A Trysting Place
– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Philippa – the Journey Inward
Day 15 – Friday after 2nd Sunday in Lent
[Philippa is talking to an old work friend about her propensity to organise the Abbey] ‘Shall I never learn?’ Philippa spoke in misery. ‘Of course I see it now – too late. It will be difficult, no, impossible, to stop it. I may have done Brede irreparable damage.’
‘It may never happen,’ said McTurk.
‘I wish I had the faith to think so. You’re right, I am a busybody. I suppose it’s second nature. I will learn,’ said Philippa. ‘I shall hold my tongue, keep myself back, efface my meddlesome self – this me.’
‘You can’t;’ said McTurk
‘For the simple reason that they will never let you. To deny your gifts would be cheating. We can overcome our second natures, my dear, but not our first, and you were born to take responsibility, to lead.’ He spoke seriously but Philippa only laughed.
‘I can’t do that here. There is always Dame Agnes to take me down.’ Then she spoke seriously too. ‘These walls are my shield; here, thank God, I am a nobody, almost anonymous, a very young-in-religion, unimportant Benedictine nun.’
(In This House of Brede – Page 205)
From the Scriptures:
O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughing-stock all day long; everyone mocks me.
8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’
For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.
9 If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name’,
then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
In the dance in which we all have to participate of choosing when to speak and act and when to be silent and simply mind our own business, there is a great temptation to do the latter.
As Philippa journeys deeper into the Religious Life she finds herself in the position of a miniature Jeremiah. She has advice to give but the advice will bring disaster. But what else can she do? She is trained in the ways of the world, she’s knows the value of a piece of convent land and a sale would take the Abbey out of a fix but at what spiritual price? Having spoken she wishes she could buy back her advice.
Fortunately, as McTurk foresaw, all turns out well and Mrs Talbot/Sister Philippa’s advice is not needed and she can breathe a sigh of relief.
This will not always be the case for us. Times will come when, like Jeremiah, we are the bearers of at least uncomfortable if not bad tidings. Times when God’s word ‘is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones’ which we must speak but we do not want to for it will bring us more calumny and affliction. Just look at what happened to Jeremiah for listening to and proclaiming the Word of God!
Perhaps it is part of our call? To be complete in our offering for God we must allow ourselves to be burnt a little, to get rid of all of the dross. Philippa tries to ‘do a Jeremiah’ and resolves to ‘hold my tongue, keep myself back, efface my meddlesome self – this me.’ But, as we discover later, that will not work.
We are always called to speak God’s word, and to hold this inside will only burn us and impoverish the Body of Christ. Our task is to find the grace for the right time to speak. Sometimes it will be the first word, sometimes the last word. We must aim to speak so that the final word will not be ours but God’s word.
There are two ‘Amy’s’ that give balance to my journey. The first is the singer Amy Grant whom I have already mentioned this Lent, the other is the Belfast Missionary Amy Carmichael who continues to challenge me to look for ‘A Chance to Die’.
Perhaps that is the key as to when to speak and when to keep silent. This word, this act, this change of course I am contemplating in my life, will it help me die to my self? Gradually Philippa is learning that lesson. It is hard, it hurts, and we may even find ourselves burnt a little. But what price is that if but the Word of God be fanned into flame? (2 Timothy1v6)
“O God, my words are cold:
The frosted frond of fern or feathery palm
Wrought on the whitened pane —
They are as near to fire as these my words,
Oh that they were as flames!” Thus did I cry?
And thus God answered me; “Thou shalt have words,
But at this cost, that thou must first be burnt —
Burnt by red embers from a secret fire,
Scorched by fierce hearts and withering winds that sweep.
Through all thy being, carrying thee afar
From old delights. Doth not the ardent fire,
Consume the mountains heart before the flow
Of fervent lava? Wouldst thou easefully,
As from cool, pleasant fountains, flow in fire?
Say, can thy heart endure or can thy hands be strong?
In the day that I shall deal with thee?
“First the iron must enter thine own soul,
And wound and brand it, scarring awful lives
Indelibly upon it, and a hand
Restless in tender terribleness
Must thoroughly purge it, fashioning its pain
To power that leaps in fire.
Not otherwise, and by no lighter touch,
Are fire-words wrought.”
This is my whole life, O Lord,
to know your word and teach it,
to know your word and live it.
Teach me, O Lord,
to proclaim what you teach
and to live how you live,
through Jesus Christ.
(Bishop BA Kwashi, Nigeria)
1) Make amends for one thing you regretted saying recently.
2) What word or call has God given you that you have not yet responded to. Lent is a good time to say ‘yes’.
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