A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Day 26 – Thursday after Mothering Sunday
Cecily was quite unconscious of her effect. She looked young, dignified as she walked and the scent of the white freesias she carried – given her by her father – came into the choir to the nuns. Cecily knelt before the Bishop, facing the ranks of priests and monks.
‘What do you ask?’
‘The mercy of God and the grace of the holy habit.’
‘Do you ask it with your Whole heart?’
Her whole being seemed to breathe as she answered, ‘Yes, my Lord, I do.’
‘God grant you perseverance, my daughter.’
[Cecily’s two matrons] took off the coronal of pearls and lifted the veil away, took too the necklace Cecily was wearing, then, Cecily bowed her head, but there was little hair to cut, it was so short already; Bishop Mark, with the scissors Dom Gervase handed him, cut off a curl. ‘She shall receive a blessing from the Lord and mercy from God the Saviour.’ To the singing, Cecily left the sanctuary to go into the little room were Sister Elizabeth and Sister Susanna were waiting to help her off with the bridal clothes and put on the black shoes and thick stockings, the plain undershift. With a towel round her shoulders, Cecily sat on a stool while Sister Elizabeth cut the rest of her hair short, running the clippers up the back of her neck. Cecily looked like a boy, ‘but it still curls,’ said Sister Elizabeth.
Then, ‘and at long last,’ whispered Cecily, the black habit went on, the cap and wimple like a helmet,
‘It fits like a glove, in every way,’ said little Sister Renata.
(In This House of Brede – Page 230)
From the Scriptures:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Two summers ago, whilst with our eldest son at a hang-gliding competition in Perugia, Italy we had a day when the wind was too strong for safe flying. This happens frequently in competitions and a rest day is often welcomed by pilots, but not for us. This was the day for which our family had been waiting. We dumped the hang glider from the roof rack, climbed into the vicar-mobile and went on a mini-pilgrimage to Assisi.
Not all of our family are professed members of the Society of St Francis but all of us try to live simple Franciscan lifestyles so we knew we were in for something special. We started at the ‘big end’ of the city. The Grand Basilica built over the resting place of Il Poverello and then worked our way downhill until we ended up in the companionable silence of San Damiano. One of the places we stopped at along the way was Santa Chiara were, in the crypt, is the silver and glass casket containing hair from St Clare.
For Cecily this is the moment when everything falls in place, when, literally, she cuts her ties with the outside world, and she finds herself at home ‘This is my resting place for ever’ (Psalm 132v14) are the words her heart sings. For her it is not the hastily arranged bridal gown that she longs to wear but the plain habit. She looks splendid in both but only one ‘fits’ her properly. (She had asked the Abbess to be clothed in a simple ceremony at the grille)
Cecily, in her long years of waiting and patient postulancy, has learnt the secret about the ‘The mercy of God and the grace of the holy habit.’ It is not about what you wear but about who you are.
Yes, these are only her first steps into the novitiate (she has many battles to face before she comes to Solemn Profession) but it is her ‘yes’ that sets her out on the journey with the words ‘and at long last.’
In our own lives, be we ‘professional’ Christians or occasional worshippers, enthusiastic gospel gossipers or ‘light under a bushel basket’ quietists, there come kairos moments. Moments when, like Cecily, the right time has come and our lives are transformed from the 9 to 5 treadmill of routine to a surrendering to God’s purpose and call. This does not mean we will give up with our routine, (Our Beloved needs typists and tycoons, takeaway waitresses and Company Directors to proclaim the Good News) but that we will be transformed. When this happens we may not put on a habit but we will ‘clothe ourselves with love’
In the Church of England we call this Setting God’s People Free. We are convinced that God does not only call those in Religious Life or Ordained Ministry, but the whole people of God to live out the Good News of Jesus confidently in all of life, Sunday to Saturday.
Being the Bride of Christ is our eternal destiny and there is no harm, and a great advantage for the world and ourselves, in practising for Paradise.
We may not, like Cecily wear bridal clothes.
We may not, like Cecily have our hair shorn by a bishop.
We may not, like Cecily wear a habit as a daily reminder of our vows.
But like Cecily we are able to choose to face our Beloved each day with a smile in our hearts and proclaim ‘at long last.’
May God stride out before you on your journey
through life and through prayer.
May Jesus, your playful brother,
pace you in his holy way to the end.
May the Holy Spirit greet you
at each corner and cuddle you to her breast.
(Siân Swain Taylor, Wales)
1) If you could ‘cut’ one thing out of your life to show your betrothal to our Beloved what would it be?
2) If you could carry one extra thing in your life to show your betrothal to our Beloved what would it be?
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