A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Philippa – The Journey Inward
Day 11 – Monday after 2nd Sunday in Lent
[Philippa speaks of visiting Westminster Cathedral] ‘I didn’t know what I was doing there,’ Philippa told Dame Beatrice Sheridan, sacristan at Brede, to whom in her early days she often talked…
‘Being the lunch hour, the cathedral was busy and there was a queue of people, standing in line, I didn’t know for what. I suppose I must have been looking towards them, perhaps looking lost or troubled, because suddenly an old man beckoned to me. He was a tramp…’
‘I expect I looked towards the line,’ Philippa told Dame Beatrice, ‘wondering what they were doing because the old man beckoned me and gave me his place.’
‘I don’t know,’ said Philippa, which was true. ‘I only know that somehow I seemed unable to move out of that line and the next thing I knew was that I was in the confessional.’
‘And did you confess?’ asked Richard [her former boss] – she had told him this story when she had broken her news [of becoming a nun] to him. ‘Did you?’
‘Of course not. I couldn’t I didn’t know how, but I asked the priest if I could come and see him.’
‘And that was the beginning?’
‘Of the practical things. Of course I didn’t begin to realize then what I was in for.’
‘And when you did realize?’
‘I dodged,’ said Philippa. ‘Oh, I had plenty, of excuse,’ she told Dame Beatrice. ‘It couldn’t have come at a worse time. There was one thing I had been playing for – in those days for me it was the one thing, and I must own I was playing prettily; the next step up in my Department was a big step for a woman, but I think if I had waited a little longer I should have got it.’
Richard confirmed that. ‘Indeed you would have got it.’
‘For another thing,’ Philippa went on to Dame Beatrice, ‘I didn’t want to be bothered. I thought I was very well as I was; a human balanced person with a reasonable record; with the luck of having money, friends, love – only suddenly it wasn’t enough – not nearly enough.’ Dame Beatrice nodded; this was what she understood. ‘Everything seemed – not hollow, but as if suddenly I could see beyond them, into an emptiness, and all the while there was this strange pull; no one can describe it to someone who hasn’t felt it, and doubly strap for me because until then; such a thing had never crossed my mind’
‘That’s what happens,’ said Dame Beatrice.
(In This House of Brede – Page 24)
From the Scriptures:
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2 ‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ 3 But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
‘And did you confess?’ Yesterday, I led a service for the first time in the chapel at my old school, forty-five years after I left there. It was a time overflowing with memories and thankfulness. It is a privilege to be asked to lead worship in a place where you were led to become a worshipper.
On reading again today’s extract from ‘Brede Abbey’, (which begins a week of looking at Philippa’s ‘Journey Inward’ from being the efficient Mrs Talbot to a humble choir nun) I also realised that it was in this Chapel of St Mary & St Nicholas at the Royal Hospital School where I first made a formal confession.
Philippa’s road to Profession is one long confession. Undoubtedly on her journey she made use of the formal Sacrament of Reconciliation but everything she did from the moment she wandered (or was she led?) into Westminster Cathedral was a confession.
Ultimately Philippa’s journey inward finds echoes in our own spiritual journeys. We may not use the language of ‘confession’. We may be unfamiliar with the concept of following a vocation. We may even be uncomfortable with the idea of ritual and liturgy for worship. But all of us, whenever we turn to face the One Who Loves us Best are in the business of confession. In fact even when we turn away from God’s loving gaze, what Philippa calls ‘dodging,’ we are in the business of confession because we are owning up to who we are not.
Knowing that God knows me I often wonder why I take so long to ‘fess up and with the apostle Peter simply declare, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ (John 21v17). With Philippa I need to weigh up what holds me back. Even after all these years I own up to occasional moments of ‘can’t be botheredness’ in pursuing the call of God but in the end God wins and everything that holds me back also seems hollow and empty.
Perhaps I need to make a mantra out of a chorus I used to sing when I was younger and was a little more fierce in my following of the Way?
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full, in his wonderful face
And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace
Learning to let ‘the things of earth grow strangely dim’ is a lifetime call. Deep down I know why I don’t always turn towards my Beloved, it is because I let myself be distracted by other things which always have been hollow and empty it’s simply that I let myself be dazzled by their flimsy shimmering.
As we journey with Philippa this week we will see how difficult a task this is, how easily we claim back our old empty and hollow loves, but we will also come to a place where we will find ourselves at home.
O Lord Jesus,
forgive me for the times I have racked you
on the cross of God’s purpose and my rebellion.
Let me gaze at that cross
and recognize what my wilfulness has done.
So join my grief with your passion, Lord;
that with your whole creation
I may be redeemed.
(Ruth Etchells, England)
1) Sometime this week visit an empty church at an empty time and give God space to speak to you.
2) Listen to a favourite song that turns your thoughts towards our Beloved. This link has a medley that includes the song above.
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