A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Day 24 – Tuesday after Mothering Sunday
‘Again’ commanded Dame Maura and had given one of her rapid strings of instructions that Philippe found so difficult to comprehend. ‘Take no notice of the quarter bar, but snatch a breath at the half bar, and lay the cadence down gently. Gently!’ said Dame Maura darting a fierce look at Hilary. ‘You can allow a distinct pause at the double bar, then resume a tempo. Now altogether, and you,’ her dark gaze had come to Cecily, ‘try to join in.’ They began and Cecily had not tried to join in, she sang; her voice, clear as a cuckoo tall, yet unmistakably full of power, rose with the others. For a moment they saw the surprise, the interest in Dame Maura’s face, then not by one iota had the precentrix betrayed the excitement she must have felt; her arms lifting in her long sleeves, she conducted with her hands, drawing them on until they had finished. Then, ‘Again,’ she said. ‘Sister Constance watch the marks. Sister Philippa try a little more power.’
‘I shall croak if I do,’ said Philippa.
‘Then lift your voice. Begin by lifting your chin and breathe,’ but as the ‘Lauda Sion Salvatorem’ burst forth – Sister Cecily seemed to have galvanized than all into new life – it was too much for Dame Maura. ‘Go on,’ she had said to Cecily, signing the others to stop, and Cecily sang alone.
Dame Maura had had to wait until after, Vespers for the moment when she could fly to Abbess Catherine’s room. ‘Mother! That blessed child! In all these years of waiting – she says she waited six years – she was getting ready, studying for us! At the Academy schools she took organ and singing…’
‘Organ?’ The Abbey needed organists. ‘Does she play well?’
‘I haven’t heard her yet.’ Here Dame Maura did not how whether to be annoyed or to laugh.
‘What did you think of the organist last night?’ she had asked Cecily when she had kept her for a short talk after the practice, and those brown eyes, candid and, innocent, were lifted to hers.
‘I thought she was promising,’ said Cecily.
‘Promising?’ Dame was nonplussed.
‘She must learn how to pedal,’ Cecily had said with all the severity of the young.
The organist had been Dune Maura…
(In This House of Brede – Page 124)
From the Scriptures:
1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’
I am absolutely convinced that Elspeth Scallon, during the time she was waiting to enter Brede Abbey and begin her life as Sister Cecily, had no thought of gaining her revenge on an over-bearing mother and clinging boyfriend. She perhaps did the exact opposite. Like Khan, Captain Kirk’s protagonist, she had reason to be angered but turned her disappointment into grace and redeemed the time of waiting by laying plans for the future.
It would have been easy for her to reject her family altogether. She could have rebelled and entered without their consent, but even though some of them opposed her (her father being a gentle exception) she refused to stop loving them though they didn’t understand her call. This is the mark of someone who has learnt the life of obedience outside the cloister and so making it easier to enter the enclosure.
There are many times in our journey of faith when we cannot do, or do immediately, all that we would want to do for our Beloved. Life intervenes, circumstances change, ill-health strikes, a disagreement occurs, preferment is denied, take your pick there are many many reasons why our ship of faith does not sail smoothly. Some are self-inflicted, some caused by others, and some unavoidable and all seem to be insurmountable.
Cecily shows us the way to live when our path is blocked. Hers is something a little deeper than the ‘If life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ philosophy, but one of choosing to live the religious life inside her soul before she was ever allowed to be clothed. She began her novitiate the moment her mother said ‘no’ and poured her efforts into learning the skills she would need for the rest of her life as a choir nun.
We face two dangers when we hear the call of our Beloved. The first is to tell ourselves, because of circumstance, we cannot answer it. The second, and perhaps more dangerous, is to tell ourselves we have already answered it. Wherever we find ourselves we find ourselves being called to follow. Every day we are expected to answer. After all why would we ever expect the one called ‘the Word’ to be silent?
Cecily hampered by her family still answers the call as she is able and brings music and much joy when she can finally answer it fully. We, who perhaps have perhaps got over-used to thinking we have done all that the Lord requires of us, run the risk of thinking that the Call is complete.
Remember my funeral hymn? This verse is the one that grabs my heart and brings tears to my eyes every time I sing it.
Ready for all Thy perfect will,
My acts of faith and love repeat,
‘Til death Thy endless mercies seal,
And make my sacrifice complete.
‘Til death Thy endless mercies seal… It is only when we have returned home that we will have answered the Call completely – after all it is a call homeward is it not? Be we full of voice or croak out the hymns, swift of limb or find the walk to the communion rail too much, a full-time ‘professional’ Christian or someone who struggles to make regular Sunday worship, there is no end to our answering of the Call in this life.
T.S. Eliot describes our quest perfectly, what is there to stop us from saying ‘yes’ wherever we are and whenever we can?
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea
Quick now, here, now, always –
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
Lord, let us
put our ear to the ground and listen,
hurried, worried footsteps, bitterness, rebellion.
hasn’t yet begun.
Put out feelers.
You are there.
You are far less likely
to abandon us
than in times of ease.
(Dom Helder Camara, Brazil)
1) What call of God have you not yet answered because of circumstance?
2) What call of God have you stopped answering?
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