A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Philippa – the Journey Inward
Day 13 – Wednesday after 2nd Sunday in Lent
Abbess Hester, in one of those long-ago preliminary interviews in the parlour she had asked Philippa, ‘Were you happy with your husband?’
‘Whose fault was that?’
‘Both of ours. It’s nearly always both.’
‘I’m glad you said that, without excuses,’ said the Abbess and, her eyes looking deep into Philippa, asked, ‘You were even in those days a career woman?’
‘Yes, but not only,’ Philippa had taken the point. ‘After I came back to London I could have married again.’ The Abbess said nothing and Philippa went on ‘He was married and had children, so we stopped.’
‘You were able to stop?’
‘Thank God,’ said Philippa. ‘I didn’t want to have that on my conscience.’
‘How long ago was this?’
‘Then it has nothing to do with your wanting to enter religious life?’
The Abbess had considered then asked, ‘Have you seen him since?’
‘I see him almost every weekday. He’s the Permanent Secretary, head of my Department’
‘H’mm. Did his wife know?’
At that Philippa had hesitated. ‘If she had been… alive to him, she couldn’t have helped knowing, but she wasn’t. Richard is very lonely. That was what made it so hard for both, of us, but I’m glad now – for myself. For me it was…’ Philippa could have used Dame Beatrice’s favourite – ‘it was providential’ – instead, ‘if we had been able to marry, for me it would have turned out “second best”.’
The Abbess had smiled. ‘I’m glad you are loving. A cold heart is no good for a religious.’
(In This House of Brede – Page 128)
From the Scriptures:
34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Much as we would want to, we can never leave the past completely behind us. Philippa may be able to do something about ‘a clock, a cat and some dear little sins’ but there is much of who we have been that stays with us forever and becomes part of who we are. Thus far in her story Philippa has been as honest with her sisters as she is able, but her inability to embrace all of her past is at the root of the dis-ease some feel towards her.
I am convinced that we continue to carry every single relationship we have ever had throughout our lives. We see this mostly in our continuing relationship with those who have died, (as we grow we learn that we never truly get over any grief), but this also applies to other areas of our life which involve loss. Divorce, leaving home, changing employment, getting married, all of these demand a ‘leaving’ which brings grief with it, yet we can only go forward if we have worked out how to carry them with us.
If we are not careful they will become a burden, as we will discover later in the story of Dame Veronica, and plague our lives causing us to live in the past. Somehow we need to find a way of integrating the past into the present so that we many embrace the future.
The answer for loss is love. All too easy to say if you have not gone through a divorce yourself, or been turned down for a promotion, or been rejected because of your colour or gender, faith or identity. How can we love those who do not love us and have literally caused us grief? How can we find love again in places where a former love has died and we have grown apart from family, from friends, and even beliefs? How can we find love in places that have been filled with hate, and where sometimes it is even we ourselves who have nurtured hate?
To tend our griefs fully, to find resolution for our continuing relationship with those from whom we are separated, and for the sake of our own peace of mind we need a new kind of love.
Having just washed the feet of his disciples, one a betrayer, one a denier, and all bar the youngest cowards, Jesus tends the grief that He knows they will bring him with these words, ‘love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’. No ifs, no ands, no buts, just love. Jesus teaches us that grief is resolved when we learn to see past the situation – denial, betrayal, desertion – and hold on to the person who, even though there may be hurt between us, is loved perfectly by the One Who Loves all of us Best.
This is not easy. It means learning to forgive yet not forget and instead cherish the one (which may even be ourselves) who has brought pain and grief into a relationship. It means going to the cross with our back scourged and our hands, side, and feet pierced. This love calls us to die, but death is the only path to resurrection. Bonhoeffer speaks for us when describing our journey homeward. ‘When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die’. The answer to grief is loving others to death, our own deaths, and in so doing bring life to all.
Bowdlerising the title of a popular British TV programme, ‘Come Die with me’.
O God, only you know the truth of the burden
which each of us carries.
We know that some of the burdens
which we wish to lay down
can be picked up by the gifts and energy of others.
Sometimes we can be so supported by others
that the things we are carrying seem lighter.
Sometimes we can change our life in ways
which bring new justice and care.
For other things, we have few answers,
too few resources in ourselves
to bring in the changes,
or we simply fail in what we would hope to do or be.
For this we grieve.
For this we pray forgiveness.
For all, we pray for new ways
to journey on in hope.
(Dorothy McRae-McMahon, Australia)
1) Write out a list all those who have gone before you who have made your life richer and use it as a bookmark until Easter Day.
2) That one person whom you have never forgiven for a past hurt, do it now!
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