A Trysting Place– 40 Days in Brede Abbey
Philippa – the Journey Outward
Day 35 – Monday in Holy Week
‘If only Father President would come and we could hold the election;’ sighed Dame Perpetua.
‘Yes, we’re like a hive without a queen,’ said Philippa.
She had said something of the kind to Sister Cecily that morning in the refectory Philippa was reader far the week and Cecily was taking her first steps in learning to serve from the pantry, so that both were at [second siting for meals], after it, they walked through the cloister together. It was recreation hour, they could talk, and Philippa had said, ‘I wonder which one of us has been fed on royal jelly?’
‘I know one,’ said Cecily.
‘I?’ It was the first time Cecily had seen Philippa flush; it was a flush of anger. ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ It was the Talbot voice but Cecily was steady.
‘If you were a choir nun of ten years’ standing, there would be no question.’
‘You don’t know what you are talking about!’ Self-contained Philippa for once was incoherent. ‘I haven’t even begun to catch up. You don’t understand,’ said Philippa more quietly. ‘All my grown life, it seems to me now I have been acting in authority… yes, acting.’ said Philippa, ‘because I wasn’t a full person. I was so busy;’ said Philippa, ‘that I had no time for myself. Now, at last, at Brede I have a chance to be no one. That’s what I need because I must begin again; in all those years I hadn’t advanced one jot.’
(In This House of Brede – Page 84)
From the Scriptures:
When Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. 8 ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
We are ready to accept the lowest place when asked and to volunteer to take it. Nevertheless, when asked to undertake work of which we feel unworthy or incapable we do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness.
(from the Rule of the Third Order SSF)
Poor Philippa! She is trying so hard to care for her own journey that she forgets that no one journeys alone and, if indeed we are each a part of the Body of Christ, it will always be impossible for us to ‘hide our light under a bushel’ and disappear into our cell until the world and its woes go away.
Vocations are awkward things. We spend ages discerning what they are and then, when we may have an inkling of what God wants to do with our lives, we are tempted to play the Jonah and run away from that same call! But that is not where it ends. Once having discerned our vocation, surrendered our will to our vocation, trained ourselves body mind and soul to answer our vocation, we realise that it never was ‘our’ vocation to begin with anyway.
Putting ‘my’ and ‘vocation’ next to each other is a contradiction in terms. We are not called, enabled, and commissioned by the One Who Loves us Best to serve our own ends. Vocation is not about finding ‘my’ place where ‘I’ can grow best – as if serving our Beloved could be measured in terms of self-improvement. Vocations are given to us so that we may better live out our lives for others. All vocations are held in common, which is why the church does not acknowledge anyone’s vocation if they have no relationship with the Body of Christ. My vocation is not for me alone, it’s for you as well.
This does not mean that, as we answer this call, we will along the way find ourselves enriched in the faith, reflecting a little more of the love of the One who Loves us, and even find ourselves in a place of contentment as rest. Philippa has indeed found respite, restoration, and healing from the hurts of her past as she has learnt to say ‘yes’ to her vocation but that is not where her story ends…
For every step of the ‘journey inward’ we are also called to take steps, be they ever so tentative, on the ‘journey outward.’ And so we turn to Cecily, Philippa, and Royal Jelly. The novice, with fresh eyes can see how the community lives and breathes as she learns who fits in where. Philippa, focussed on her own battles does not see this, misses part of her vocation and almost (more of which later), disrupts the greater vocation of the whole Abbey.
This vocation, this precious gift which we have chased and cried over, this joyful burden we carry that no one else can quite understand, must be held lightly, or else we will miss it altogether.
The Suscipe prayer of Ignatius of Loyola helps us walk this path;
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
Having received our call from our Beloved, having giving away our lives that we may answer that call, it is only ever finally received by us when we give it back to the One who called us. And, in emptying ourselves of our religious curriculum vitae we find a new acceptance and a greater freedom to follow wherever we are called.
make us realize that our Christianity is like a rice ﬁeld,
that when it is newly planted,
the paddies are prominent;
but as the plants take root and grow taller,
these dividing paddies gradually vanish,
and soon there appears only one vast continuous ﬁeld.
So give us roots of love and make us grow
in Christian fellowship and service,
so that thy will be done in our lives,
through our Saviour, thy Son, Jesus Christ.
(from the Philippines)
1) Look at what you do for your church fellowship and ask for grace that all your work would be for the benefit of others and not simply helping you feel better about yourself.
2) Do you have a vocation that has passed its ‘best before date’? Holy Week is a good time to lay things down and let them ‘die’ so that new life may be begun in you and in others.
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