Sister Wendy and the Art of the Gospel Arena


Sister Wendy and the Art of the Gospel

Documentary telling the personal story of Sister Wendy Beckett, who travelled the world telling the story of Christian art and painting in the 1990s, quickly becoming a star.


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Transcript


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BIRDS CAW

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This is the Sisters' cemetery.

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This is the graveyard of the monastery.

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And when I die,

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which I don't think will be all that long,

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or at least that's what I hope,

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this is where I will lie.

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I don't think I'll be in one of those lines, though.

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That's community and I'm not a member of the community.

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But I'll be with them.

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I want to be tucked away somewhere,

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perhaps behind the cross or under the bush or behind the tree.

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In the chapel, the Sisters live in the main body of the church

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and I'm tucked away in the belfry.

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Well, that's where I'm going to be for eternity, I hope,

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tucked away in the belfry of the graveyard.

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Thanking God for allowing me a life of such...

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..unimaginable happiness.

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Lucky me.

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That's it.

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Sister Wendy Beckett, now 82,

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first performed in front of a camera over 20 years ago

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when I met her as a young BBC television researcher.

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All teeth and glasses, she instantly became the nation's favourite nun,

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television's arts nun.

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And here we have the great mythological scene

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but I really can't afford to spend time looking at it

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because I want to get onto this huge cloth, this wonder of the museum.

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Viewers were expected to be entertained by Sister Wendy.

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They were.

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Later, she mused to me that after a single television series,

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she'd become famous for talking about art

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but little was known about her life as a nun.

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For years, I wanted to make a film about the real Wendy.

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She finally agreed, but on her own terms.

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She would choose paintings of the gospel stories, the life of Jesus,

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and use them to reveal more about the forces that drive her life.

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I've tried to choose the events in the Gospels

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that were most important in the life of Jesus.

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These, to me, are the ones I think of most reverently

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and with such longing to understand

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what God was showing us

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when he experienced this or did that.

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They're great paintings because they're not just illustrative.

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Here is a great genius looking at something that Jesus did...

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..or experienced...

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..or suffered...

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..and trying to make it visible.

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There's great grace there for those who look.

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Wendy lives in silence and solitude,

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a hermit who prays out of sight in the middle of a spinney.

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No music, TV, not even a telephone.

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She is alone with her maker.

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Her home is a caravan under the protection of the Carmelites,

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an enclosed order of contemplative nuns based in Quidenham, Norfolk.

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They offered me unprecedented access to film Sister Wendy.

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40 years ago, they offered her sanctuary here

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after a physical and psychological crisis.

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In fact I would say, if you expressed it in the old jargon,

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she could read souls.

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But all this must have been a terrific strain on her psyche.

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That's why she didn't want to be in the chapel outside.

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She came in, asked to be away,

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because everything pressed on her, pressed on her, pressed on her,

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so I think just to cope with ordinary life, for her,

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that's why she had to be on her own.

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God uses everything in a person

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and if they're a bit unbalanced, he can use that.

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You know what I mean? And they can be great gifts.

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Often great artists and that are not the most balanced people.

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# This one thing I know

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# For he loves me so

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# Jesus' blood never failed me yet... #

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'I have seven hours' sleep, so I'm going to bed not long after five

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'and then I get up shortly after midnight

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'but that's simply because I think that's a good time to pray,

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'when all the world is quiet, and many people are suffering at night

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'when they drop the mask and just look at themselves.'

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# Jesus' blood never failed me yet... #

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In the 67 years since she became a nun,

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Sister Wendy has never once missed Mass.

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For her, it's an act of total commitment,

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not an act of docile obedience or conformity.

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'We all seem to have a longing to be told what to do

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'and I think in Jesus you can see

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'that that isn't really how God wants us to act.

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'We must do what we think is right.

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'That's the whole point of conscience.'

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BELL RINGS

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You see it in every walk of life,

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the desire to have a strong, authoritarian voice

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telling you what to do, so you don't have to bother.

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Which means, of course, you don't have to bother about God either

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because God asks you to look at him and decide,

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not look at what somebody else is telling you.

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CHOIR SINGS

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Sister Wendy always sits in the belfry, alone,

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tucked away out of sight,

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still a hermit, even during a communal service.

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The Lord be with you.

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A reading from the Holy Gospel According to Luke.

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NUNS: Glory to thee, O Lord.

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The tax collectors and the sinners

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were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say

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and the Pharisees and scribes complained.

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"This man," they said, "welcomes sinners and eats with them."

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So he spoke this parable to them.

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"What man among you with 100 sheep,

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"losing one, would not leave the 99 in the wilderness

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"and go after the missing one until he found it?

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"And when he found it, would he not joyfully take it on his shoulders

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"and then, when he got home,

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"call together his friends and his neighbours?

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"'Rejoice with me', he would say.

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"'I have found the sheep that was lost.'"

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'Well, I've noticed it, of course, in museums.'

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People looking at the kind of stories, Christian stories,

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that they would have been told in Sunday school in the past.

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Now they just don't know.

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"Why is that man standing in the river

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"with another man pouring water over his head? What's happening?"

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In the past, everybody, more or less, knew the stories

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but they evidently didn't understand the meaning of the stories.

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They weren't living by the stories

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so I don't know whether

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the spiritual level of the country has changed at all.

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What has changed is the cultural level.

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Most people did know the outlines of the faith of our fathers

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and this country has been built on the Christian faith.

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It's our heritage, it belongs to everybody,

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whether they believe it or not. They have a right to know what happened.

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So that does sadden me, yes.

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I think what we have to do is...

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Wendy's performances come from the heart.

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She falls into a state of deep concentration

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before standing up to perform.

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There are no notes, no rehearsal

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but it comes out word perfect.

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Scripture tells us that the Angel Gabriel was sent by God

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to a virgin in the town of Nazareth

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and the virgin's name was Mary

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and it sounds so simple and ordinary

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but this was the greatest event that ever happened.

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Two great things happened to us.

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First, the world was created.

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And then, after millennia

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of watching the terrible mess we were making of ourselves,

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God became man.

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And it happened like this.

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Heaven and Earth meet.

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There is the Angel Gabriel, the heavenly sphere,

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and I think Veneziano suggests that

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in the way the angel's come ahead of the pillars.

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He's out of his sphere, he's in our sphere.

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Mary is in our human sphere.

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She's been sitting.

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She rises up, astonished,

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and in honour of the angel,

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but the angel sinks to the ground

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in honour of Mary

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because of the message.

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He has to ask her, will she become the mother of God?

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And Mary says, "I'm the handmaid of the Lord. I'm his servant.

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"Whatever he wants, I'll do."

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Mary's made it possible for us all,

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when God asks something almost impossible,

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to say, "Yes, if God wants it, he'll make it happen."

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When I was either three or four,

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it was a Sunday and we'd come back from Mass

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and I can remember it so vividly.

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There was a smell of sausages cooking,

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and for some reason, I was sitting under a table

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and suddenly, I became overwhelmed

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by the reality of God.

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The...

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The greatness and the power and the love

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and my own infinite smallness.

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And I knew that I was held in that greatness and protected...

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And I would never, ever have to feel anxious.

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I think God gave me that insight

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because I was such a frail, unstable sort of person

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and I think that understanding of God's closeness and his...

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..his love

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unconsciously influenced everything I did thereafter.

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Did you have any other experiences after that of a similar kind?

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No, that one was enough for a lifetime.

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But there must be times when you feel something extraordinary, or...?

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Ah, well, we're moving into areas

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-that I don't think should be spoken of.

-OK, that's absolutely right.

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When I started this film,

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I thought it was going to be purely about Jesus

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but somehow, I seem to be taking more and more space in the film.

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And so I can't see a structure.

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You might say it's none of my business to see a structure,

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those making the film see the structure.

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But once we get away from talking about Jesus...

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..I'm in darkness

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but trying to do what's asked of me.

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When we think of the Nativity,

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it's so easy to think of Christmas plays and Christmas cards

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and stables and animals and the three kings

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and to miss the gravity, the seriousness of what was happening.

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Now, one of the reasons why I love this icon is because it's so grave.

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It's so weighty with the wonder of God becoming man.

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It's one of the very earliest images

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in icon form of mother and child

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and to me, it's a perfect example

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of why we so cherish the birth of Christ.

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Notice how Mary withdraws herself.

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She's looking away from us, she doesn't want us even to notice her.

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She's there to bring forward the wonder of her child.

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It's the expression that makes this little Jesus so wonderful.

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In fact, I don't know of any portrait of Jesus

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that moved me as much as this one.

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He's about something great

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and he's drawing us into it.

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I think those who met Jesus

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must have been so conscious of his enormous spiritual energy,

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that power of love and searching

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that drew him forward and drew all men to him.

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Now, this is still a very small child...

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..almost awed by being in the world,

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not in control, but searching, loving,

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seeking us to come with him on the great quest for his father.

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You were obviously extremely intellectually precocious

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as a child, weren't you?

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I just wonder whether that separated you from the other children.

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Well, I never expected to be able to talk to anybody

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but I took that for granted, that was how people were,

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they never found anybody they could talk to.

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So as long as I had somebody around

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who saved me from the shame of being friendless,

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I didn't really care very much.

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I'm afraid people have not meant much to me in my life.

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I think I've got a cold heart.

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My mother never forgot how once

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I invited a friend to come and play with me.

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My mother heard me welcoming her, and I said, "Hello, Shirley, come in.

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"There's your book and that's my book."

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She said, "You don't do that when people come!"

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"So what do you do?" "You talk to them."

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Well, I'm no good if I've got to talk to them!

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That was my idea of playing together, we each read our books in company.

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-You had an older sister. Do you..?

-No, no. I'm a firstborn.

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-Sorry, Wendy. You had a sister...

-Yes.

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-Were you a good sister?

-Oh...

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My great sin has been my nastiness to my little sister.

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Once she said to me,

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"Wendy, I don't know why you keep bashing yourself up about it.

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"I never expected you to be nice to me." Which makes it even worse!

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No, I was cruel and harsh to her.

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I never hit her or anything, but I took no notice of her.

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I just wasn't interested.

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My mother, she was the one who disciplined us, not my father.

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And she's told my sister, well, no, she said to me,

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"You were always a very difficult child."

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So I asked my sister to find out how had I been difficult,

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because I thought I'd been a fairly docile child.

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"Oh, no", said our mother.

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"She was full of self-will."

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So my mother saw the faults in me.

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I was 16, nearly 17,

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and I felt nothing but the utmost joy

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and I was astonished that my parents were sad

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when I left them to become a nun.

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It never occurred to me they'd mind.

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I'd wanted to be a nun for so long.

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I couldn't wait. I was blissful.

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Nasty child, you see, no real human emotions.

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Like a young girl eloping, I suppose,

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so filled with the thought of what she was going towards,

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she had no time to think of what she'd left behind

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and I never, never for one moment ever pined.

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Jesus had lived all his life,

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about 30 years, we think, in the small village of Nazareth

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and he must have felt more and more how different he was

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because he just lived to do his Father's will

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but he still wasn't sure

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what he should be doing.

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He was waiting with love and trust for the Father to make it clear.

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When he heard that his cousin John was there in the desert,

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calling people to change their lives,

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a baptism of repentance,

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it must have struck Jesus.

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"Perhaps this is the step I need to take

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"to change my life, and things will become clear."

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And then a voice from heaven, his Father, says,

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"You are my beloved son

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"in whom I am well pleased."

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And over his head appears the glimmering white of the dove

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which signifies the Holy Spirit,

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so this is Jesus ready to embark

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upon what we call his ministry, his teaching life,

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and you'll notice, nobody understands.

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Even the angels are really rather disinterested.

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Angels to one side, human beings to the other,

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Jesus unites both worlds

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and neither world understands him.

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Sister Wendy was born in South Africa.

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When she was 16, she joined the local convent of a teaching order

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which sent its British nuns to be trained in Sussex.

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After taking her vows,

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she was sent to another convent, this time in Oxford,

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to read English at the university.

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But a strict Mother Superior

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instructed her never to talk to the other students

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or participate in any aspect of university life,

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so she read all day in her room

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and graduated with the highest marks ever

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to the satisfaction of her university professor.

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I remember Tolkien because he was the president of my examining board

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and he was extraordinarily kind to me.

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He actually turned the marks books round so that I could see my marks

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and I still didn't take it in.

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So what were the marks?

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I got an Alpha for everything except in one paper.

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Which made it a certain first.

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When I read the life of Harold Wilson,

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it said Harold Wilson got the best first ever at Oxford

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and it gave his marks, and they were my marks!

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So Harold Wilson and I can march proudly together. Oh, dear!

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It took me down a peg or two

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because one does not think of Mr Wilson as a great intellect.

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But like me, he probably had the gift

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of putting all his goods in the shop window.

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One day, when Jesus was talking,

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a lawyer called out to him,

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"Master, what shall I do to obtain eternal life?"

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Jesus said to him, "What does it say in the Scriptures?"

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The man said, "Well, it says you shall love the Lord thy God

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"with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind and all thy strength

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"and thy neighbour as thyself."

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And Jesus said, "You've answered well. Do that and you will live."

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Now, the lawyer wanted an argument.

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He didn't want his words thrown back on him

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so he said, "And who is my neighbour?"

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And Jesus again didn't argue. He told him a story.

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He said, "There was a man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho."

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They all knew that road, dangerous road.

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And he fell among thieves

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and they beat him and stripped him and robbed him

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and left him half dead by the wayside.

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Now, a priest came upon him

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and quickly passed by to the other side

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and then a Levite, a temple servant,

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he too went by on the other side.

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And then came a Samaritan

0:26:360:26:39

and this man leapt off his horse and bent down to this poor bloodied man

0:26:390:26:45

and he washed him and he bound up his wounds, put him on his horse,

0:26:450:26:50

took him to the inn, gave the innkeeper money to look after him,

0:26:500:26:54

said, "I'll come back with more money if need be."

0:26:540:26:57

"Now," said Jesus, "who acted as neighbour?"

0:26:590:27:02

And the lawyer said, "Well, I suppose him who showed pity."

0:27:040:27:07

"Yes," said Jesus. "Go thou and do likewise."

0:27:070:27:11

After I'd been teaching for, must have been over 20 years,

0:27:260:27:32

I had a series of very public and nasty epileptic fits

0:27:320:27:38

and I was genuinely ill

0:27:380:27:41

and the doctors spoke to my superiors about it and it was then they said,

0:27:410:27:46

"Look, you've asked for years to be allowed to become a contemplative.

0:27:460:27:50

"We're now going to give you the chance."

0:27:500:27:53

So my first thought was to become a Carmelite

0:27:550:27:58

but that doesn't work, you know, changing from one order to another.

0:27:580:28:02

It does for some people. It didn't work for me.

0:28:020:28:04

But the Carmel I tried to become a Carmelite in

0:28:060:28:10

said, "We think you ought to be a hermit,"

0:28:100:28:12

and I'd never thought such a wonderful thing was even possible.

0:28:120:28:16

She sees the divine under all sorts of forms

0:28:300:28:34

and she's very willing to see God at work and communicating himself

0:28:340:28:39

and, I have to say, so do I.

0:28:390:28:41

I mean, I still think Christ is the absolute revelation of God

0:28:410:28:48

but I think he... He's known without being known, you know,

0:28:480:28:52

wherever I think there's goodness and grace, I think is Christ.

0:28:520:28:56

Jesus had a great need to pray

0:29:050:29:07

and he used to go off into the mountains

0:29:070:29:10

and spend the whole night in prayer.

0:29:100:29:12

Now, this time he took his three closest apostles with him -

0:29:120:29:19

Peter, James and John.

0:29:190:29:22

They would go up the mountain with Jesus and he would pray

0:29:220:29:27

and they would probably start praying and then they'd fall asleep.

0:29:270:29:31

But they woke up from sleep

0:29:320:29:35

and they got an enormous shock

0:29:350:29:37

because Jesus was transformed

0:29:370:29:41

and on either side were Moses, the law, the Ten Commandments,

0:29:410:29:49

and Elijah, the prophet.

0:29:490:29:51

Now, this was the most extraordinary thing for these three men.

0:29:520:29:56

There'd never seen Jesus like this.

0:29:560:29:58

He'd always looked just ordinary human

0:29:580:30:01

and Peter was absolutely overwhelmed.

0:30:010:30:03

Now, you might ask, why did this happen?

0:30:030:30:06

Why for once did he let them see him in glory?

0:30:080:30:12

Well, I think it's because he was strengthening them,

0:30:140:30:17

strengthening them against the terrible day

0:30:170:30:20

when they'd see him bleeding on the cross

0:30:200:30:23

and wouldn't want to accept it.

0:30:230:30:25

Now, I think this is the pattern of God.

0:30:260:30:29

He prepares us.

0:30:290:30:31

We may not know it's a preparation

0:30:310:30:34

but we will always be in the best position possible

0:30:340:30:39

to accept what comes to us.

0:30:390:30:42

We just have to trust him

0:30:420:30:44

and here you see trust portrayed.

0:30:440:30:47

The Carmelite Sisters bought Wendy this second-hand holiday caravan

0:30:530:30:57

when she became a hermit

0:30:570:30:59

and pitched it in the middle of a thicket.

0:30:590:31:01

After waiting so long to live in solitude,

0:31:100:31:12

she'd always regretted allowing her sanctuary to be filmed,

0:31:120:31:16

feeling somehow violated,

0:31:160:31:19

so when that first caravan eventually fell apart,

0:31:190:31:22

she refused to let anyone film its sturdier replacement.

0:31:220:31:27

But to give me an idea of how she lives,

0:31:300:31:33

the Sisters offered access to a very similar one

0:31:330:31:36

which is also used as a place for solitary prayer,

0:31:360:31:39

just a short walk away.

0:31:390:31:41

I really haven't got a caravan, literally, any more

0:31:440:31:48

because the Sisters got me a little prefab house

0:31:480:31:52

and it's got a bath in it

0:31:520:31:55

and it's got an inside lavatory!

0:31:550:31:58

Oh, these are great luxuries. Happy woman!

0:31:580:32:02

What was the original caravan like?

0:32:020:32:04

It was an old caravan they got for £60

0:32:040:32:08

and it stood on blocks and was uninsulated

0:32:080:32:13

and it had a skylight which the rain came through.

0:32:130:32:19

But I loved it.

0:32:190:32:22

I didn't love not having a bath and not having an inside lavatory...

0:32:220:32:27

'..but I thought those were prices I should pay

0:32:290:32:33

'for the humbleness of my caravan.

0:32:330:32:35

'The Sisters gave me a very nice chair.'

0:32:370:32:41

That's my kind of official prayer place.

0:32:410:32:44

Are you able to make yourself a cup of tea?

0:32:460:32:49

Oh, yes. Coffee.

0:32:490:32:51

And that doesn't interrupt anything.

0:32:520:32:56

It's just a way of keeping me alert

0:32:570:33:01

because you've got to be there for God

0:33:010:33:05

in whatever way he's asking you to be there,

0:33:050:33:09

so one mustn't drowse off.

0:33:090:33:12

People tend to think that prayer is asking for things

0:33:170:33:21

and they've asked and asked and nothing's ever happened

0:33:210:33:24

so they think really, they just don't know how to do it

0:33:240:33:27

or they do know how to do it and God doesn't love them enough.

0:33:270:33:31

The solution to that goes deep.

0:33:330:33:35

You have to understand that when you pray for something,

0:33:370:33:41

God always hears you

0:33:410:33:44

but he isn't going to be a magician and shift your life around.

0:33:440:33:48

What he will do, always, is come and stand beside you

0:33:500:33:55

to help you to make the best of whatever is going to happen.

0:33:550:33:59

If it's going to be disaster, he'll be with you, helping you.

0:33:590:34:04

If it's going to be joy,

0:34:040:34:06

he'll be with you, helping you to say thank you.

0:34:060:34:09

All the Sisters here have a duty to support themselves if they can.

0:34:140:34:19

To earn money,

0:34:190:34:20

Wendy took on the mammoth task of translating several volumes of Latin

0:34:200:34:25

but her perfectionist zeal led to further illness.

0:34:250:34:28

During convalescence, she discovered art books

0:34:300:34:33

and a new way to earn money and realise her literary potential.

0:34:330:34:37

She began publishing articles

0:34:370:34:39

about paintings she'd only ever seen in reproduction.

0:34:390:34:43

Now, she's written over 30 books,

0:34:430:34:46

many with the help of the convent's priest.

0:34:460:34:48

'She's the brains of the outfit and I'm the brawn.

0:34:500:34:53

'I take care of logistics and the suitcases

0:34:530:34:56

'and pushing the wheelchair

0:34:560:34:58

'and making sure we get to the right place at the right time'

0:34:580:35:01

but as far as all creativity goes,

0:35:010:35:04

I just sit at her feet

0:35:040:35:06

and when she speaks, I type.

0:35:060:35:08

Over the last four or five years,

0:35:120:35:14

I've had the privilege of typing several of her books.

0:35:140:35:18

We find a place that's comfortable

0:35:210:35:23

and she will look at her art, for example,

0:35:230:35:26

the painting or the photograph of what she needs to comment on,

0:35:260:35:30

and she just begins to speak

0:35:300:35:33

and rarely has anything changed

0:35:330:35:37

but she's on target, she's concise, she's clear,

0:35:370:35:41

she's very understandable

0:35:410:35:45

and she's very engaging.

0:35:450:35:47

I think people relate to her way of describing things

0:35:470:35:51

because it's so real and human.

0:35:510:35:53

I went with Wendy on her first filming trip to Europe 20 years ago.

0:35:580:36:03

She enjoyed seeing paintings familiar from books

0:36:030:36:06

for the first time

0:36:060:36:07

but still wished she was back in her caravan.

0:36:070:36:09

-Now, put on the brake or I'll fall back.

-Brake's on.

0:36:180:36:21

-Just put these up...

-Right.

0:36:230:36:25

Thank you.

0:36:280:36:30

I wanted to return to this conflict you feel between...

0:36:430:36:46

I don't feel this conflict! You're the one who thinks of the conflict.

0:36:460:36:50

Well, the conflict, I think, OK, my idea,

0:36:500:36:54

you said several times that you much prefer to be back in your real life

0:36:540:37:00

and that this is somehow almost a penance.

0:37:000:37:03

That's too strong, but yes, it's an aberration.

0:37:030:37:07

It's...it's...

0:37:070:37:10

I've stepped out of my real life but I haven't stepped out of God's life.

0:37:100:37:15

-Yeah.

-This is equally prayer, what we're doing,

0:37:150:37:19

because prayer really is that intentness on God,

0:37:190:37:23

which doesn't stop when you get off your knees.

0:37:230:37:26

It goes on, but in another form.

0:37:260:37:29

And it keeps your eyes towards God

0:37:300:37:33

so you can see him in the most unlikely of circumstances,

0:37:330:37:37

even in a television programme.

0:37:370:37:38

Wendy is making this journey to Paris

0:37:490:37:51

to show us a masterpiece in the Louvre

0:37:510:37:54

which tells the story of a vulnerable woman.

0:37:540:37:57

Jesus is teaching in the temple

0:38:010:38:04

when suddenly,

0:38:040:38:05

there bursts in a crowd of angry men,

0:38:050:38:10

dragging with them a poor, bewildered, frightened woman.

0:38:100:38:16

And they surge up to Jesus and say,

0:38:180:38:21

"This woman was caught in the very act of adultery,

0:38:210:38:25

"in flagrante delicto,

0:38:250:38:28

"and the law says such a woman should be stoned to death.

0:38:280:38:34

"What do you say, master?"

0:38:340:38:36

Now, of course, they want to show that Jesus does not keep the law.

0:38:360:38:41

They also know that nothing would make Jesus stone anybody to death.

0:38:410:38:46

Look at their faces - so smug,

0:38:460:38:49

so triumphant. They've got him.

0:38:490:38:51

And Jesus doesn't answer them.

0:38:520:38:55

He won't take the high seat of judgement

0:38:550:38:59

and then he says,

0:38:590:39:02

"Let the man who has no sin cast the first stone."

0:39:020:39:07

And there's a terrible pause

0:39:090:39:13

as they all realise what Jesus is saying.

0:39:130:39:16

And the Gospel tells us

0:39:170:39:20

that they began to go away, each man,

0:39:200:39:24

beginning with the oldest,

0:39:240:39:26

the ones who were most certain that they had Jesus in their power.

0:39:260:39:31

Jesus then says to the woman,

0:39:330:39:37

"Does no man condemn you?"

0:39:370:39:39

And the poor creature sort of quavers back, "No man, Lord."

0:39:410:39:46

And Jesus says, "Neither do I condemn you.

0:39:460:39:50

"Go away, and do not sin again."

0:39:500:39:54

You were asking me about my childhood...

0:40:190:40:22

..and I told you about that transformative experience

0:40:240:40:28

when I was four.

0:40:280:40:30

Which I think has influenced everything I have done since,

0:40:300:40:36

that awareness of God has never left me.

0:40:360:40:40

And you asked me

0:40:410:40:44

were there any other experiences and I said to you

0:40:440:40:47

I didn't want to talk about anything else,

0:40:470:40:50

but I thought there was one,

0:40:500:40:52

it wasn't an experience, it was an insight,

0:40:520:40:55

when I made my first Holy Communion.

0:40:550:40:58

Because I had got it into my head, whether Sister said so or not,

0:41:000:41:05

that Jesus would speak to us when he came to us in Holy Communion

0:41:050:41:11

and I was longing to hear him speak

0:41:110:41:17

and what would he say?

0:41:170:41:19

And I remember so clearly coming back from Holy Communion

0:41:200:41:23

in my white dress with my white veil along with other little

0:41:230:41:28

first communicants and waiting...

0:41:280:41:30

And there was silence.

0:41:320:41:34

And then, it suddenly dawned upon me

0:41:360:41:40

that's how he speaks.

0:41:400:41:41

God speaks to us in silence.

0:41:430:41:45

And that also has been something that has mattered a great deal to me,

0:41:470:41:52

to know that when we're silent...

0:41:520:41:55

..and looking at God,

0:41:570:41:59

he will communicate himself, silently.

0:41:590:42:02

It never entered my head at any stage of my childhood,

0:42:210:42:25

that I might get married and become...a mother.

0:42:250:42:30

The vow of celibacy wasn't a sacrifice for you?

0:42:310:42:35

No, it's more than celibacy, it's chastity.

0:42:350:42:37

Which means that you take no sexual pleasure.

0:42:390:42:43

It's something that you give up, not just marriage,

0:42:450:42:48

but any form of sexual pleasure,

0:42:480:42:50

you offer it to God for the sake of the world.

0:42:500:42:54

But, you know, because it's not cost me anything, I think I have got a...

0:42:540:43:00

..a vacancy in me...

0:43:030:43:05

that where most human beings have a capacity

0:43:050:43:09

for sexual response, I just haven't.

0:43:090:43:12

I don't understand it.

0:43:140:43:16

I've never felt any inclination...

0:43:160:43:20

..and said no, no I can't.

0:43:210:43:24

I just don't... It means nothing to me.

0:43:240:43:27

Which means I haven't got that...

0:43:270:43:29

..gift to give to God.

0:43:310:43:33

Instead, Wendy sees her gift to God as dedication to

0:43:440:43:48

a life of prayer - six hours of silent contemplation every day.

0:43:480:43:54

One of the things prayer will do

0:43:580:44:00

is to show you the truth about yourself

0:44:000:44:03

and that's something most of us go to a lot of trouble to avoid.

0:44:030:44:07

But you see, all deep experience, in some ways, does that.

0:44:070:44:12

Great art does that. It challenges you.

0:44:120:44:16

It raises you to a new level, but you have to accept

0:44:160:44:19

you are on a lower level.

0:44:190:44:22

Tintoretto was fascinated

0:44:290:44:32

by the mystery of Jesus washing the Apostles' feet.

0:44:320:44:36

He painted it several times.

0:44:360:44:39

He was fascinated by the interplay of emotions,

0:44:390:44:43

the embarrassment of the Apostles,

0:44:430:44:46

the certainty of Jesus.

0:44:460:44:49

It happened at the Last Supper and remember,

0:44:490:44:51

that was the last full day on earth he ever had.

0:44:510:44:56

He got up from the table,

0:44:560:44:58

took off his garments.

0:44:580:45:00

Tintoretto modestly just wanted him to take off one garment,

0:45:000:45:05

the beautiful blue one on the chair.

0:45:050:45:07

Put a towel round his waist, got a bowl full of water,

0:45:070:45:11

knelt down before the nearest apostle and washed his feet.

0:45:110:45:17

Tintoretto seizes upon the central moment when Jesus comes to Peter.

0:45:170:45:25

And Peter says, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"

0:45:250:45:30

And Jesus says, "Peter, you don't understand it now.

0:45:300:45:34

"One day you will understand."

0:45:340:45:38

"No", says Peter. "You will never wash my feet."

0:45:380:45:42

And Jesus says, "If I don't wash you, Peter,

0:45:420:45:46

"you will have no part in me."

0:45:460:45:48

And then, of course, Peter wants his whole self washed,

0:45:480:45:53

anything to have a part with Jesus.

0:45:530:45:55

And when he'd finished, Jesus dressed again and sat down and said to them,

0:45:550:46:00

"Do you understand what I have done?"

0:46:000:46:02

"I have acted towards you like a servant

0:46:030:46:08

"and that's how you should act towards other people."

0:46:080:46:11

SACRED MUSIC

0:46:110:46:15

For Wendy, at the heart of both her faith

0:46:210:46:24

and daily self-discipline, is a celebration of Mass.

0:46:240:46:28

The service is the re-enactment of the climactic scene

0:46:350:46:40

of the Last Supper,

0:46:400:46:41

a key Gospel story with the specific purpose of remembering Jesus.

0:46:410:46:46

-PRIEST:

-At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly

0:46:480:46:52

into his Passion, he took bread and gave thanks,

0:46:520:46:56

broke it and gave it to his disciples saying,

0:46:560:47:01

"Take this, all of you and eat it.

0:47:010:47:04

"This is my body, which will be given up for you."

0:47:060:47:11

BELL TOLLS

0:47:110:47:14

-The body of Christ.

-Amen.

0:47:170:47:19

-The body of Christ.

-Amen.

0:47:210:47:23

-The body of Christ.

-Amen.

0:47:250:47:27

Jesus knew that plots were being laid to kill him.

0:47:270:47:32

He had very little time left so this last supper

0:47:320:47:37

was his one great chance

0:47:370:47:40

to make it clear to the Apostles what he was all about.

0:47:400:47:44

That his great commandment was love.

0:47:450:47:48

And to underline his point about love,

0:47:480:47:51

Jesus had saved for this last supper,

0:47:510:47:55

the great sign of his love,

0:47:550:47:58

apart from his actual death on the cross,

0:47:580:48:00

that forerunner of that death,

0:48:000:48:02

that he would give them his body and his blood.

0:48:020:48:07

Now, separating body and blood means death,

0:48:090:48:12

but this was the living Jesus and it's the living body

0:48:120:48:16

and blood he is giving them and here Poussin shows that sacred moment.

0:48:160:48:21

Jesus had stood up from the table and called them round him.

0:48:210:48:27

You can see there two tiers of Apostles - the ones at the back

0:48:270:48:31

are absolutely dumbfounded,

0:48:310:48:35

they don't understand what he means.

0:48:350:48:38

So, while the outer ones are astonished,

0:48:400:48:43

the inner rank, his closest friends -

0:48:430:48:46

Peter, James and John - they know what's going to happen

0:48:460:48:51

and Poussin has left that space in the centre,

0:48:510:48:56

there is the chalice,

0:48:560:48:58

there's the consecrating hand of Jesus,

0:48:580:49:02

the other hand holds the bits of bread that are his body

0:49:020:49:08

and beneath the chalice, just a crease in the tablecloth,

0:49:080:49:13

is the cross.

0:49:130:49:16

And the whole of that makes a still, quiet space,

0:49:160:49:21

which we need for prayer.

0:49:210:49:25

I once said I thought you could define humanity

0:49:480:49:53

as people who prayed

0:49:530:49:55

and I was met with rather cynical laughter.

0:49:550:49:59

And my friend said, "What about these dreadful louts and yobbos

0:50:010:50:08

"and murderers?

0:50:080:50:10

"They don't pray" and I said, "How do you know?"

0:50:100:50:13

I said, "I'll bet there has never been a person,

0:50:130:50:17

"who hasn't perhaps in the night,

0:50:170:50:20

"had that sense of longing and incompleteness

0:50:200:50:23

"and shame at what they are and that's prayer.

0:50:230:50:27

"It's not explicit prayer, but it's real prayer.

0:50:270:50:30

"I think we're made to pray because God made us for himself."

0:50:300:50:33

This little picture by Antonello just gives us

0:50:480:50:52

a glimpse of what it meant to Jesus to die for us.

0:50:520:50:56

He's been tied to the pillar while they scourge him.

0:50:560:51:01

Thorns have been pressed into his head,

0:51:010:51:04

you can just see the drops of blood

0:51:040:51:07

and one tear comes from his eyes,

0:51:070:51:10

but he endures.

0:51:100:51:12

Here is a brave man,

0:51:120:51:15

accepting death out of love.

0:51:150:51:18

I find it painful to look at a crucifixion.

0:51:200:51:23

The only ones I like are those that show in the death, the resurrection.

0:51:240:51:29

Because that's what it's all about -

0:51:290:51:32

he passed through death and out again.

0:51:320:51:35

This is the first age in which there has been very little silence

0:51:460:51:51

unless it's sought for.

0:51:510:51:53

Nearly everybody can live their whole life being entertained

0:51:570:52:00

and that's very dangerous because it means you are never

0:52:000:52:04

in contact, except at night,

0:52:040:52:07

with what you are.

0:52:070:52:09

So although I think the longings and the needs are the same

0:52:090:52:15

in all ages

0:52:150:52:17

and the greed and the selfishness,

0:52:170:52:21

this age has got this great obstacle to prayer -

0:52:210:52:26

constant entertainment.

0:52:260:52:29

And I think people really have to say, I am going to have a period

0:52:290:52:34

in which I can just be silent.

0:52:340:52:36

This story begins on Easter Sunday evening,

0:52:560:53:00

outside Jerusalem.

0:53:000:53:02

The Apostles had been devastated by what had happened to Jesus.

0:53:020:53:08

Not only his death, but his execution on the cross.

0:53:080:53:12

He'd said he was the life and the resurrection

0:53:120:53:15

and they were certain he was right

0:53:150:53:18

and now, everything's come to nothing.

0:53:180:53:20

So, two of them, Cleophus and another,

0:53:220:53:26

decide to leave Jerusalem.

0:53:260:53:29

It just reminds them of their terrible disappointment.

0:53:290:53:33

So they set out to their little home town of Emmaus,

0:53:330:53:37

a few miles away, and as they travelled,

0:53:370:53:39

another traveller joined them

0:53:390:53:42

and said, "What are you talking about so earnestly?"

0:53:420:53:45

And they say, "Haven't you heard?

0:53:450:53:47

"Everybody's heard how Jesus of Nazareth, our great prophet,

0:53:470:53:51

"has been crucified."

0:53:510:53:53

They do not recognise him.

0:53:530:53:56

He's just another traveller.

0:53:560:53:59

And then, oh, how I'd have loved to have been on that journey to Emmaus,

0:53:590:54:02

Jesus begins to explain to them,

0:54:020:54:06

"Don't you know that the Christ must suffer

0:54:060:54:10

"and so enter into his glory,

0:54:100:54:13

"that only the redemption through a suffering servant,

0:54:130:54:18

"not a great heroic victor."

0:54:180:54:21

They're so engrossed by this,

0:54:230:54:26

that when they get to the inn where they're going to stay and Jesus

0:54:260:54:30

makes as if he is going to go on, they beg him, come and eat with us.

0:54:300:54:34

And they sit down in the little inn

0:54:350:54:39

and Jesus takes the bread,

0:54:390:54:42

blesses it and breaks it.

0:54:420:54:46

And in that moment, they knew who it was, it was Jesus.

0:54:460:54:51

He had risen and they've no sooner seen him,

0:54:510:54:55

than he disappears.

0:54:550:54:57

Now, of course one can see a big lesson for us.

0:54:570:55:02

The stranger may be Jesus.

0:55:020:55:04

You may not recognise him,

0:55:070:55:09

but the person to whom you are speaking is Jesus in another form.

0:55:090:55:14

And of course, the way to get close to Jesus

0:55:140:55:18

is through Holy Communion when you receive him and know him.

0:55:180:55:24

We know him in the breaking of the bread.

0:55:240:55:28

I think I am an inadequate woman,

0:55:510:55:55

lacking many things that make

0:55:550:55:58

a full and beautiful character, but it doesn't matter,

0:55:580:56:03

because that's how I am and that's the self I have to give to God

0:56:030:56:07

for him to take to himself.

0:56:070:56:11

I mean, life is short.

0:56:140:56:16

If you can give it to God, it uses it all.

0:56:160:56:20

That's why I don't believe in this happiness, unhappiness business,

0:56:220:56:27

you know, you take what comes and you give it to God.

0:56:270:56:30

And if it hurts, he will use that for the world as healing.

0:56:320:56:38

I don't think we're all that important.

0:56:380:56:40

We're only important to God, not to ourselves.

0:56:400:56:43

I remember whenever we filmed,

0:56:550:56:57

there was always this little bit of filming

0:56:570:57:00

that you really, really enjoyed.

0:57:000:57:02

-Do you remember what it was?

-Wrap. It's a wrap!

0:57:020:57:04

I know, I know the bit I enjoy!

0:57:080:57:10

The one bit of filming I always enjoy, when we're finished

0:57:100:57:14

and the sound man says, "Now, can we just have silence?"

0:57:140:57:17

And we all just stay there for a minute or two...

0:57:190:57:24

..giving ourselves to God

0:57:260:57:28

and if that's not in the other people's mind,

0:57:280:57:30

well, I am giving them to God.

0:57:300:57:33

That's the bit I like.

0:57:330:57:35

Shall we have a minute of silence now?

0:57:350:57:38

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:59:030:59:08

The arresting sight of Sister Wendy Beckett, all teeth and glasses, burst on to our screens in the 1990s. An instant star, she travelled the world in her habit telling us the story of Christian art and painting but revealing little of her own extraordinary story. Arena goes in search of the 'real' Wendy, who, at 82, talks frankly, humorously, and profoundly about her life and spirituality for the first time.

Wendy's story, inseparable from that of the Gospel, is told alongside her selection of paintings by the greatest old masters, revealing the emotional insights they have given her. In this film, we hear for the first time of Wendy's personal journey to God, her insights on prayer and suffering, and her reflections on the contemporary world. Above all, she connects us to the art that has helped her to know herself and her faith.


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