A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Living in Community – A Trysting Place
Day 18 – Tuesday after 3rd Sunday in Lent
Their different avocations were twined with the seasons of prayer…
For Dame Mildred it was flowers; Dame Mildred was often to be found, skirts turned up, gumboots on her feet, an old panama or felt hat perched on the top of her veil, gathering a collection of hornbeam twigs, sticky buds, or catkins or budding rowan to bring indoors. ‘I have been making my prayer,’ she would say. ‘I don’t know what the theorists would make of it and I don’t care; just look at the pattern of that tree against the sky,’ or she would be found kneeling on the earth, examining a minute wild flower through a magnifying glass. ‘Only God could make a thing as perfect as that,’ but she would also tell its colloquial and botanical name and where it would be found and how it would grow. Her borders were a mixture of wild and garden flowers: foxgloves and spirea grew with roses – and such roses. There was one white rose bush that flowered in June ‘That one’s for me,’ she said.
‘Why for you, Dame?’
‘I shall die in June.’
Dame Mildred did die that June and her coffin in the choir was heaped with those white roses.
(In This House of Brede – Page 345)
From the Scriptures:
25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and gone tomorrow, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Dame Mildred had absolutely no worries in her life at all. She was too busy, ‘considering the lilies of the field’. Our author doesn’t describe were Dame Mildred died but it would not be surprising if, with a smile on her face and magnifying glass in hand, she gently keeled over into an herbaceous border.
There is a felicity in learning to not worry about what to eat, what to drink, what to wear (like a gaggle of friends planning a Friday night out) and instead letting the truth that our ‘heavenly Father knows that we need all these things’ sink deep into our lives. When we come to a place of contentment and contemplation then we can begin to look at life’s really important tasks – such as planting white roses for the coffin spray at our funeral…
[To be honest, perhaps the only thing we should really be worrying about is the arrangements for our funeral. By the way I want the hymn ‘O Thou Who Camest from Above’ sung without any of the verses omitted, and the song ‘No Frontiers’ by The Corrs – please feel free to join in the chorus.]
Of course the reason why Dame Mildred wandered around muttering botanical names and showing off blooms with her magnifying glass had nothing to do with how much she enjoyed plants, even though she did enjoy them. It had everything to do with how much she was in love with her Beloved who made the first garden, who was seen on an Easter Dawn in a garden, and who provided from her own garden a ‘bridal bouquet’ as she entered into the life after life. She was not only tending the convent garden but declares ‘I have been making my prayer,’
‘Their different avocations were twined with the seasons of prayer…’
We’ve already looked at how the Benedictine life is made of the twin priorities of work and prayer (ora et labora) it seems that, as we learn to worry less and rely more on God’s loving provision our work becomes our prayer – just as prayer becomes ‘work’ in the Opus Dei of the Divine Office.
In the end we learn that all is one and that the early church was not setting us an impossible task when it called us to ‘pray without ceasing’ and become people who ‘rejoice in the Lord always’.
Apart from the sheer joy that comes to us as we learn to blend work and prayer and so turn our whole life into a Trysting Place, learning to find God in everything is crucial to showing God’s love to a wandering and lost world. This isn’t asking that we become ecclesiastical Pollyannas – life is too full of disaster of natural and human origin – to allow for perpetual playing of ‘The Glad Game’. We invest all of life with prayer so that when disaster befalls us we are ready and able to trust in the One Who Loves us Best.
This is the ancient hope laid out in the Psalms of Lament where again and again the Psalmist in the middle of personal or national pain (often self-inflicted) would remind God that though life was tough the love of God is tougher.
God of heaven and earth,
artist and artisan,
free us to see things afresh,
that we may be fully alive
and truly for your glory.
(Joy Tetley, England)
1) Whatever work you will do tomorrow carry a ‘magnifying glass’ of prayer with you so that you may find God present in the middle of it
2) What will happen at your funeral? Spend a few moments writing down what you would like to happen and ensure your family know where your wishes are kept.
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