A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
In the Novitiate – Falling in Love
Day 9 – Friday after 1st Sunday in Lent
Griffon! ‘We nearly all of us had had animals,’ Philippa said long afterwards – all except Sister Julian who seemed to know from the beginning that animals were not for her. Cecily had had her spaniel: Hilary, the hunter her father had given her – the only time anyone saw tears in those plain grey-green eyes was when Sister Hilary spoke of her hunter. It was better, Philippa found in the train [on her way to enter Brede] not to let herself think about Griffon. It was possible to shut Griffon out, not to think of Griffon – she had succeeded in doing that – but she could not always do it with Keith…
(In This House of Brede – Page 19)
From the Scriptures:
Peter said, ‘Look, we have left our homes and followed you.’ 29 And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’
Nuns and cats are legendary. Julian of Norwich has, by some, been pronounced the patron saint of cats, others (somewhat less pious) acclaim her as the original crazy cat lady. Later on in the story we will read of the unchaste activities of Wimple the convent cat but for today the novitiate reflect on what they have left behind when they entered Brede.
For those called to the contemplative life it should not surprise us that they find deep companionship in the world of Siamese cats, spaniels, and a favourite horse. Through the faithfulness of a dumb four-legged friend many people find strength to grow deeper in faith and become more gentle towards others. The faithfulness of our pets keeps us on an even keel and, when we enter out into the world and the church without them we miss them deeply.
For proof see how the mood in a room of people changes when someone enters with an assistance animal. With the exception of the very rude and the officious, people soften their attitudes almost immediately and are kinder towards each other as well as the animal and their owner. It is then little wonder that in the novitiate the sisters are felling a little saddened and even teary-eyed today.
Strong Mrs Talbot, not yet become the gentler Dame Philippa, resolves to simply not think about Griffon who she left behind in the care of her former housekeeper, but can’t quite manage this when it comes to Keith… (who is a large part of her later story). The truth is that we may, with the disciples, proclaim that ‘we have left our homes and followed you,’ but our homes, our pets, and our families never leave us. Even when they die…
To hold on to Christ will always mean letting go of others, yet in the economy of God’s love, all our other loves, past and present, are ordered in such a way that, in the end, ‘All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’. This is true whether we live the enclosed life of literal poverty or try to lead lives of simplicity in a cluttered world.
Nuns don’t take pets or personal relationships into the enclosure as affection to one or the other draws them away from their love of the One Who Loves us Best. Their aim is no longer to love just a few particularly but to love everyone lavishly. As our story unfolds Philippa receives letters with news of Griffon and Cecily can even be loving to Larry who was determined to make her his fiancé, all is indeed well, but it takes a fair amount of tears – the nuns call it a ‘monsoon’ – frustration, and loving patience.
We who live out our vocations in the world and have the privilege of pets and personal relationships must learn our lessons of generosity and comprehensive love for all in other ways. This can be harder than for those who are enclosed but no less necessary for if we only ever have particular loves how will we ever be able to fulfil our call to love others as Christ has loved us?
enlarge my heart
that it may be big enough to receive the greatness of your love.
Stretch my heart
that it may take into it all those who with me
around the world believe in Jesus Christ.
that it may take into it all those who do not know him,
but who are my responsibility because I know him.
And stretch it
that it may take in all those who are not lovely in my eyes,
and whose hands I do not want to touch;
through Jesus Christ, my Saviour.
(Prayer of an African Christian)
1) Find a pet and cuddle it. If necessary borrow one from a friend, most pets do not discriminate when it comes to receiving cuddles.
2) Think of the relationships and friendships you have had to renounce or alter to be faithful to God. Trust those friends and family members to whom you are no longer as close as you used to be into God’s loving embrace.
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