A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
The Abbess, the Abbess and Maisie Shaw
Day 32 – Thursday after Passion Sunday
On the Christmas after Abbess Catherine’s election Dame Veronica was sadly changed; ‘A wraith of herself,’ said the nuns. Last year she had been its life and soul, revelled in it, in spite of the extra work which always fell heavily on the cellarer;
‘We are such an immense family.’ To begin with, almost every nun had a family of her own; fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends were mysteriously brought into fellowship with the community and, though Mrs Scallon could not believe it, the families felt this too; they were enlarged through the one who had left them, because now they too had a bond with Brede Abbey.
‘I have met people never dreamed of meeting,’ said Dame Nicholas’s mother.
Philippa’s post was the least but there was another nun who seemed to have no family – or dealings with her family. Dame Veronica had many cards and presents but none, the Abbess noted, from any Fanshawe.
‘Has Dame Veronica no relations?’ Abbess Catherine, who was worried about Dame Veronica, asked the portress in confidence.
‘She has a brother,’ said Dame Domitilla. ‘He came to see her last August after eleven years. I remember exactly. It was August the 8th. He has made three visits since.’
His visits, though had not seemed to make Dame Veronica exactly happy but Sister Renata, who usually let him in, could have told that he was a queer sort of brother for Dame Veronica. Sister Renata would not criticize or she might have said, ‘He looked so shabby and . . . “furtive” ‘ was the word she would have used.
(In This House of Brede – Page 131)
From the Scriptures:
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart,
and bring me out of my distress.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
19 Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 O guard my life, and deliver me;
do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.
22 Redeem Israel, O God,
out of all its troubles.
Dame Veronica is a lost lamb living at home with the flock. Though she is safe she does not feel secure. Though the rest of the Abbey have come to live with her feyness (especially when the muse is upon her), she does not realise that this means she should give the same space to others. She is a sheep caught between two shepherds, a favourite of Abbess Hester who used her to see through her plans and wary of Abbess Catherine for fear that she might be found out. She is lost and knows not where to find rest or succour.
Just because nuns live in community does not mean that they are immune from isolation.
Just because we meet together in a church fellowship does not mean that all of us feel as if we are part of the Body of Christ
Just because, when asked, ‘how are you?’ and I reply ‘fine’ does not mean I am.
One of the oxymorons of the faith is people being lonely in community. For Dame Veronica her loneliness is mostly about her own upbringing and her response to it, for others loneliness comes for many reasons. May it never be that fellow Christians are lonely because the church rejects them, doesn’t accommodate them, thinks because they are silent everything is ‘ok’, or simply ignores them as not being of any particular value to the church.
It is all too easy to fall into a utilitarian view of the church and her members. In a desire for greater engagement and impact we run the risk of making a hierarchy of fellow pilgrims. Traditionally this has been headed up by the ‘dog-collared’ amongst us but it now spills over into other areas of our common life. It isn’t that we want people to be lonely in the church but some of them just don’t ‘get with the programme’. And so we find faithful followers of our Beloved side-lined by the enthusiasm of others.
Yes, we have a gospel to proclaim and it is vital and important to tell that good news but we should be careful that does not happen by sacrificing the silent faithful lambs of God on the altar of our Mission Action Plan!
Dame Veronica does not ‘fit’ into the regular mould of a nun of Brede Abbey. But then ask anyone who lives the vowed life to show you who in their community ‘fits in’ and they are likely to have a wry smile if not a case of the giggles. We are all gloriously different and one of the chief aims of living in community is to discover that difference and find within it our common love for the One Who Loves us Best.
There is a reason why in many churches the Lord’s Supper may not be celebrated by one person alone. There is a reason why the Lord’s Prayer begins with ‘Our’ Father. There is a reason why the first words of Nicene Creed are ‘We’ believe.
At the very beginning in the garden our Creator declared that it was not good for us to be alone. We need company to thrive and to flourish. Without it we become twisted and shrivel and die and then have nothing at all to offer a lonely lost world.
In a world where many are lonely,
we thank you for our friendships.
In a world where many are captive,
we thank you for our freedom.
In a world where many are hungry,
we thank you for your provision.
We pray that you will:
enlarge our sympathy,
deepen our compassion,
and give us grateful hearts.
In Christ’s name.
(Terry Waite, England)
1) On Sunday seek out someone who is alone in church. Try not to ask the ‘How are you?’ question but instead simply talk about a commonplace or sit with them in companionable silence.
2) So, how are you? Make a word map with the words ‘FINE’ in the middle and let your heart write words around it. Offer your responses to our Beloved in prayer.
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