This photo comes from the Opus Dei official website. The look on the face of sheer and utter consternation (or sheer and utter constipation?) is interesting to me. I don't want to offend any members of the Opus Dei, but, well, wow....I mean, why use this photo on the page devoted to "Joining"? The frown lines, the squinting eyes, the bad hair, the clenched hands, the schlumpy sweatshirt over the schlumpy blouse and even schlumpier scarf...it's not exactly a picture of warm and fuzziness.
But then, perhaps warm and fuzzy is not what Opus Dei seeks to provide to its members. Opus Dei has floated onto the cultural radar screen with the publication of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (yet another book, like The Red Tent, which, in my opinion, starts out as quite compelling and then seems to narratively slide off a cliff somewhere towards the last hundred pages or so) and, even moreso, with the imminent opening of the motion picture starting Tom Hanks (when I read the book, I was sure that Brown had Harrison Ford in mind for the starring role, but perhaps he was unavailable). There has been quite a lot of controversy of late as to the portrayal of this seemingly extreme Catholic sect in the book (and supposedly the movie), which portrayal ranges on a scale from "seemingly extreme" to "murderously insane".
I won't lie to you: I don't know much of anything about Opus Dei. But what I do know is that members routinely practice Corporal Mortification, which includes:
- infliction of pain upon onesself
- sensual deprivation (I use that term as an umbrella for the sacrificing of a variety of pleasures of the flesh, not just sex)
- sleeping on wooden planks
- cold showers
- observations of silence.
And I am not just talking about Ashtanga here (need I even note that a quick perusal of the Ashtanga EZ Board will reveal an acceptance of pain, and if not pain, then discomfort, as a necessary part of the practice and an underlying awe for those who abstain from various creature comforts such as food, sex, idle gossip, etc.?).
It seems to me that all spiritual pursuits include some level of corporal mortification. Sometimes it is in the name of purification. Sometimes it is in the name of imitating the sacrifices or suffering of religious/spiritual icons. Sometimes it is a demonstration of faith. Whatever it is, it's all good...until it isn't. And it isn't good when it leads to unhealthy, even hostile, attitudes about one's body and one's bodily needs. And it isn't good when it leads to violence against onesself or against others. At least that's my opinion. I know others disagree. And that's fine. To each his own, as long as no one else gets hurt.