A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Day 6 – Tuesday after 1st Sunday in Lent
In the Novitiate – Falling in Love
Julian had first come to Brede when she was four years old; the same Julian, stocky and strong, with the same dark curly hair and bright brown eyes. She was the daughter of James Colquhoun, one of the Colquhoun Brothers of the building firm, who had built the new cloisters. Often, when he had come to inspect the work, Mr Colquhoun had brought his small Barbara, the future Julian, with him. Even at that age she had wanted to stay.
‘But nuns have to work,’ said her father.
‘I can work,’ said four-year-old Julian.
‘What can you do?’ the Abbess had teased her; even then, the community said, Julian had been Lady Abbess’s pet.
‘I can laugh and I can sing.’
The Abbess had been delighted. ‘A perfect Benedictine!’ She had told Mr Colquhoun, and fifteen years later Barbara became Sister Julian.
(In This House of Brede – Brede Page 42)
From the Scriptures:
O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvellous works among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be revered above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens. Honour and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
For many years my prayer and retreat life revolved around St Benedict’s House in Johannesburg. A retreat house and convent of the Order of the Holy Paraclete, it was there that I learnt much about the Rule of St Benedict and was always made welcome by the sisters.
One of the stalwarts of the community, Sister Stella Mary of blessed memory, catching me singing in the cloisters one day laughingly said, ‘Father Andrew, its just as well your vocation is to be a Franciscan as you are far too noisy to be a good Benedictine.’
Abbess Hester of Brede would disagree with her. However I suspect even the very young Barbara Colquhoun, unlike me, knew that they were times to laugh and sing and times to spend in quiet reflection. Children are far more spiritually aware than we ever give them credit for.
Yet, even those who keep the Rule strictly know that the Opus Dei of the Divine office, long and arduous as it is, can only be kept by souls who are absolutely in love with God and who have hearts that ‘dance and sing’. C.S. Lewis correctly reminds us that, ‘Joy is the serious business of heaven’.
In the first few days of Lent our task, like the novices of Brede Abbey, is to study our Beloved and learn to dance and to sing through our denials and devotions. It is certain that any Lenten devotion which is a burden and sucks the joy out of our faith is more about punishment than pilgrimage.
This we must guard against as it is all too easy to fall into worldly ways of going about the business of heaven.
I am a self-confessed ‘Synod Junkie’ and have spent almost 40 years of my life attending Diocesan, Provincial and General Synods. There is for me something about gathering with the leaders, the laity, the clergy, the bishops, of a church which seems to me a God-given opportunity for prayer and celebration of God’s work amongst us. Sometimes thought we, especially in General Synod slip into worldly ways.
This February past as we gathered in Church House Westminster I had to take a double take as during our ‘Questions’ session it seemed as if we were mimicking the boorish behaviour of those across Parliament Square sitting on the green benches of the House of Commons. This saddened me greatly and it was a relief to spend the rest of that evening in the company of a group of synod members at the Eucharist.
When we forget to ‘dance and sing’. When we become obsessed with details of church life instead of the mission of God. When we find it more important to be right than to be loving or forgiving, we find it easy to fall out of love with the Body of Christ. And when we do that it is not too far a distance to travel to find that we have fallen out of love with Christ…
we do not always ﬁnd it easy to recognize your coming to us.
Often our spirits are downcast and we,
who looked for so much in Christ,
are frankly disappointed.
Will you reveal yourself to us?
Open our eyes to undiscovered secrets of your Word.
Meet us in the breaking of bread.
Set our heavy hearts on ﬁre with love for you
and send us on our way rejoicing.
For your name’s sake.
(Ian D Bunting, England)
1) If you are fortunate enough to have young children present in your church fellowship. The next time they giggle or cry out during worship smile and say ‘thank you’.
2) If you are not fortunate enough to have young children present in your church fellowship pray as to what you can do to encourage their families to bring them to worship so that you may ‘dance and sing’ together.
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