A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Day 25 – Wednesday after Mothering Sunday
The door opened to reveal sister Cecily. ‘Benidicite Mother.’
Abbess Catherine looked hopelessly at the prioress, who asked, ‘Sister, is this urgent?’ Dame Beatrice said it with a mixture of sternness and but Cecily had already come in, shut door and knelt down by the desk. ‘Is this urgent?’
‘It is urgent;’ said Cecily.
‘Then what is it, child?’ asked the Abbess.
‘Mother,’ said Cecily, ‘I have come to ask you to change your mind.’
‘Because you have made a mistake,’ said Cecily.
Dame Beatrice caught her breath with angry astonishment, but Cecily’s voice was as gentle as it was grave and firm, and she was looking up at Abbess Catherine with absolute trust.
‘Mother, you should let me be clothed now.’
Dame Beatrice had recovered. ‘Sister! Are you telling Lady Abbess what she should or should not do?’
Cecily’s eyes went to her for moment. ‘No one else can tell her,’ she said, and came back to the Abbess.
‘To dispute with your Abbess is a very grave fault’, Sweet Dame Beatrice sounded as sharp as Dame Agnes.
‘1 am not disputing,’ said Cecily, ‘I am asking. If Mother says “no”…’ Suddenly Cecily could say ‘Mother’.
‘Of course she will say “no”. Postulants can’t run the Abbey.’
‘Abbesses run the Abbey,’ said Cecily ‘That’s why I have come.’ She put her hands, on Abbess Catherine’s knee. ‘Mother if you say “yes”, they will have to let you.’
‘You could be sent away for this,’ but Cecily did not even hear Dame Beatrice’s voice. She did not take those confident eyes off Abbess Catherine…
(In This House of Brede – Page 226)
From the Scriptures:
Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Cecily was notorious for being obedient. She accepted every disappointment with not so much resignation as a sense of the will of the Holy Spirit. Only a few days before, when being told that she would not be ‘clothed’ alongside Sister Hilary, she responded with the words, “When you think I am ready, I shall be,”
The Council delayed her clothing as they were a little worried that she was unstable in her call. She was given to frequent flights of ecstasy, especially during her music, and her ready acceptance of disappointment could easily be a shield behind which she hid from the world. However just as they were surprised by how well she had prepared herself to answer her vocation to be a choir nun in Brede Abbey they were astonished with her forthrightness when she demanded that her call be answered.
Young vocations, out of season vocations, vocations that don’t fit in with that which is expected, are always a challenge for the church. I have spent much time weeping with beloved friends who want to give their lives away for God and God’s people only to have the system let them down. It seems that we want the wind of the Holy Spirit to blow through the Church but only as a gentle zephyr and only when we have nailed everything down so that nothing changes!
Experiences in larger churches suggests that whenever someone kicks against ‘the rules’ a black mark is put against their name and they are sent to the back of the queue. Yes, patience is a virtue but there is a difference between virtue and waiting for waiting’s sake. The task of those discerning vocation should never be to cool enthusiasm or ‘take someone down a peg or two’ but to say ‘yes’ to the ‘yes’ in another soul. When we reject those who don’t ‘fit’ we miss some of the most exciting gifts that God has prepared for the Church. So very sad.
Cecily takes a brave step. She is the one who knows her own heart, grasps the scripture verse which says ‘Ask, seek, knock’, firmly in her hand and goes to beard the Abbess in her cell. For her all’s well that ends well but what of those whose call ends in disappointment? How do we cope when our heart says ‘yes’ and the church says ‘no’ or ‘not yet?’
When I had my own struggle with the timing of the call to be a priest – I was ‘turned down’ as an ordination candidate in Cape Town and only accepted four years later in Johannesburg – there were two verses of scripture that inspired me during those dry years.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, (Colossians 3v23)
God’s gifts and call are irrevocable (Romans 11v29)
These scriptures reminded (and still remind) me that even if the Church had said ‘not yet’ that didn’t let me ‘off the hook’ of the call to serve and I was still bound over to ‘work for the Lord’. Even if, for now, that meant answering the call from my laboratory bench in a printing ink factory and not from a pulpit.
Also there was no going back on the call. God’s call was ‘irrevocable’ and as such had no ‘best before’ date. The Word of God is always in season and something from which we cannot turn away and must chase for the rest of our life.
This is not an easy place in which to find yourself. It is frustrating. It is tempting to leave one church fellowship and join another. It is a challenge to keep on attending worship where people see you as a failure at holiness. Yet it can be a holy place. A place where we are driven to our knees and have to cling closer to the cross and open our ears more to the whisperings of our Beloved.
Unlike Cecily, we may not find ourselves kneeling down in front of one whom we can finally call ‘mother’ but we can place our hands in the hands of the One who offered Himself to us and never ever let our eyes wander from His beautiful face again.
you identify with the weak and powerless,
and surprise us as we seek to do your will.
Help us to ﬁnd true hope in the now of our action
rather than in the distant future of our longing.
(Joy Tetley, England)
Look back at the way you have answered the whisperings of God
1) What call lies unanswered and untested?
2) What healing is needed from times when those around you have said ‘no’ to your ‘yes’?
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