A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Day 28 – Saturday after Mothering Sunday
‘Mother, wouldn’t I do better under a tougher rule? Life is so easy here’ said Cecily.
‘Is it?’ Dame Clare was looking into Cecily’s face. ‘I don’t think any of us find it so. You know it is not easy, Sister, if it is lived to the full – and it gives much freedom and happiness.’
That ‘to the full’ was meant to reach Cecily, but Cecily was already going on: ‘I have been reading about the Cistercians at Wimborne in Dorset. Mother, they keep the Rule of St Benedict too but far more strictly. They have silence always, don’t have recreation, give themselves more wholly…’
‘Do they?’ Cecily wished Dame Clare would not ask these – tripping-up questions that upset the sweep of her new purpose.
‘Of course I feel I am letting Brede down…’
‘It existed for a hundred and thirty years before you came, and I think will continue to exist if you go,’ said Dame Clare.
‘Oh, Mother, I didn’t mean…’
‘Of course you didn’t. I was teasing but… such thoughts mustn’t weigh. You must go where you can fulfil God’s purpose for you best.’
‘Then do you think I should try?’
‘I could answer that better,’ said Dame Clare, ‘if I knew if this desire for more strictness, more silence, was because you want to turn more to God – or whether it is, rather, because you want to turn away from people.’
Cecily was silent and Dame Clare said very kindly, ‘Sister, I think this is simply because you are missing Dame Maura more than you know.’
‘Missing her!’ Cecily wanted to cry in recoil and, ‘All I want is to get away from everyone for ever,’
(In This House of Brede – Page 368)
For [Cecily] now there was nothing exciting and dramatic. ‘Dame Cecily is one of the quietest of the nuns – except in choir,’ wrote the Abbess to Dame Maura, ‘where her voice seems to grow stronger and purer.’ Her day was the same as that of all the nuns and, ‘There isn’t much leisure,’ wrote Cecily. ‘What there is must go in organ practice – I am working at Paul de Maleingreau’s “Elevations Liturgiques” but there isn’t any boredom and, thank God, nowadays no ecstasy.’ Cecily could laugh now at that starry-eyed young visionary and, “What price ecstasy?”, she thought, as Hilary might have said, when you can have love.
(In This House of Brede – Page 401)
From the Scriptures:
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
4 Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. (Selah)
This evening in our church there is to be a concert of classic cathedral choral music; Mendelssohn, Parry, Mozart and many more. I am looking forward to being transported back to my boyhood at the Royal Hospital School where my music teacher, not able to put up with my foghorn voice, taught me to turn pages for him at the organ – it kept me quiet. It was there I fell in love with the great classics of English Church music among them a version of Psalm 84 that made me long, like the sparrow to make a permanent nest in church.
Teenage years are hard work. They are full of what I have come to see as a time of necessary anomie during which we leave our childhood home and wander in the wilderness of adolescence until we find the beginnings of a new journey that leads us to a new home. My school chapel was for me a refuge where I spent many hours crying out my loneliness and longed like the sparrow to simply stay there for ever.
I suppose, like Cecily, my desire to be in church was due to not being ready to face the big bad world of boarding school life. Like her I needed to hear Dame Clare’s words;
‘I could answer that better, if I knew if this desire for more strictness, more silence, was because you want to turn more to God – or whether it is, rather, because you want to turn away from people.’
There is nothing wrong with hiding from the world for a season, though when I’m honest about things I’m more often hiding from myself. Each of us needs an occasional ‘time out’, a kind of layby on the highway of life, to catch our breath and check the road map. However the call to this inner life is not an end in itself, its purpose is to strengthen us to return to the world which needs our love.
We turn to solitude, so that refreshed we are able to turn to others. In the end we discover that this journey is not for ourselves alone but for others. After all did we not want to give ourselves away?
We should not be worried when we want to run and hide for a while, in fact we should plan for these times of solitude. For it is in deep silence that we find it more easy to hear the love song of our Beloved. But if we spend too much time on the journey inward we run the risk of putting ourselves in the middle of the faith journey and getting lost in our own devotion. Cecily learns in the end that ectasy is not everything but, used well, it can lead us on the road to a deep love..
“What price ecstasy?”, she thought, as Hilary might have said, when you can have love.
God of mystery,
draw us nearer to you.
God of relationship,
draw us nearer to each other.
God in Trinity,
draw us into deeper understanding
through your gift of faith
and the outpouring of your love.
(Joy Tetley, England)
Look at the balance in your life of faith and aim to find a rhythm between times when you are on the journey inward and the journey outward
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