A Trysting Place
– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Living in Community – A Trysting Place
Day 21 – Friday after 3rd Sunday in Lent
So you have betrayed yourself at last: said Doctor Avery and was rewarded by a wan smile. ‘I have been expecting this,’ he told Dame Joan.
‘What are you going to do with me?’ The prioress’s words jerked and seemed to die from wont of air as they had in the choir.
‘Put you into hospital again, but for observation and complete rest.’ He was as brisk as he always was when he had made up his mind – irrevocably.
‘Doctor, I can’t.’
Doctor Avery had met this before; he understood something, but not all, of the purgatory it meant for an enclosed nun to go into a big up-to-date hospital, especially for one who, besides being ill, was tired – and wounded in body and mind, as he sensed Dame Emily was. With their vow of poverty the nuns had to go into the public ward; he could not save them from that though it meant lying in what, to them, was an exposure. Used to hard pallets, they could not, they told him, rest on the spring beds; the fluorescent lighting was a glare that hurt eyes after the dimness of Brede where modern lighting was only installed in the workshops; they stifled in the central heating after the Abbey coolness where the heating system was kept at its lowest and often did not work at all, but worst of all torments, he knew, was the noise after the silence; the chatter and clatter and bustle – but he guessed it was not any of this that made Dame Emily beg, ‘Oh no, Doctor! You can’t. I can’t.’
(In This House of Brede – Page 77)
From the Scriptures:
1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, you people, shall my honour suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? [Selah]
3 But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
4 When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent. [Selah]
5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.
6 There are many who say, ‘O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!’
7 You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety. [Selah]
The reason behind Dame Joan’s, ‘Doctor, I can’t.’ is more than the dis-comfort which Doctor Avery relates, but today I want to focus on the dislocation that comes to those who have lived for years in the Enclosure when they are forced to be elsewhere.
It does seem odd to read that a soft bed, fresh linen, and a warm hospital ward would add dis-ease to Dame Joan’s disease. But she knows this well and so that is one of the reasons she has hidden her illness from the Doctor.
It doesn’t take much reflection to realise that those who are used to one rhythm of life for years and years will find themselves upset by the demands of another system and the voices of many individual needs and desires having been used to quietly living, more or less, in harmony with their sisters for years.
I know myself that when I have been away for a time of quiet retreat, especially on Holy Island where the ebbing and flowing of the tide sets the rhythm of life, returning to the ‘noise’ of the world around me is hard work. Perhaps it is simply St Augustine’s prayer finding its outworking in our own lives;
Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord,
and our heart is restless
until it finds its rest in thee
And when we find the ‘rest’ ripped away from us we are cast away in the cacophony of a disordered world that seems to make little sense.
When I attended the Federal Theological Seminary in Imbali Township, South Africa the most important part of our daily corporate prayer was not the Daily Office, nor regular communion, but the 30 minutes of corporate silence we kept together with members of the Community of the Resurrection who founded our college. In those years of struggle against the Apartheid system, our buildings were often raided by agents of the Bureau for State Security, so it was in the company of silence that we carried each other’s wounds and joys and committed ourselves to build iSouth Afrika entsha – a new South Africa. Would that I could find that discipline of silence again!
Unlike the nuns of Brede Abbey we do not always have the walls of an enclosure and the heartbeat of the Daily Office to keep us on track. I well remember being mystified by an earnest question from Sister Gillian OHP (an Anglican Benedictine) when one day she asked, ‘Father Andrew, how do you pray?’ My response was that I thought she was the prayer expert and she could probably teach me more than I her. Her response still challenges me. ‘For me It’s easy, the bell rings and I go to chapel, who rings the bell for you?
‘Who rings the bell for you?
There is an urgent need for each of us to somehow take the silence and attentiveness we find in times of retreat and quiet and make it part of our daily routine. Just as Dame Joan finds it difficult to leave her natural home to go to hospital, so we, stranded in a noisy world need to find ways to find silence and a regular rhythm of prayer. If we don’t seek out and defend this silence how will we ever hear the gentle loving whispers of our Beloved?
Come among us, living Lord,
we come to hear your living word.
We meet together in the name of Christ
to share your mission and your sacriﬁce;
to receive the power which only you can give,
that we might live!
Come ﬁll this time of silence.
(Martin John Nicholls, United Kingdom)
1) Cultivate the practice of public silent contemplation. This can be before a service starts, at its end, or after receiving communion.
2) Plan to attend a Retreat (or a series of Quiet Days) before the end of the year.