A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Philippa – the Journey Inward
Day 16 – Saturday after 2nd Sunday in Lent
[McTurk visits Philippa after she has taken final vows]
‘A Solemn Profession isn’t touching in the way a Clothing is,’ she said when she saw him three days later in the parlour. A choir nun of Brede keeps silence for three days after her Solemn Profession; nothing is allowed to intrude on her, and McTurk, surprisingly again, had waited in the town all that time. ‘It isn’t touching.’
‘Certainly not,’ said McTurk. ‘It was awe-ful, full of awe. I know now,’ he said, ‘at least, have an inkling of what it means to love God with your whole heart and mind and strength.’
‘Having seen Him, I love and trust Him. He is the love of my choice,’ Philippa had sung, ‘until death.’ Awe-ful and full of joy – happiness was too light a word – a joy that was in the whole monastery that day. For this day, in the refectory Philippa sat on the Abbess’s right hand at the high table, her place decorated with flowers; in her cell her bed was strewn with messages, cards and flowers. And I thought I wasn’t liked, thought Philippa, misty-eyed. ‘Dame Philippa,’ said Dame Perpetua, giving her a hug and a kiss. ‘Dame!’ There was hardly a nun in the community who did not embrace her. Sister Priscilla waddled up from the kitchen and gave her a smacking kiss; even Sister Jane came who, in the novitiate, had found Sister Philippa nearly as useless as Sister Hilary. ‘Dame!’
‘And now what?’ asked McTurk. ‘As far as anyone in the world will know, nothing,’ said Philippa. ‘No one will hear any more of me; six hours a day in my stall in choir; two, perhaps of manual labour in the house or garden; some time for study; silence; singing; prayer; living; room to live. I shall disappear, be almost anonymous. Yes, I have learnt now. No more Philippa Talbot,’ she said, glorying. ‘Arranging, deciding, settling – that arrogant creature!’
‘Then what will she do?’ asked McTurk.
(In This House of Brede – Page 261)
From the Scriptures:
10 My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land. 13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. 15 Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyards – for our vineyards are in blossom.’16 My beloved is mine and I am his; he pastures his flock among the lilies. 17 Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on the cleft mountains.
(Song of Songs 2v.10-13.16-17
I, Andrew, give myself to our Lord Jesus Christ, to serve him for the rest of my life in company with my brothers and sisters in the Third Order of the Society of St Francis…
(from the Profession Vow of the Third Order)
It was over thirty years ago in St Martin’s Church Johannesburg when I joyfully said the words above and, come francistide each year, I stand with my sisters and brothers and repeat the words beginning ‘I, Andrew…’ It is not easy to live this way, which is why (even though are vows are of lifelong intent) we make our promise to keep the Rule of the Order for just one year at a time.
Before I was a novice member of the Society many of its members were already my friends and brothers and sisters in Christ but from my profession day onwards they became my family. The love we already shared with each other now became much, much deeper.
And it is a family that transcends churches and nations. We have no friary of our own, nor do we wear a habit yet when one member sees another wearing the same Profession Cross we know we are family. It is a little how Philippa felt on her first day as a Choir nun. No longer Mrs Talbot the go-getter but now Dame Philippa the choir nun who had learnt to bring her voice and life into harmony with the rest of her family.
It is a privilege and a joy, as Philippa discovered to be welcomed into such a community and to live out a hidden life of faith. Would that this were also our Sunday-by-Sunday experience?
But it is, or at least it should be. Our baptism promises, which many of us will renew this Easter, are our ‘Solemn Profession Vows’. The evangelical counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, are the same words only writ large. Richard Foster in his book ‘Money, Sex, and Power’ shows how living Baptismal Promises in secular life can be more challenging than keeping Solemn Vows in the enclosed life. We have no enclosure wall to keep us safe, we only have each other; and it is for this reason that we have a greater need to see each other as members of the same family.
Recently during General Synod in Westminster, I had occasion to visit The Admiral Duncan, a gay pub in Soho with which our parish has a deep connection. After three hard days of discussing church legislation and seeing my brothers and sisters lined up against each other in opposing camps, it was sad to realise that I felt more in the bosom of my family listening to drag queens sing Abba than when at the very heart of the Church of England.
How do we change this? How do we give up our insistence on always being Jesus’ Favourite at the expense of our sisters and brothers? Ultimately our division comes from not have dived deep enough into the love of our Beloved. Not allowing ourselves to be so lost in love that all our petty differences and desires melt away.
My beloved is mine and I am his…
We have learnt down the years that the best Lent is not only about giving things up, or even about taking things on, but about learning to give ourselves away. A task we face whether we live within or without the Enclosure.
Now is the time to give ourselves away.
Lord, we stand awed in the presence of your evangelist:
this tiny baby thing who dares to be your child!
Not one word can she speak, this your little messenger;
yet in the silence she declares the living Word!
She has no prior faith and brings no creed or prayer,
but from this font she bears the faith of Christ!
She offers now no promises nor deeds of righteousness,
but here receives and shares the righteousness of God!
Helpless, she comes today, carried in the arms of others,
yet in her helplessness she wears your massive strength!
Lord, this is the greatest thing: here a Child has Brother, Friend,
and a Father who cares world without end!
(Bruce D Prewer, Australia)
1) In church this Sunday pray through your baptism promises.
2) Send an encouraging note, email, message to someone whose views on church life are different to yours.
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