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Meet the Nun Who Wants You to Remember You Will Die

BOSTON — Before she entered the Daughters of St. Paul convent in 2010, Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble read a biography of the order’s founder, an Italian priest who was born in the 1880s. He kept a ceramic skull on his desk, as a reminder of the inevitability of death. Sister Aletheia, a punk fan as a teenager, thought the morbid curio was “super punk rock,” she recalled recently. She thought vaguely about acquiring a skull for herself someday.

These days, Sister Aletheia has no shortage of skulls. People send her skull mugs and skull rosaries in the mail, and share photos of their skull tattoos. A ceramic skull from a Halloween store sits on her desk. Her Twitter name includes a skull and crossbones emoji.

That is because since 2017, she has made it her mission to revive the practice of memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning “Remember your death.” The concept is to intentionally think about your own death every day, as a means of appreciating the present and focusing on the future. It can seem radical in an era in which death — until very recently — has become easy to ignore.

“My life is going to end, and I have a limited amount of time,” Sister Aletheia said. “We naturally tend to think of our lives as kind of continuing and continuing.”

Sister Aletheia’s project has reached Catholics all over the country, via social media, a memento mori prayer journal — even merchandise emblazoned with a signature skull. Her followers have found unexpected comfort in grappling with death during the coronavirus pandemic. “Memento mori is: Where am I headed, where do I want to end up?” said Becky Clements, who coordinates religious education at her Catholic parish in Lake Charles, La., and has incorporated the idea into a curriculum used by other parishes in her diocese. “Memento mori works perfectly with what my students are facing, between the pandemic and the massive hurricanes.” Ms. Clements keeps a large resin skull on her own desk, inspired by Sister Aletheia.

Sister Aletheia rejects any suggestion that the practice is morbid. Suffering and death are facts of life; focusing only on the “bright and shiny” is superficial and inauthentic. “We try to suppress the thought of death, or escape it, or run away from it because we think that’s where we’ll find happiness,” she said. “But it’s actually in facing the darkest realities of life that we find light in them.”

The practice of regular meditation on death is a venerable one. Saint Benedict instructed his monks in the sixth century to “keep death daily before your eyes,” for example. For Christians like Sister Aletheia, it is inextricable from the promise of a better life after death. But the practice is not uniquely Christian. Mindfulness of death is a tradition within Buddhism, and Socrates and Seneca were among the early thinkers who recommended “practicing” death as a way to cultivate meaning and focus. Skeletons, clocks and decaying food are recurring motifs in art history.

For almost all of humanity, people died at younger ages than we do now, more frequently died at home, and had less medical control over their final days. Death was far less predictable, and far more visible. “To us, death is exotic,” said Joanna Ebenstein, founder of Morbid Anatomy, a Brooklyn-based enterprise that offers events and books focused on death, art and culture. “But that’s a luxury particular to our time and place.”

The pandemic, of course, has made death impossible to forget. Since last spring, Ms. Ebenstein has conducted a series of memento mori classes online, in which students explore the global history of representations of death, and then create their own. Final projects have included a miniature coffin, a series of letters to be delivered post-mortem, and a deck of tarot cards composed of photographs taken by a husband who recently died. “For the first time in my lifetime, this is a topic not just interesting to a bunch of hipsters,” Ms. Ebenstein said. “Death is actually relevant.”

The Daughters of St. Paul, Sister Aletheia’s order, was founded in the early 20th century to use “the most modern and efficacious means of media” to preach the Christian message. A century ago, that meant publishing books, which the group still does. But now, “modern and efficacious” means something more, and many of the women are active on social media, where they use variations on the hashtag #MediaNuns. In December, Sister Aletheia appeared in a TikTok video created by the order, which posed cheeky Catholic matchups like evening prayer vs. morning prayer, and St. Peter vs. St. Paul. The video, set to Run-DMC’s “It’s Tricky,” was viewed more than 4.4 million times.

As a teenager in Tulsa, Okla., Sister Aletheia, who is now 40, listened to the Dead Kennedys and attended local punk shows with her friends. Her parents were committed Catholics; her father has a Ph.D. in theology and worked for a local Catholic diocese for a while. But she was a skeptical child and declared herself an atheist as a teenager, rather than go through the formal process of joining the church.

At Bryn Mawr College, she was the leader of an animal rights club. But she blanched at the animal rights movement’s arguments against “speciesism.” It seemed to her that there was a real, if difficult to define, difference between humans and other animals. But “as a materialist atheist, I really couldn’t find a reason for that,” she recalled. “I had this intuitive sense that the soul existed.”

While working on an organic farm in Costa Rica after a stint with Teach for America, she had a sudden and dramatic conversion experience: God was real and she had to figure out his plan for her life. When her longtime boyfriend picked her up from the airport after the trip, she broke up with him and canceled her plans to go to law school. Within four years, she was wearing a habit at the convent, an unassuming blond-brick building that includes a publishing house, gardens and a small free-standing burial chapel where the nuns are entombed after they die.

Sister Aletheia began her memento mori project on Twitter, where she shared daily meditations for more than 500 days in a row. In October 2018, on her 455th day with the skull on her desk, she wrote, “Everyone dies, their bodies rot, and every face becomes a skull (unless you are incorrupt).”

At first, she had no particular goal beyond keeping herself committed to her own daily practice. But the tweets were a hit, and the project expanded. Now the order sells vinyl decals ($ 4.95, “great Christmas gifts!”) and hooded sweatshirts emblazoned with a skull icon designed by Sister Danielle Victoria Lussier, another Daughter of St. Paul. Sister Aletheia continues to promote the practice on social media, and she has published a memento mori prayer journal and a devotional that opens with the sentence, “You are going to die.”

The books have become some of the order’s best-sellers in recent years, a boost to the nuns, whose income as a nonprofit publisher has declined sharply in recent decades. Sister Aletheia is currently working on a new prayer book for the Advent season, leading up to Christmas.

“She has such a gift for talking about really difficult things with joy,” said Christy Wilkens, a Catholic writer and mother of six outside Austin, Texas. “She’s so young and vibrant and joyful and is also reminding us all we’re going to die.” Ms. Wilkens credits memento mori with giving her the “spiritual tools” to grapple with her 9-year-old son’s serious health issues. “It has allowed me, not exactly to cope, but to surrender everything to God,” she said.

For Sister Aletheia, having spent the previous few years meditating on mortality helped prepare her for the fear and isolation of the past year. The pandemic has been traumatic, she said. But there have also been small moments of grace, like people from the community knocking on the door to donate food to the nuns in isolation. As she wrote in her devotional, “Remembering death keeps us awake, focused, and ready for whatever might happen — both the excruciatingly difficult and the breathtakingly beautiful.”

Author: Ruth Graham
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

When dollars meet the hype: The biggest NFT hits from celebrities

Nonfungible tokens have quickly become a mainstream phenomenon, and a number of celebrities and entertainment and sporting icons are driving their popularity. The question is: Which NFT has had the most influence on this up-and-coming sector?

There is no denying that NFTs have taken the world by storm as some of the most popular digital collectibles have attracted mind-blowing price tags and led to a stampede of newcomers looking to make the most of the spotlight on the space.

While many have looked to ride the very apparent wave of success of NFTs, there are a few standout digital collectible creators that have seen their NFTs sold at auction for millions of dollars. In a short space of time, NFTs have become the new-age autograph, and the use of the technology has proliferated a variety of industries.

The world of sport has taken a fondness to NFTs as blockchain-powered digital collectibles marketplaces boom for American sports leagues such as the National Basketball Association and the National Football League. The art industry is going through a new age renaissance of sorts, evident in Beeple’s $ 69-million digital art piece breaking auction records and changing the way people enjoy and own art. Musicians, celebrities and content creators have also created unique NFTs that are redefining how fans and consumers acquire memorabilia, merchandise and content.

Here are some of the most influential NFTs in 2021, highlighting the creators or original owners and what those particular NFTs are now worth.

Beeple’s “Everydays”

It is only fitting that Beeple’s now-famous digital collage “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” is part of this list of notable NFTs. Its price tag alone has solidified its status as the most expensive NFT ever sold at an auction.

American digital artist Mike Winkelmann, better known by his nickname Beeple, created the digital collage, which was sold in February 2021 at renowned auction house Christie’s for a total of $ 69,346,250.

Beeple has been releasing a piece of digital art every single day for the past 13 and a half years, and the “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” is a collage of some 5,000 of these pieces he’s released.

The NFT’s jaw-dropping price tag was only realized in a frenzied final hour while on auction as the digital art piece saw a dramatic increase in the value of bids in the last two minutes of the auction, going up from a $ 20-million bid to the final bid for around $ 60 million. The extra $ 9 million was the buyer’s premium that Christie’s charges.

Jack Dorsey’s $ 2.9-million genesis tweet

In a weird and wonderful use-case example for NFTs, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey successfully auctioned off the digital rights to his first-ever tweet from March 2006. The NFT tweet was eventually sold for $ 2.9 million in March 2021, the proceeds of which were donated to the GiveDirectly fund.

Dorsey shared a link on his Twitter profile on March 6 that took users to an online auction for his 2006 tweet, which also happened to be the first-ever made on the popular social media platform some 15 years ago.

The tweet’s auction was facilitated by the NFT platform Valuables, which allows users to mint tweets on its blockchain “creating a 1-of-1 autographed version.” People can then bid for the ownership of the autographed tweet — as explained in the Valuables FAQ. 

Dorsey’s first tweet from March 2006 reads: “just setting up my twttr.” Dorsey’s digitally autographed tweet attracted a multitude of bids, but it eventually went to Sina Estavi, the CEO of Tron-based Bridge Oracle.

Edward Snowden’s NFT

American whistleblower Edward Snowden is another notable person to have raised a large amount of money through the sale of an NFT. In 2021, he made headlines after raising $ 5 million through the sale of a unique piece of NFT art — with the proceeds donated to the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

The NFT art piece, titled “Stay Free,” was commissioned by Snowden to commemorate a landmark 2020 court decision ruling the United States National Security Agency’s mass surveillance violated the law. Snowden played an integral part in uncovering the violations — and the art piece comprises every page of the historic court ruling, while a silhouette of Snowden’s face is featured in the foreground of the art piece.

Snowden is perhaps one of the most widely recognizable government whistleblowers over the past decade. During his time as a former employee and subcontractor for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Snowden gained access to and leaked sensitive information relating to privacy abuses carried out by the NSA.

Some seven years later, a federal appeals court ruled that the NSA’s surveillance program that collected data on Americans’ phone calls was illegal. Snowden had to seek asylum in Russia after leaking this information and has since been granted permanent residency in the country. Snowden was charged under the Espionage Act for leaking this information to the public.

Given that NFTs have surged in popularity in 2021, it is not surprising that Snowden’s “Stay Free” art piece garnered such a big price tag at auction. The NFT was snapped up by PleasrDAO, which was formed by a group of NFT art collectors.

The group posted a winning bid of 2,224.00 Ether (ETH) for the digital art piece. The final price paid for the “Stay Free” NFT is more than the annual budget of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, as Snowden noted in a tweet as bidding for the art piece heated up.

Gronk’s NFL Championship Series

NFL veteran Rob Gronkowski is arguably the most influential player from his sport to have enjoyed a successful NFT launch of digitally signed trading cards.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end entered the world of NFTs in March as he partnered with OpenSea to mint a collection of trading cards and ended up earning $ 1.8 million worth of ETH from the sale of the cards.

Gronkowski’s Championship Series NFTs are an homage to his four NFL titles, while the fifth and final “Career Highlight Refractor Card” was created as a tribute to those four successful campaigns. Gronkowski won three NFL titles with the New England Patriots while his fourth NFL win came alongside quarterback Tom Brady after the pair joined the Buccaneers in 2020.

The four Championship Cards featured 87 digital editions that were up for auction, while the fifth Career Highlight card was a single, stand-alone NFT.

Considering that fact, it’s unsurprising that the one-off “Career Highlight Refractor Card” netted the highest amount at auction, selling for 229 ETH valued at around $ 435,000 at the time. The auction lasted for two days and saw a total of 349 trading cards sold at auction as well as the one-off Career highlight card to 95 different owners. The total trading value of the auction was 1,014 ETH valued at $ 1.8 million on the day.

Grimes’ 20-minute, $ 5.8-million NFT bonanza

Last but not least, Canadian musician and visual artist Claire Elise Boucher, better known by her stage name Grimes, enjoyed an explosive NFT launch that netted $ 5.8 million in sales of tokenized artwork when the sale ended in March 2021.

Grimes released her first NFT collection dubbed “WarNymph,” which was created by her brother, renowned digital artist Mac Boucher. The artwork explored a fictional universe centered around a goddess stylized as an infant angel. A percentage of the proceeds from the “WarNymph” NFT sales were donated to Carbon 180, a non-governmental organization dedicated to reducing carbon emissions.

As mentioned, Grimes’ NFT art pieces were in hot demand, and copies garnered more than $ 5 million in sales in under 20 minutes after going live on Feb. 28. The most expensive NFT, “Death of the Old,” attracted a winning bid of $ 389,000.

Not just a fad it seems

As Cointelegraph previously explored, NFTs have quickly moved past the notion of being a fad, and there seems to be agreement that the space will continue to attract major investment and use in the future.

From musicians interested in breaking the boundaries of their usual releases, like the band Kings of Leon generating $ 2 million from its NFT album release, to a $ 1.8-million pair of sneakers, it is undeniable that tokenizing assets is becoming more mainstream.

Mattison Asher, who conducts research on Ethereum, NFTs and DeFi at ConsenSys, told Cointelegraph at the time that it’s hard to gauge whether the prices paid for select pieces of digital art and other NFTs will hold their value in the future, adding: “I own some NFTs, but that is because I appreciate the art and the community that was formed to create the art. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, and people clearly do value Beeple’s ‘The First 5000 Days’ as evidenced by the auction.”

However, Asher contends that sales like that of “Everydays” have played a more important role in amalgamating industries that seem to have more in common than meets the eye:

“The story of crypto and Beeple are incredibly similar in nature. Both Beeple and the crypto industry as a whole have had to overcome an incredible amount of adversity in order to reach the level of success they are experiencing now. Similar to the crypto industry as a whole, Beeple has been creating digital works for years, often with little recognition.”

As Asher also highlighted, NFTs have already proven to be a highly effective medium for monetizing intellectual property, no matter what shape or form a particular NFT takes. While the five NFTs highlighted above are perhaps the most notable, there are sure to be more highly priced digital collectibles in the future.