A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Living in Community – A Trysting Place
Day 20 – Thursday after 3rd Sunday in Lent
[The Second Vatican Council brings turmoil to the Abbey]
‘Everything must be challenged,’ cried the enthusiasts.
‘Challenged doesn’t mean abolished.’
Most of the older nuns tried to act as a balance; they knew more of philosophy, of history, of the value of the Rule, but to the younger go-aheads they seemed to drag…
‘Contemplatives want to do the work of active Orders, the active Orders of lay people,’ said Abbot Bernard.
‘Perhaps the lay people will turn to contemplation,’ said Abbess Catherine…
‘Then they will need the very grilles your progressives are seeking to take down; renew the solitude and silence, the prayer we are letting decay with all this busy-ness…’
Brede, according to the new recommendations, had modified its habit; skirts were clear of the ground now, some of the fullness taken out, there were more sensible underclothes, ‘praise be,’ said the nuns; no petticoats, only one plain black underskirt; a few of the younger nuns extolled the new dress of some of the visiting nuns; suits, plain dresses, cardigans – ‘Ugh!’ said Philippa, ‘no grown woman should wear a cardigan.’’
‘We want to look like everybody else,’ said Dame Paula.
‘Why?’ asked Philippa, ‘when you are a nun?’
(In This House of Brede – Page 393)
From the Scriptures:
52 Jesus said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ 53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.
Some years ago Archbishop Rowan Williams was one of the keynote speakers at a Conference for the Clergy of our Diocese. The theme of the Conference was ‘Embracing Change’ and was made up of a series of enticing seminars on things that we could change in the life of our Diocese that would bring excitement, new life, and growth. All this was somewhat tarnished when the Archbishop began his talk with the opening line of a famous Welsh hymn.
Change and decay in all around I see…
However he did not leave us desolate as he reminded us of the final line,
O Thou who changest not, abide with me
The Archbishop’s address went on to remind us that, like it or not, even if we are not active participants in the process of ‘modernising’ the church change will happen around us because nothing stands still. Change happens and we must learn to expect it, steer it, and use it to welcome the reign of the One Who Loves us Best.
Despite the efforts of the older nuns, and in spite of the enthusiasm of the younger ones, change will always come. The only challenge we face is whether it is ‘change’ or ‘change and decay’. Much has happened since the too short reign of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council and much of the change has been good, even the nuns at Brede are happier with less fuller underskirts and habits that you can walk in, but where do you stop with changes, if in fact you do stop?
In our parish the wafers we use for communion are made by the Community of St Clare in Freeland near Oxford. A contemplative community they have often provided a place of refuge for our family and try to grow with the times. They embrace change. They have an up to date website and are very skilled, as at Brede Abbey, in providing for their own table, run a printing press, bake wonderful bread, and make wafers. However in all their advancement and adaptation to change, they have learnt that it is best that the phone is only tended for one hour a day; less the ‘change and decay that is all around’ disrupts the prayer and work that ‘changes not’. Some change is good, but change for change sake can be deadly.
My Franciscan sisters have learnt, and when I am there they try to teach me, that just because I can do some new thing it doesn’t mean I must do it. Their home is an oasis outside a busy university city, if you are ever nearby go and stay with them for a while.
Jesus draws his series of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew’s Gospel to an end with the story of the wise scribe who has learnt to treasure things that are both old and new. A balance is needed between ‘junk’ and ‘antiques’. Just because something is old does not mean it is worthless. Just because something is new does not mean it is more valuable than something older.
Many good and valuable lessons have been handed down to us from those who have gone ahead of us, which is why we call them saints, but we do not want the epitaph on the grave of our church to be, ‘But we’ve always done it this way.’
What makes something valuable for us is not it age or its novelty but whether it draws us closer to our Beloved or not.
Whatever we do, be it old or new, progressive or traditional, we must at all costs shun anything that takes us away from the One Who Loves us Best and embrace those things, no mater how unfamiliar which draw us closer to love.
God our Mother and Father,
be with us as we learn
to see one another with new eyes,
to hear one another with new hearts,
and to treat one another in a new way.
(Corrymeela Community, Ireland)
1) Try a way of prayer that is new and unfamiliar, colouring-in, prayer walking, a holding cross, and any of the many variations of what is known as ‘Liquid Worship’
2) Try a way of prayer that is old and traditional (yet still unfamiliar). Using incense and candles in worship, the Jesus prayer, or even a rosary
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