Saturday, May 28, 2011

Monastery Shut Down After Hosting Exotic Dancer Turned Nun

One of the classic stories in Christianity is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The story is generally interpreted as meaning those who return to the Christian fold after leaving to pursue less spiritual goals should be richly welcomed, even more so than those who never question their faith.

Sister Anna Nobili, an Italian nun, worked as an exotic dancer before deciding that she would rather devote her life to God and now applies her skills to a form of Christian modern dance. One would think that the Prodigal Son story would be practically tailor-made for her unusual background, but the Roman Catholic Church apparently thinks otherwise. A monastery that recently hosted Sister Nobili was shut down because the Church deemed it to have "lapsed in its discipline."

Around 20 Cistercian monks will be transferred to other monasteries around the country after their lifestyles were deemed 'not in keeping' with Church doctrine.

In 2009, former exotic dancer and striptease artist Anna Nobili performed some religious moves for an audience of cardinals and bishops, twirling around a wooden crucifix.

The self-described 'ballerina for God', 38, became a nun after being 'reborn' by her new-found faith in God, basing her choreography on Bible tales. Video footage of her doing her thing in front of an altar was a YouTube hit, funnily enough.

'The decision to investigate the monastery was launched after reports were received of what was going on there - we need to remember this is a holy shrine containing relics of Christ,' Vatican officials told the Daily Mail.

'It was evident that the order had lapsed in its discipline and an Apostolic visitation was arranged, which resulted in the decision to close the monastery which was approved by Pope Benedict.'

I took a look at some of the footage on YouTube of Sister Nobili's dance performances and have a hard time seeing how any but the most traditional of Christians would be offended by them. This video shows her dancing at a service back in November.

Her moves strike me as a combination of the "hands-in-the-air, swaying-back-and-forth" that is commonly seen at Pentecostal and Evangelical services, and some whirling motions that are similar to those found in the Sufi dance tradition. The music itself, a simple repetitive melody, is a lot like the music used in many "non-denominational" churches that simple describe themselves as Christian. Many Pentecostal, Evangelical, and non-denominational churches are quite conservative, and Sufism, while Islamic, is a mystical system of spirituality that goes back many centuries.

Responding to a comment from a previous thread questioning what I meant by "embodied spirituality," Sister Nobili's ecstatic dance is the sort of thing that I consider a good example of it. Just because something is physical or sensual doesn't mean that it can't be spiritual, and as I see it spirituality should be sensual - that is, it should engage the senses and passions and not neglect the physical aspects of one's being. Hostility directed toward the physical body does nothing to elevate one's level of spiritual realization, and can degrade spiritual coherence by dividing consciousness against itself.

One wonders whether or not Sister Nobili is subject to greater scrutiny because of her background - that is, if lifelong nun were to put on the exact same dance performance would the monastery hosting it really have been shut down? I personally doubt it and relate the closure back to the Church's uneasy attitude towards sexuality. The Apostle Paul, one of the most famous converts in the Christian tradition, persecuted and even supervised the execution of Christians before his conversion on the road to Damascus, while all Sister Nobili was doing prior to becoming a nun was dancing around naked. One would think that comparison would give Church leaders a better perspective on the matter.

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PhoenixAngel said...

I was quickly bored of her dancing after watching about a minute of it but keep in mind our eclectic group has had belly dancers perform before ritual before :)

Insofar as your comment about embodied spirituality, I totally agree. Get some drums going with the spirituality and its difficult to not do at least a head bob. i know for me, its very difficult NOT to move my hips and sway when I hear those drums.

Was Sister Nobili subject to greater scrutiny? Oh yeah... they were looking for reasons to censor her

V.V.F. said...

The Polyphonic Spree did it better. But they worship the sun, so I guess it's to be expected.

While I agree with most of your assessments here, I daresay you're underestimating just how repressed the Catholic Church is. Popular music is for Protestants!

V.V.F. said...

Oh, and I just found this video. It looks like she's done some more "sexual" performances. Plus, if she's using these performances as a platform to preach the Word - which she may or may not be doing here - that's also something she's not exactly allowed to do, as a woman.

Ananael Qaa said...

that's also something she's not exactly allowed to do, as a woman.

I hadn't even thought of that. I suppose that's what I get, growing up Lutheran. I know that in the Roman Catholic Church women can't be priests and only priests can say the Mass, but is it true that nuns can't lead any sort of religious service? If so, it's not hard to see why the RCC is unappealing to a lot of women.

V.V.F. said...

As far I know, that's the case. I don't think I've ever even seen a Sister lead people in a rosary without a priest around.

Pallas Renatus said...

Perhaps it was her stripper career that imbued her with too much of a sense of free will and gender equality. Can't be having that running about in our churches :-p