A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Day 27 – Friday after Mothering Sunday
[After her clothing Cecily’s former boyfriend comes to visit]
‘But why can’t things arrange themselves better?’ cried Cecily. ‘My cousin Jean loves Larry. Why can’t he love her?’
‘We don’t know what is better,’ said Abbess Catherine. ‘We only know things are a kind of crucible, especially love; and now, Sister, if you love Larry, you must see him, for his sake and for ours,’
but Cecily still dodged. ‘Mother, I can’t’
‘Cecily,’ Abbess Catherine’s voice was very tender. ‘I think that all your life. you will have the faculty of making people love you, perhaps more than you want. Your mother’s love is like that, possessive, and perhaps his.’
‘But I don’t do anything,’ Cecily protested.
‘You don’t have to,’ and, looking at her, Abbess Catherine thought, you were born with great beauty of body and, I begin to think, of soul. The two attract like a magnet.
‘It isn’t my fault,’ said Cecily, as if she read the Abbess’s thought.
‘It’s your responsibility,’ and Abbess Catherine leaned forward and took Cecily by the shoulders.
‘I felt like a doctor shaking a baby into life’ she told Dame Beatrice afterwards.
‘Grow up! she said, grow up.’
(In This House of Brede – Page 245)
From the Scriptures:
I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.
2 As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens.
3 As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
4 He brought me to the banqueting house, and his intention towards me was love.
5 Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am faint with love.
6 O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me!
7 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the wild does: do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!
(Song of Songs 2v1-7)
I have, as they say, a face that was born to be on the radio… Those who grace our TV screens, especially Newsreaders and Chat Show hosts (sometimes pejoratively referred to as ‘the Talent’) have a different kind of beauty. A friend who has his own radio show, whose fizzog is similar to mine, describes them as having ‘that sparkly eyed thing’. Any TV figure I have ever worked with has what I call an incandescent personality that flows out of their heart to shine in their face.
Cecily is one such. She has, undoubtedly great physical beauty but it is her beauty of soul, forged in a determination to give herself away, that draws people to her. Today we read of Cecily’s former boyfriend who will not let her go, refuses to call her by her name in religion, yet insists on visiting her. Her instinct is to shut him out and refuse to speak to him while he continues to call her Elspeth instead of Cecily. Later in her story she relents and learns to tell him of her love for our Beloved. (In the end Larry does indeed marry Cecily’s cousin Jean).
I remember meeting a former Abbess of the Order of the Holy Paraclete, visiting her sisters in Johannesburg. Her face shone (the ‘sparkly eyed thing’) not from a physical beauty instead from the serenity that comes with a settled soul. The iconic picture of Leisha Evans being arrested in Baton Rouge is an example of such serenity. Both women, knowing where their own hearts lived could face storm and adulation with equal grace.
Abbess Catherine is perceptive, Cecily does have great beauty both of body and of soul and together they are indeed a magnet. If, we are blessed with such twin beautys then we have a responsibility to be aware of what is happening around us. Something Cecily has not yet learnt to own.
One of the hardest tasks we face, regardless of our own pulchritude or lack thereof, is to be loving towards those with whom we are not in love yet who love us. And conversely also to be loving towards those who were once in love with us and now no longer return our affections. This has nothing to do with physical beauty, we can’t all be ecstatic breath-taking Cecily’s, but has everything to do with learning an interior beauty and calm.
In our care and love towards others, whether we have great beauty of body or not, is to be so in love with our Beloved that we shine with serenity. The final two verses of the book of Proverbs perhaps say it all…
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.
When we learn to love our Beloved first before all other loves, then we become more able to be loving people in a loveless world.
We have learned from you that we should treat others
as we would have others treat us.
Why is this one of the most difﬁcult lessons in all
of life for us to comprehend?
We continue to withhold love.
We deny mercy.
We steel ourselves against compassion.
Most of us will one day grow old, God.
Will we then be treated with love, mercy, and compassion?
(Malcolm Boyd, United States)
We don’t all have an unrequited love but we do all have those whom we could love more deeply…
1) You know that part of the Scriptures that says ‘love your enemies?’ Go on then. Do something for someone who is against you.
2) Pray about how you may comfort someone whose love has ended or died.
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