Faith has always been challenged by hardship in every era. Being of Middle Eastern descent myself, the conflicts in the Middle East drive a wedge between an idealistic view of a higher power looking over us, and total faithless mayhem.
I travelled to Munich in February 2015 to spend three days in a retirement home for nuns of the catholic order: “School Sisters of Notre Dame”. Received by Sister Ehrentrut, I followed her through her daily routines. I respectfully attended mass and was invited as the only male to dine with the order under the condition of putting my camera aside.
Being a retirement home, I saw Sister Ehrentrut in the last stages of her life but she was hopeful about life and death.
Faith fascinates me, in the sense that I want to understand what drives some people to be full of faith and other to not. When I first entered the retirement home, I entered the building on a bright winters day. The atmosphere was sinister. Sister Ehrentrut who was waiting alone in the foyer, welcomed me with a large smile and showed me to the dining room. A sparse room with the sun piercing through the windows and a traditional Bavarian dish was served. Without great introduction she started to share her stories and I listened in awe. Almost like a testimony, she explained how God had never left her side. Who was I to argue, when talking to a nun who had escaped a Russian firing squad during the Second World War, had built schools for the post war children. God was firmly in her heart.
We went for a tour around the retirement home, greeting the odd nun wandering about. But for the most part, the tour was an intimate stroll around the compound. Sister Ehrentrut mentioned her concerns for the younger generations and the ones to come because of their increasing loss of faith. We are heading towards a society that alienates faith – I am very much a part of this generation, a digital generation, a dehumanized generation. Her point of view was greatly informative and interesting to me.
Walking around the home, an uncomfortable feeling crept upon me. The dimly lit corridors, the sombre chapel, the total lack of colours made the retirement home equally hopeful and fearful. Walking through the shadows, it felt as if the nuns were forced to live in constant fear. And indeed when walking around, seeing the nuns walk around with their heads down I asked myself how is it possible to live this way. I had to ask Sister Ehrentrut and she admitted that this particular life style was not for everybody. What is difficult? Not for her as it was the only kind of life in her eyes.
We had coffee in her room in the afternoons after her nap. Simplicity may just be the key word for any religious person. Getting rid of all belongings is an important step towards achieving a heightened state of spirituality. Sister Ehrentrut told me that all her belongings could fit into a small bag. She had all she needed, a bed, a roof, medical care – anything else was a luxury. She did admit to having a sweet tooth but it something she was willing to close an eye on, after all she is still a human.
I learnt a great deal from my time with Sister Ehrentrut and we still write each other letters. This photo series is the start of a larger series on religion.