Five golden rings: The first five books of the Old Testament On today, the Feast of the Holy Family, the New York Times brings us a story straight out of Bethlehem –Connecticut, that is. Mother Dolores Hart, 68, is the prioress at the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a Benedictine Community in western Connecticut. Under her leadership, the monastery of contemplative women has embraced various art forms – from theater to song to architecture – that has inspired not only the Benedictines, but also those who are touched by their work. Hart is no typical nun, if there is such a thing. In her youth, she was a famous actress who, among other accomplishments, once shared an on-screen kiss with Elvis Presley. Apparently not swayed by Elvis’ gyrating hips or Hollywood’s glitz, she entered the monastery in 1963 at the age of 24. But for Hart, the drama did not end there. She has continued to use her interest in the arts to draw people into richer spiritual lives.
“God isn’t a whiskered old man” she said. “He’s alive and can be experienced in things that move us to feel love or beauty. That’s why we use the arts as a form of prayer, and then try to share those prayers with other people.”
“Like the theater, the monastery gives people a different view of life and inspires them to come alive, to fully live their story.” So on this fifth day of Christmas, mindful of the stories of Adam, Abraham and Moses found in the Pentateuch, I have been remembering one of my first experiences with spiritual art. My earliest recollection of Moses comes from the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments, which I watched in religious education class. At the time, I was too unsophisticated to understand that I was watching a dramatic re-enactment of the biblical event and not a documentary. And perhaps because I saw it when I was so young, the movie has remained in my memory as a marvelous moment, a larger-than-life story. The depiction of Moses and the Israelites in film did not diminish God’s power; it made God grander than I had ever imagined. That growth was only possible through the creativity of artists who dared to use a new medium (and some cutting-edge special effects) to teach about religion. Hart said “Music and the arts help people come alive. They lift people’s minds and spirits, and in that enlightened state, help people find God.” And if along the way, some hunky movie stars need to be kissed, so be it.
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