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Stained Glass

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Martyrdom of St John the Baptist

It's notable that the Church keeps the birthday of St John the Baptist as a Solemnity and his martyrdom as a humble Memoria, but it seems to fit the Baptist's life and work. He is the forerunner, and once the Lord is present, he must decrease, so that even his death (or as we would say, his entrance into Life) is, as it were, muted. (Freudian turn of phrase: wasn't John the Voice crying in the wilderness who condemned Herod's sin, which is why he had to be silenced, ever the response of totalitarian regimes to those who speak out fearlessly against lies and injustice.) Later this morning we'll have Mass in the medieval chapel of St Amand and St John the Baptist. I suspect my thoughts will stray to another, more ancient church on the Aventine for, according to the old calendar, this is also the feast of St Sabina and as readers of this blog will know, I love the basilica of Sta Sabina. I was trying to find a good photograph but find I have none, and the Dominicans, who have their Generalate there, don't seem to, either. Another surprising example of humility!

St Augustine of Hippo

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Local Radio and Nuns

One just never knows what is going to turn up next. We were telephoned by Radio Berkshire yesterday and asked if we'd do an over-the-phone interview about an Italian priest's idea of holding a nuns' beauty pageant on the web ( I kid you not, but it is the Silly Season). On the grounds that nuns don't often feature in the "God slot" of British broadcasting, we agreed, and we'll post the clip on our web site in due course, provided the BBC gives permission. The interesting question for me was, where does the idea of nuns being rather stern, disapproving people come from? Many people expect us to be very austere and are immensely disapproving of any suggestion that life in the monastery may have its lighter moments (they drink wine on Christmas day, how shocking!) or are subject to the same stresses and strains as themselves (she may have been up 36 hours nursing a sick member of the community but how dare she snap at me!). I think they're making a false equation between asceticism and joylessness. The renunciations of monastic life are real enough, but because they tend to make us freer, they make us more joyful, too. If there's no joy here at Hendred, we might as well give up.


The opening psalm at Vigils on Tuesdays often passes in, not a blur exactly, but, shall we say, in less than sharp focus. How wise Benedict was to insist that Vigils should begin slowly! Yet there are a couple of lines which sometimes emerge from the mist with peculiar force, partly because they are lovely in themselves, partly because they express a very poignant emotion:
". . . your servants love her very stones,
are moved with pity even for her dust." (Ps 101.15)
The psalmist was singing of Sion, remembered in exile as a place of holiness and beauty, but the sentiments are familiar to every adult. Nostalgia for what we have lost, for the land of childhood or the scenes of youth perhaps, afflicts everyone at some time or other (even cloistered nuns). This most adult of emotions need not be negative. It can inspire heroic effort or great art, lead to the achievement of something really worthwhile, be truly creative. My own thoughts often turn to the church at Stanbrook on a summer's evening, when the western sun shimmers and shines through the choir, illuminating the tabernacle with a shaft of bright light: a reminder that the Lord alone is unchanging. For as the psalmist also says, speaking of the heavens and the earth,
"They will perish but you will remain . . .
. . . you neither change nor have an end." (Ps 101. 27, 28)

The Depths of God

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A Confession

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St Bernard

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Custom Search Engine Added

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Joyful in His House of Prayer

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An Idle Thought

I've just finished rereading Gijs van Hensbergen's excellent biography of Antoni Gaudí. There is something almost medieval about his strange genius. I wonder if there is any architect alive today whose work is so completely suffused with Faith; and if there is any bishop employing an architect of such rare quality! (Note: No podcast today as we put up a video on Thursday and may release another sometime this coming week.)

The Assumption of Our Lady

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Questions and Answers

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A Terrible Irony

Am I alone in thinking that war in Georgia at the same time as the Olympic Games is a terrible irony? There does seem to be a contradiction between proclaiming peace at the Olympics and aiming bullets and bombs at one another. The Benedictine motto is "pax" or "peace", surrounded by a crown of thorns — a reminder that true peace is only attainable if we are prepared to suffer for it.

Statistics, Sin and Psalmody

The weather is less muggy this morning, so I thought I would devote a few minutes to analyzing our web site and seeing if I could track down some coding errors that I know exist but have not yet put right. The search terms used to find us are always fascinating. There are more spellings for "monastery" than I would have thought possible, but most people have no difficulty with "nun", except for one confused soul who put "nunk" (I sympathize, believe me.) Someone googled "new potatoes" and found us. That must have been unexpected, to say the least. Someone else navigated to us via a most unlikely link about political gossip in Washington D.C., which makes one wonder whether the Pentagon is interested in our emails (answer, probably: not much escapes surveillance these days). But it was when printing out the email requests for prayer that I was brought up short. I always find them moving, but this morning there was one that wrung my heart. At the end the writer asked the Lord "to forgive my sins of poverty". It is an evocative phrase which can be understood in many ways. Monastic "poverty" can be beautiful: an absence of clutter and the uglier artefacts of our age, but that is not what the writer meant. St Clare of Assisi, whose feast we keep today, knew poverty as a joyful freedom; but that is not how most people experience it. The "sins of poverty" can be ugly and brutal, and only those who know what it is like to be hungry or diseased or enslaved really understand. Fortunately, we have the psalms. They are the cry of the poor to the heart of God. When we pray the psalms in community, we are articulating the prayer of Christ to the Father, "who does not despise the poverty of the poor" and who has cancelled our debts by his death on the cross. It is a great and humbling vocation.

The still small voice

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St Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) and a Birthday Party

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St Dominic 08.08.08.

The symmetry of today's date seems fitting for the feast of St Dominic — such an engaging saint, with both an orderly mind and a warm personality. Benedictines and Cistercians like to gloss over his critique of the monastic mediocrity of his day and concentrate on finding links with themselves. Not difficult in the case of S. Domingo de Silos. But there is, I think, a deeper affinity between the followers of St Dominic and the followers of St Benedict. Our ways of doing theology may differ in some respects, but we agree that love of God and love of learning are two aspects of one quest. So, greetings and good wishes to all our Dominican friends and prayers for their flourishing. May they continue to be true hounds of God!

Digital Books and Electronic Printing

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6 August 2008

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New Telephone System

We have had to buy a new telephone system as the old one was experiencing too much interference. It took two nuns a whole hour to digest the operating instructions (not a good sign) and a further thirteen hours to charge the handsets. All should be perfect, and in a way it is, though not as the manufacturers intended. The new handsets look very handsome and illuminate in different ways according to the kind of call being made. The only problem is, all incoming calls are being diverted to the answerphone and we have so far failed to retrieve the messages. I fear another hour with the instruction manual may be required.

RB 53: Guests (again)

Reading this morning's section of the Rule has made me examine my conscience again. I spent all my "free" time yesterday trying to catch up with correspondence, but I seem to have made barely a dent in it, and I know some people will be thinking I/we don't care or regard their requests as trivial. No request made in good faith is trivial, but the urgent is always displacing the important and one inevitably feels a bit guilty about it. That is part of the "problem" with Benedictine hospitality. We try to be a warm and welcoming community, but there are times when tiredness or illness or the need to do something make it difficult to respond to others as we (and they) would wish. I'm sure it must be the same for all overworked mums and dads, busy carers and just about everyone else on the planet. St Benedict says that Christ is welcomed in the person of the guest. Undoubtedly. But perhaps we could get rid of some unnecessary feelings of guilt and failure if we remembered that it is Christ who does the welcoming, too.

Sunday in the Monastery

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RB 50

Today's chapter, about praying the Divine Office wherever one happens to be on a journey, made me reflect. Muslims are much less inhibited than many Christians about praying in public. I have not quite been reduced to slipping my Office book into lurid covers like the priest in "The Power and the Glory", but I admit to doing a rather embarrassed shuffle sometimes. Perhaps it is only the British fear of drawing attention to oneself. What we're really doing, of course, is drawing attention to God; so why should anyone be reluctant to do that?