremony at a monastery in Summit, New Jersey. A year earlier, when she was still in college and living a fulfilling life outside of the church, she experienced a calling: she wanted to devote her life to God.
According to Radical Love, a new book of photos taken by photographer Toni Greaves, Lauren’s calling was in keeping with the technologies of her generation. Writes Greaves: “She felt called to religious life and, after hearing God propose to her via a song on YouTube, has chosen to live her life as a cloistered nun.”
So, at 21, she committed to living in a monastic community with a strong sense of kinship, an emphasis on study, and strict rules for observance -- for example, one member of the community must be praying at all times.
Greaves began documenting Lauren’s spiritual journey just three weeks after it began, and continued throughout the next seven years, during which Lauren underwent a number of rituals of increasing import, sealing her relationship to the church. The first was the Clothing Ceremony, during which she chose a new name -- Sister Maria Theresa of the Sacred Heart.
While these landmark events are captured with tenderness in Greaves' series, it’s the daily happenings of the monastery that are especially moving. In one image, one of the community’s oldest residents laughs boisterously at a dinner. In another, Sister Maria Theresa of the Sacred Heart trains the monastery’s dog during her recreation time. It’s this blend of mundanity and spiritual reverence that makes Greave’s collection a moving one. For each framed photo of the Pope, there's an action shot of the nuns playing in the snow or gathered around a guitar player to sing a song.
Perhaps this collection of both meaningful and quotidian events is what lead Greaves to title the series "Radical Love," and to write in the introduction of the book with the same name, "her path from layperson to nun follows stages that many compare to a love story out in 'the World.'"
Images from Radical Love by Toni Greaves, published by Chronicle Books 2015.
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