Sister Wendy Beckett died Christmas week. She was known by most of us because she was on TV. She was an art historian who did a BBC series many have seen. No doubt many more will tune in at this time of her passing. But it was her life of prayer that was the most important part of Wendy Beckett; it was Jesus, her Spouse. It was the Trinitarian life she lived in contemplative prayer that helped her see God more clearly than most of us distracted people do.
And DVDs and interviews on YouTube are not the only pointers to the good and the true and the beautiful that she leaves us. Spiritual Letters, a collection of her letters written to a woman named Ann, is a great place to start. The two were truly Christian friends: Ann encouraging the art commentary and Sr. Wendy providing some bold spiritual direction for her friend.
One letter during the approach of Christmas said, in part:
I wasn’t calling on you for an easy gesture or two, but for a profound, humiliating “conversion” to the Crucified Love who starts His Royal course this week. Until you have dug down deep into your heart for the truth of these relationships, and actively held them out to Jesus to be healed, you can’t give all. We die of giving all — and then Jesus is born. Mary only really bore Him, fully, totally, when she stood at the cross.
In another letter, you see the honesty of a love that wants nothing short of Heaven for the other:
That loveless slum you see in yourself is quite truly you — I won’t pretend otherwise, but it is you seen in the light of God. The “you” that He passionately loves, that He chooses to be most intimately possessed in a love-union — that you is the poor thing you experience as your true self. So, despair is the last thing to feel, rather a blazing surge of hope and gratitude that His love doesn’t depend at all on our beauty and goodness. But there is even more joy to it than this, because we just can’t see our poverty unless he shows it. . . .
So to see it is clear proof that He is present, lovingly and tenderly revealing himself to you. It’s the contrast you are experiencing — can you understand? How do you know you are weak and unloving? Only because the strength and love of Jesus so press upon you that, like the sun shining from behind, you see the shadow. This is the surest way to Him. These are the only two essentials the soul can see — in this life we can’t encompass both. Either we see all in the light of Him, and primarily self, or we see only Him and all else is dark. . . . But it is up to you to accept His grace; only you can thank Him for it, and let it draw you, as it is meant, to long constantly and trustfully for His purifying love.
Another time, Sr. Wendy writes:
Worry is a canker. And it is self-regarding. Whereas all our real life is in Jesus. The function of anxiety is surely to alert us to our dependence on Him and to the fact that he alone matters. It is a most useful feeling. It says: You are fragile, unrealized, not in charge of your life, in danger of . . . therefore turn wholly to Jesus. The feeling may or may not diminish but the direction out of self’s narrowness into His love has been conquered. We have to go on and on until finally we live out of self, in Him. . . .
The great thing to grasp is that to feel “relaxed/happy” or to feel anxious is unimportant. Feelings only matter as an occasion for love. Happy, secure feelings prompt us to praise Him; sad, anxious feelings prompt us to express our faith and pray for him to be all in all to us. The feelings themselves tell us nothing about our “state” which is God’s secret and God’s work. We don’t base anything on ourselves but only on Him, on his goodness, knowing, as Paul says, in whom we have believed. Why are we anxious? Let’s will to have Jesus as our holiness. Gradually even the feeling vanishes, but that is unimportant.