These Augustinian sisters bring prayer and depth of purpose to all their activities, whether work or recreation!
Spanish journalist Alejandro Ávila posted a minute-long video on his Twitter profile that immediately caught the attention of viewers around the world and spread like wildfire on social and traditional media. The video shows a group of cloistered nuns playing basketball in the courtyard of their convent.
The women in the video are Augustinian nuns from Seville.
Nunca pensé que vería a unas monjas de clausura jugando al baloncesto. Hoy he visitado el convento de San Leandro, donde sus monjas han cambiado la elaboración de sus célebres yemas por mascarillas sanitarias. Entre costura y costura, tiros a canasta. #Sevilla#Sevillahoypic.twitter.com/enf7TyVjCy— Alejandro Ávila (@AleAvilaV) April 13, 2020
Even taken out of context, the scene inspires many comments. It’s been featured on sports sites that applaud the initiative of the nuns, while discussing their basketball technique.
To be honest, other than a sister dressed all in white, there’s not much movement between one basket and the other. They probably weren’t intending to become champions, and obviously they had to take into account the need for social distancing. It’s more of a community pick-up game than a formal one, but still looks like a lot of fun.
The filming from above gives people the feeling of being able to spy inside the mystery that is the cloister. The nuns’ sequestered life calls to mind our own experiences in lockdown: If only our quarantine were a cloister!
I recently interviewed Sister Chiara, who shared the story of her monastic vocation and testified to a great openness within the narrow space of the monastery: “As soon as you start to be silent, you find yourself full of noise. In silence one is much more present to oneself, so our sensitivity is amplified.”
While quarantine means being confined within the home and nothing more, cloistered life means being in a place where you can open up completely to your desire for meaning and happiness. From this comes the radical difference between our experiences being closed in, and life within the four walls of a convent; we can hope that in our quarantine, we can accept the challenge of making this time closer to cloistered life.
In the common imagination, no one would imagine nuns having so much fun playing sports; indeed, strangers might be surprised that they like basketball. This is because we misunderstand the meaning of the word “serious,” thinking that it excludes the sphere of fun and carefree activity. Instead, those who are serious about their lives and vocations are able to live the full meaning of their every gesture.
We are the ones who consider work opposed to fun. I believe that these nuns don’t separate prayer from rest, or work from smiles. We have to learn from them this unity of perspective, which makes one the lightness of the hand that dribbles a ball and the depth of the hand that clings to the rosary.
From sweets to masks
But who are these nuns immortalized in the video? What is the full context? If they are to be remembered in the chronicles of the pandemic, I hope it’s not just for this moment of playful recreation in the patio.
With its tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of infected people, Spain has been hit hard by the coronavirus. Although the numbers speak of a drop in infections, the situation is not at all free from grave concern.
The monastery of San Leandro in Seville is home to 18 Augustinian nuns who are offering their contributions of help to the country, even though they were the ones asking for donations from their fellow countrymen until shortly before the appearance of COVID-19. Since 2018, their monastery has been undergoing a major renovation, and while this work was being carried out, the need was discovered for additional indispensable work that had not been planned (including the reinforcement of the foundations). The costs of the renovations have grown exponentially.
In fact, the convent of San Leandro was and is at risk of closure. Their meager means of subsistence barely guarantee daily survival, and even that, not entirely. The nuns’ main income came from the production of a famous dessert: the “yemas” of San Leandro (made only of egg yolks and sugar, a simple recipe with a delicious taste … something to try!). The sale of this delicacy was their main source of income, and one that these nuns have put aside since the pandemic brought Spain to its knees.
They decided to dedicate their work to the manufacture of masks instead, to be supplied to the medical staff involved in the emergency (you can see them at work here, in an article dedicated to them by the Diario de Sevilla). Since March they have been working with the material at their disposal and sewing everything by hand; some fellow citizens generously donated three sewing machines to them. The work became faster, but continued to show the sisters’ skill at working with their hands.
What the video shows is how they spend part of the time when they aren’t busy cutting fabric and making masks: In the inner courtyard of the convent, they dabble with basketball. But what I have omitted so far—and that they would certainly put in the first place of all this—is what unifies, strengthens, and sustains the beginning and the end of each day: prayer. That is a true window wide open on the whole world.
It is thanks to a living relationship with God that a hand learns to sew, dribble a ball, and pray the Rosary with the same strength and gratitude. In addition to their private time in the convent, the sisters share moments of common prayer and songs to entrust to God the sick and their families.