A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Day 4 – Saturday after Ash Wednesday – Finding the Way Home
Before Philippa came to Brede – and when she had come – over and over again it had been impressed upon her that she would find the life hard. ‘I need it hard,’ she had said. ‘I need to be purged and cleansed,’ and at first, she had been impatient when it was tempered for her. Dame Ursula had told her to stay in bed every morning of her first week and rest until Dame Clare came to call her after Lauds and Prime, ‘but I’m not ill,’ and how chagrined she had been, in the six weeks of her first Lent, when the edict came: ‘Sister Philippa is not to fast. She is to have meat.’
‘But, Mother Mistress…’
‘You don’t need extra penances. We know what an effort this must be for you.’ Dame Ursula had laid her hand on Philippa’s arm and the green eyes behind the spectacles shone. The spectacles were of the cheapest kind but they could not hide the joy and admiration that transfigured the plain face, and Philippa was moved again as she had been with the Pax. It was only a moment, then duty said, in the uncompromising voice used by an old-fashioned novice mistress to her charges, the ‘Great Bear’ voice, ‘it is Lady Abbess’s order and it’s far more salutary than fasting for you do what you are told.’
‘But will you be able to be obedient, a stiff-necked mature like you?’ McTurk had asked; obedience was the stumbling block for almost everyone, but Philippa found it restful. ‘Thank God I shall never have to give orders again,’ she wrote to him.
(In This House of Brede – Page 92)
From the Scriptures:
While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ 28 But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’
Whether it is the Benedictine vows of Obedience, Stability, and Conversio Morum or the more widely known monastic vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience anyone who has attempted the Religious Life will know that Obedience is the killer. The other vows are the common lot of many of the world’s poorest but Obedience is where the spirit is really tested.
Even in my own calling I find this a challenge. Each time I take up a different post in the life of the church I am bound to make a Declaration of Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and an Oath of Canonical Obedience to the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich. I do so with joy and hope in my heart. However that does not prevent me from, like Saul the Pharisee on the Damascus Road, kicking against the goads each time I think I know better than my betters.
Many of the struggles we face in our journey heavenward are made more difficult by a self-inflicted wilfulness. After all there is nothing more direct or easy to understand than the commands of Jesus: turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, when you pray forgive, love your neighbour. So why do we hesitate to obey? It can’t be because we don’t understand God’s intention nor are we unaware of what we have signed up for. If the church ever truly learns to hear the Word of God and keep it not only she but also the whole of creation would indeed be blessed.
What prevents us from obeying the very Word we desire to follow?
For Philippa it seems to stem from her desire to view penance as a punishment for past sin instead of an instrument for future growth. For others it may be an insistence that they are set free from rules by God’s Spirit, whilst forgetting that our freedom is given so that we may be better servants. For me, disobedience to my Beloved (present to me in the rules and the commands of the Church) often comes from an arrogant wilfulness that says that I know what is best. What about you?
In the story of The Von Trapp Family the novice Maria returns to Nonberg Abbey in Salzburg after meeting Captain Von Trapp and his children. She goes to Mother Abbess to talk about her feelings. In Hollywood the Abbess sings ‘Climb Every Mountain’, in real life Mother sent Maria back to the Captain to be mother to someone else’s children with the words ‘God’s will hath no why’ ringing in her ears and calling her to obedience.
‘God’s will hath no why’. May we learn (soon please Lord!) that each time we are tempted to follow our own will, no matter how much we can justify it, we only ever find ourselves further away from home than closer to our Beloved.
O my Father, Great Elder,
I have no words to thank you,
but with your deep wisdom
I am sure that you can see
how I value your glorious gifts.
O my Father, when I look upon your greatness,
I am overcome with awe.
O Great Elder,
ruler of all things on earth and in heaven,
I am your warrior,
ready to act according to your will.
(Kikuyu people, Kenya)
1) Tomorrow is Sunday. Sundays are always feast days and so no penance should be carried out on them and recreation is permitted. Without being over indulgent follow Sister Monica Joan’s advice and allow yourself a small treat.
2) As you listen to the Scriptures in worship tomorrow listen for God’s command to you and make a commitment to obedience.
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