A Trysting Place – 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Day 2 – Thursday after Ash Wednesday – Finding the Way Home
What no postulant was prepared for or had ever visualized was the welcome each found on the other side of the enclosure door. ‘What do you ask?’ The ritual question was always put and the postulant, kneeling, answered, ‘To try my vocation as a Benedictine in this house of Bede.’ That was what the novice mistress schooled them to say but it was reported that when Mother Prioress, acting for Abbess Hester, had put the question to Cecily Scallon, Cecily had simply gasped, ‘To come in.’
(In This House of Brede – Page 67)
During December Abbess Catherine had sent for the Japanese postulants one by one. ‘Mariko’ or ‘Sumi’, ‘Yoko’, ‘Yuri’, ‘Kazuko’ – you want – desire – wish to be clothed, wear the habit?’ Each had looked at her in surprise. ‘But – that is the next thing we have to do,’ said Yoko Matsudaira. ‘Yes, but only if you want it, if you feel it with your whole heart.’
‘What else would be in our hearts?’ their faces seemed to say. ‘We came to England to be made nuns.’
‘But you must not stay if you are not happy.’
‘I am happy,’ but it was a sing-song as if it had been drilled on their lips. Only Yoko had said, ‘I very much love,’ but Yoko had settled from the beginning. She was older than the others, seen more of western ways, but even for her it had not been easy.
(In This House of Brede – Page 323)
From the Scriptures:
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will make your vindication shine like the light,
and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
‘I very much love’. It is only late in the story of Brede Abbey that we meet the Japanese Postulants but their entrance fits in well in the first days of Lent. Yoko has a sad history and for her the enclosure of Brede must have indeed have seemed to be a sanctuary. Not that entering a religious community is somewhere you can go to escape the past, but it is a place where, with your sisters and brothers, you may find the strength to face the past and find wholeness and healing.
Every new venture we attempt or club we join or church we belong to, will say to us, ‘What do you ask?’ Only those who have sold themselves to hubris presume they are ‘God’s gift’ to every group they join. Yes, we bring ourselves to every activity, but the groups and especially the churches we join also give themselves to us. So it is a fair enough question, ‘What do you ask?’ They are taking as much risk as we are.
The challenge I face in my own journey with God’s call has been to turn my response from the sing-song, ‘I am happy,’ into the generous, amorous even, ‘I very much love’. So it is with Lent. If what we have chosen to pick up, or lay down during this time of being ‘enclosed’ does not bring us to a place of ‘I very much love’ then it would be better for us to not attempt it at all.
Lent is not a time when we, like the lazy steward in the parable in Matthew’s Gospel simply return to God what belongs to God. It is a time to take God’s call on our lives and make something beautiful out of it.
I used to think Lent was about a series of personal achievements. It was a time when I could pat myself on the back for not being so greedy, for taking charge of my tongue and for being a ‘good little Christian’. Now it is much deeper and longer lasting. A good Lent is not so much about what works we do for God but what our Beloved works within us.
‘To try my vocation…’ And to be honest, that is all we can ever do in response to God’s call on our lives; try. (Heaven forfend that any of us should ever feel that we have fully answered our vocation!) Answering the call of the One Who Loves us Best is a living growing relationship that will take us through all the changes and chances of this life into the greater joys of the life after life. This journey is not for Lent alone, we must never stop saying ‘yes’ to God’s call.
Forgive us, Lord,
when sometimes we think and act
as if only we have the devotion to you and to your children.
We need the strength of each other
to continue to serve all your creatures
Thank you for giving us companions on the way.
(Subir Biswas, India)
1) Write a letter, send an email or Facebook someone you love.
2) Say a prayer of thanks for one thing your church community gives you.
Quotations from ‘In This House of Brede’ are copyright © Rumer Godden 1969, 1991 Page numbers are from the 1991 Pan Book edition ISBN 0 330 33521 9
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Prayers are from ‘Prayers Encircling the World’ and are copyright © SPCK: 1998.
These Reflections, ‘A Trysting Place – 40 Days in Brede Abbey’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2019