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Limping Along

Prayers today for all our Jesuit friends, and indeed for the many people who have been very helpful to us as a community during the past couple of weeks. Digitalnun is limited to ten-minute bursts on the computer at present so she has been asked to go away and play with the Handyzoom as there are several talks she has not found time to record yet. We'll post details in the blog as and when she uploads them to our Talks page. Duncan meanwhile has been asked to assume the role of Cerberus (a task for which he is completely unsuitable) but there was some talk of an ipod being used while the Mac is out of bounds, so Colophon may continue much as usual. Perhaps you could "offer it up" or something.

Meanwhile, we take heart from this story from Canada that having the courage to speak about Jesus can stop a robber in his tracks. O si sic omnes:

Bare Ruined Choirs

Stanbrook Choir before Compline

Yesterday we had to go to Malvern and as we drove past Stanbrook and saw the ivy growing over the enclosure wall, Digitalnun went very quiet for a few moments, thinking sombre thoughts of dissolution and decay and recalling a purple passage or two from Dom David Knowles. Places become precious by association, doubly so when they are also beautiful and have an inspiring history. The thought of that lovely abbey church gathering dust in the silence and stillness of a summer afternoon was painful. Yes, of course, the community goes on, so does the prayer and the praise, but there is that indescribable thing called "atmosphere" which cannot be recreated without a similar striving.

The photo of the choir was snapped by Digitalnun one evening just before Compline. It could have been taken at any time in the past century and a half and to us who knew it gives a vivid sense of what it was like to step into choir before an Office. What it cannot convey is the wonderful acoustic, the result of sound being bounced from the sounding boards above the choir stalls on to the tiles beneath, nor the smell, a mixture of beeswax and incense and, in summer, myriad scents drifting in from the gardens. Still less can it convey to outsiders the real life of the church, the unceasing round of prayer, public and private, from dawn till dusk, day in, day out, which is the mark of Benedictine community. The church at Stanbrook was the crowning-point of Fr Laurence Shepherd's dream of a resurgent Benedictine monasticism for women and he wore himself out in his efforts to raise the money and see the building completed. I rather hope that we have a similar vision here at Hendred and are similarly earnest in our efforts to realise what a Benedictine monastery may and should be in the twenty-first century. If so, the pain of that passing moment may be an inspiration for the future.

The Mary Strand Trust

Good news for Veilaudio: the Mary Strand Trust has made a generous award to enable us to replace some of our worn-out equipment. This is particularly important because the age profile of blindness and visual impairment is changing slightly. Age-related macular degeneration is still the main cause of blindness in Britain. Most users of Veilaudio are elderly and often rather isolated. It is clear many appreciate the contact with people the audio service provides (some of our lay volunteers are now "Sister" and "Father/Brother" to our library users). However, there are larger numbers of young blind adults who wish to obtain appropriate religious/spiritual reading matter but that isn't easy, unless you don't mind having a text "read" to you by the mechanical voice inside your computer. We are lucky to have a number of excellent volunteer readers, with good voices and an intelligent grasp of what they are reading, and devote some care and thought to the choice of texts. At the moment, Digitalnun is wondering how anyone (no one is owning up to having done so) could have asked one of our most learned readers to record "The Shack" but the results are excellent and no doubt the book will please those who have been longing to hear it. As soon as she is able to climb up to the high places where Veilaudio resides, it will become our book of the month, available on CD only. Please join us in thanking God for the Mary Strand Trust and pray for the trustees and administrators.

Praying for the Sick

What do we mean by praying for the sick? I suspect answers to that question would range from, "I'm praying for someone to get better (which may or may not require what is, humanly speaking, a miracle) to "I'm not really sure, but I believe it matters". Personally, I have no problem with either answer, although when, for example, we are asked to pray for someone who is very old, has a terminal disease and is in great pain, I am less inclined to ask for a miracle of physical healing than for the grace of peace and a good death when God wills. Is that a cop out? Possibly, but then, I think that when we are praying for the sick that is precisely what we are doing: praying for those who are too ill to pray themselves, rather than praying for any specific good for them.

Just recently I have myself experienced how difficult it is to pray when pain and sleeplessness upset the normal order of things (and in my case we are not talking about something terminal, at least I hope we're not!). It has been a great comfort to know that others have been praying, that every Hour of the Divine Office has concluded with a prayer for "absent brethren". But I believe in the power of prayer. Someone who doesn't, or is afraid that prayer might change things, might be resentful (has anyone asked Christopher Hitchens how he feels about all those Christians who are praying for him?). Should that stop us praying? Does our respect for others mean that we should not pray for someone who does not want to be prayed for?

On the evidence of yesterday's Mass readings, the answer should be a resounding "no". As Christians we have a duty of prayer, however hostile the law or public opinion may be. Abraham's intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18.20-32) is a type of the kind of intercessory prayer in which we engage. When Abraham bargained with God on behalf of others, did he really believe that ten just men would be found, or was he just trying to turn God's anger away from the city by wearing him down? In other words, was Abraham taking on himself the duty of prayer which the citizens of Sodom had shrugged off?

Today is the feast of SS Joachim and Anne, parents of Our Lady and hence grandparents of Jesus. It is a day for thanking God for grandparents but also a day for thinking about how we pray for the elderly. Old age often brings sickness, loneliness, money worries and other cares which get in the way of prayer. We who can must pray for them and leave the results to God, for he knows best. Sodom was not spared, but if it had been perhaps Abraham would not have become our Father in Faith and we would not have had that Son of Abraham who is also the Son of God.

Speaking Plainly

It is a dull, grey morning and we are reading Job at Vigils. Dull and grey outside it may be, but my goodness, there are fireworks in choir! What a magnificent work the Book of Job is. Reading scripture aloud is infinitely more effective than scanning the page silently. No wonder the Church exhorts us always to LISTEN to the readings of the liturgy rather than follow them in books or missalettes. Job is a dramatic text, of course, but even the drearier bits of Leviticus read aloud have an impact that would otherwise be wanting; and if the reader is sensitive enough to drop all idea of being an actor and simply allows the words to speak through her, that impact can be very great indeed. The trouble is, many readers want to improve on the Word of God by inserting themselves into the text; so we have grandiloquent flourishes and hyped up emotion and the result is . . . painful.

I have a notion that the solution to this conundrum is to be found somewhere or somehow in the life of the Lord Jesus. From that first cry at Bethlehem, when the Word of God first found perfect utterance though a human voice, to that last "It is finished", there has been no more reverent expression of God's meaning and purpose. I suppose we all have an interior notion of how Jesus spoke, and we edit out the passages that don't conform to our own ideas. It would be a good Friday exercise to go through one of the gospels and look at the different tones in Jesus' voice: the adolescent certainty with which he answered Mary in the temple; the sharp refutation of Satan in the desert; the commanding invitation to the disciples; the patient explanations; the teasing quality of his exchanges with those he met on the road; his anger with the money-changers in the temple or the hub-bub around Jairus's daughter. One might especially note the way in which he spoke to women since that very often escapes male preachers.

We are ourselves a word spoken by God. Our life's business is to learn how to proclaim the Word of God, and from whom can we learn it if not from Him?

(Domestic note: many thanks for the kind enquiries after Hopalong [a.k.a. Digitalnun]. The antibiotics have begun to check the infection which, as late as Wednesday, was still spreading, but recovery looks like taking longer than we had hoped. The patient is not her usual cheery self and says she will slaughter me if I describe her as being "comfortable". On the other hand, she is grateful not to be in hospital and is managing to do a little work at the computer. Duncan and I are growing in patience by the hour. Infirmarian.)

St Mary Magdalene

I wanted to say something about St Mary Magdalene as the apostle of the Resurrection but my mind is full of the image of Mary as penitent which I have to go and look at every time I am in Valladolid (it was part of the Sacred Made Real Exhibition, see Mary was often treated harshly by writers of previous generations, being seen as a sinner who reformed, but never quite sufficiently. She was a woman with a past. Perhaps it was precisely because she was a forgiven sinner and knew herself to be such that she was entrusted with the news that Christ was risen. Only those who really listen have anything to proclaim.

Meanwhile, in order to help Facebook sign up its 500,000th user, we have begun creating a Facebook page for integration with our new web site (coming like Christmas, did you say?). It is not very ept at the moment, but you ought to be able to see it by using this nice little badge:
Benedictine Nuns, Holy Trinity Monastery


Digitalnun is currently having difficulty sitting at the computer. This would be amusing were it not that her ailment is making her less sweet-tempered than usual (= downright crotchety. Ed.) This presents a challenge to all who come to the house. How does one deal with a "moaning minnie" or a "grumpy old gaffer" (not that we are suggesting that Digitalnun fits either category, perish the thought!)? It is not quite the same as confronting prejudice. A fit of the glums, a touch of black dog, or just being inexplicably down in the dumps are experiences we all go through from time to time. We know that they will pass and that there isn't very much we can do to help the afflicted one. We just have to dodge the hissy fits. I think the dog has got it right. He ignores the irritability, throws an occasional eyes-like-melting-caramels look in the direction of the sufferer and keeps well clear when the groans and grimaces become noticeable. There are some things that time and time alone will put right. Maybe that's why patience is described as the fourth Benedictine vow.


During the past week the Catholic Church has scored a number of own goals. Those of us who have to know canon law will understand why an updated list of grave faults might include both sex abuse cases and the ordination of women. Those who don't won't, but this fact seems to have escaped the Vatican. Sometimes one wonders whether the ineptitude is deliberate. Be that as it may, the media response was predictable, although some of the comments (e.g. the now notorious Tweet by Caitlin Moran) have revealed a vein of anti-Catholic prejudice that would be unacceptable if it were directed elsewhere. Substitute Muslim, black, Jew or gay for Catholic and there would be outrage, rightly so.

The experience should make us think how we handle prejudice, both in ourselves and in others. We pray (or at least I hope we do) to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Provided we don't allow our own interior clamour to drown out his voice, we ought to be confident that God will free us from our prejudices, even if it is the work of a lifetime. Every time we become aware of prejudice in ourselves, we ought to stop and think what we are doing. We don't have to be nasty, do we? How we deal with the prejudice of others is more problematic. We may believe that the only way to meet prejudice is with the gentleness and openness St Paul saw as characteristic of the wisdom given from above, but it is amazing how a red mist can come before the eyes when certain things are said or done! The fact that something is difficult does not make it impossible, however. Refusing to pass the poison on may not seem very heroic, may indeed require a huge struggle against the desire to hit back, but I suspect it is the only way to avoid becoming a shrivelled and shrunken scrap of humanity. The worst thing about prejudice is that it reveals the prejudiced person in all too truthful a light.

Painless Giving

Before I became a nun one of my great delights was to go "steeple-chasing", the churchy rather than horsey variety. From the grandest of cathedrals to the plainest of meeting houses, I was fascinated both by the buildings themselves and what they revealed about the people who used them. It began with a childish enthusiasm for Gothic which grew with the years to embrace almost everything. I began to see that architectural "mistakes" might have a beauty that had nothing to do with their material construction. I even discovered a fondness for the ugly little Catholic churches squashed into mean back streets which were commoner then than now, the gothic all wrong but the intentions all right: churches built by the urban poor and kept going by innumerable small sacrifices and struggles. To begin with, I was a bit fastidious about the bingo and sweepstake notices pinned at the back, but over time I began to see that one will do almost anything for whom and what one loves. The Catholic obsession with money is not an obsession with money per se: it is an obsession with what money can do for a good cause.

Which brings me to my point. People sometimes ask what they can do to help the monastery, usually prefacing their remarks with the words, "I don't have a lot of money but . . ." Don't worry if you haven't any money. If you use the internet at all you can help us greatly by making use of two services which will cost you nothing but which will bring us a small referral fee.

If you use our easysearch portal do your internet searching, we get something like a penny each time you make a search. Doesn't sound much? In the course of a week, 41 regular users generate anything between 30p and £1.50 for our charitable funds. If we had 400, it would pay for one new audio book for the blind a week. If you do any online shopping, please consider going to your favourite retailers, or finding others, via our easyfundraising portal. About 2000 retailers are now taking part in this scheme. When you use the portal, the referral fee which would normally go to Google or some other search engine is split half and half between easysfundraising and ourselves. You don't pay any more, indeed there are often special discounts and offers for users, but we raise some useful cash - almost £500 to date, which bought a new digital recorder for our work for the visually impaired and paid Veilaudio's telephone bill for the last quarter. Finally, if you don't want to support the monastery but would like to sign up another charity, please consider using our referral link and help two good causes at the same time.

As they say in all good churches, spread the word (and help us spread the Word).

Catholic Bloggers

The Catholic blogosphere is sometimes an uncomfortable place to be. Colophon is all for strong views and engaging style, but not at the expense of common decency and humanity. I used to think that extreme opinions and the "ya, boo, sucks" style of argument were the preserve of more or less unhinged individuals adding their two pennies' worth to the comments section. Indeed, it was because the comments on some blogs were so awful that we delayed implementing a commenting system here. But the problem is not confined to the comments. A number of blogs are, frankly, a disgrace: ill-informed (but often claiming infallibility in matters of faith and practice), ill-mannered (gloating over the distress of others) and sometimes deeply personal in their attacks. Others are less crude but still leave one with an unpleasant sense that the writers are not people one would wish to spend much time in purgatory with. This has been especially noticeable during the past few weeks when the troubles affecting our Anglican friends have been picked over in some detail.

So what makes a Catholic blog? Not, I would suggest, a plethora of repository art splashed all over the page, nor a load of paypal and other buttons inviting one to support the blogger by a donation; not loud proclamations of fidelity to the Magisterium or "the Traditional Church"; nor extravagant claims to being "progressive" or "forward-thinking". (Note for the confused: the Catholic Church is Traditional and she is One, and it is generally wiser to follow rather than go ahead of the Holy Spirit; but that's just my opinion, of course.)

I think the marks of a Catholic blog are simple: a sound grasp of Catholic teaching (those who seek to inform others should first inform themselves), a certain modesty or restraint about the rightness of one's own views, courtesy in argument (St Francis de Sales had an enviable reputation for being gracious towards his opponents: he would have made a wonderful blogger) and a scrupulous avoidance of anything that might detract from the reputation of others. This last is frequently overlooked, but it is an important caution. In a world where communication is instant, we can sin grievously by a hasty statement or comment that injures another. (Take a look at Twitter or Facebook if you disbelieve me.) Finally, I would suggest that those of us who are Catholic bloggers should remember what St Benedict says about praying before we begin any good work. Praying before we hit the keyboard won't necessarily improve our blogging, but it may improve us.

Kitchen Service

Benedict's chapter on kitchen service (RB 35, begun today) is often overlooked, especially by those who rarely, if ever, have to do any serious cooking, but it is effectively a treatise on the nature of community. Everyone is involved, unless there is some matter so important that an individual needs to be excused for a time. Those who are less strong are to be given help so that they too may serve. The flip side of this is that those who serve are in turn served; and one of the most beautiful aspects of monastic meals is the way in which all, from the youngest to the oldest, receive as well as give. As St Benedict remarks, such service "secures a richer reward and greater love".

The ritualisation of meals in a monastery is not stiff and formal. At its best it provides a domestic liturgy in which we thank God for the gifts given us and use eating and drinking to prepare for and recall the celebration of the Eucharist. The detail matters. We do not usually nowadays wash one another's feet, but the threefold blessings, the care taken to ensure that everything used at table is spotless, the silence, the reading, above all the fact that the meal is shared are a sign that what we are and do as a community is reinforced by our companionship, our breaking bread together.

It is just as well that Benedict had such a high ideal of kitchen service. Many a youthful monastic vocation has ended in the scullery where the "life of prayer" takes on a very muscular dimension. As a reality check, it is second to none. If we would see Christ in the liturgy, in the swirls of incense and the beauty of the chant, we must also see him in the kitchen amidst the baking trays and the brillo pads. Now, just remind me of that when I come to cook dinner today, please.


Summer seems to be slipping away already. It was dark when I got up this morning, but the darkness soon gave way to that thin grey light which heralds dawn. I suppose it is symbolic of life itself. Some of our lives are lived in sunshine, some in shadow; but there is a lot of twilight existence, where nothing very much happens, or what does is not particularly happy or attractive, and we don't see very clearly the way ahead. It may sound sickeningly pious, but I couldn't help remembering that it was at this twilight hour, "very early, before the sun had yet risen" that the Church, in the person of Mary Magdalene, experienced the Resurrection.

A Feast that is Not

Benedictines keep the Transitus on 21 March as the "big" feast of St Benedict; that of 11 July is much more low-key, so low-key this year that it isn't happening at all (Sunday takes precedence). It is therefore something of a dies non, which seems to fit the mood of the moment: a day for reflection and prayer following yesterday's decision in York. We trust our Anglican friends will know that we hold ALL of them in prayer, whatever their position.

So, how does one "celebrate" a non-feast? The liturgy of Sunday is fairly grand in itself, although we shall miss Solemn Vespers. Our Customary obliges us to more prayer and reading than on ordinary days (not a hardship) and less work (define). I suspect that the major change will be in the refectory. Dinner will be a trifle more festive. We have drawn off some of our homemade orange wine (star-bright, and nice and dry, for those who wonder) and we shall allow ourselves a little extra conversation, in accordance with monastic practice (our way of life is largely silent). It does not amount to very much, but life is made up of little things. It isn't only the devil that is in the detail. Sometimes you find the rejoicing there, too.

I forgot to post our podcast earlier but it is there now. The most recent 19 can be found on Talkshoe, earlier ones on the archive page. Soon they will all be in one place.

Cooling Off

Duncan in a hole

I've dug this nice little hole in your garden and I'm not coming out till it's cooler!

(Note: Duncan thinks we need some dog-talk occasionally as well as all this God-talk. Ed.).

Pray for our Friends

The July session of the General Synod of the Church of England begins today, and every Catholic ought to be praying for the participants. One of the questions to be debated concerns women bishops and if past discussion is anything to go by, there is a possibility of further division and pain whatever Synod decides. To a sympathetic outsider, it looks as though there can be no winners but only losers. The media are not helping with their talk of "easy conversion to Roman Catholicism" for those who reject the idea of women bishops.

Colophon is not to going to be drawn on this question, but there is one point that is worth making. Becoming a Catholic is not just one option among many for people of faith. One becomes a Catholic - converts - as one becomes an Anglican or a Methodist or anything else, because one is convinced, because one can do no other. Conversion is never easy. It is not a question of adopting certain practices or changing "ecclesiastical club". It requires whole-hearted assent, acceptance of risk, readiness to set out into the unknown. It can never proceed from a negative. It is therefore wrong to suggest that it is a "solution" to the difficulty some find themselves in; nor should we forget that others hold different opinions equally sincerely; their consciences must be respected, and the consequences for them must also be weighed. Whatever is decided, the Church of England is about to change quite dramatically; and that will affect all the Christian churches in this country.

Let us pray for the Synod, for wisdom and charity in the discussions and for an outcome that is pleasing to God.


Where liturgy is concerned, it can be hard to be both a woman and a student of history. As we all know, there is a growing debate in England about the reception of holy Communion: should we receive on the tongue or in the hand? (For legislation and instructions see Memoriale Domini [AAS 61 (1969), pp. 541-547] and Immensae caritatis [AAS 65 (1973) 264-271]. Approval for Communion in the hand was given for England and Wales in 1976). I have been following this debate for some time, with a growing sense of unease. Ignorance and exaggeration (on both sides) does not make for clarity. Indeed, it often leads to an irreverence which was surely never intended but which is in danger of obscuring the sacredness of that which we are discussing.

It was the practice of the early Church to receive Communion in the hand (there was quite a complicated ritual of sacring the eyes with the Host which no one, as far as I know, has ever wanted to revive). In the course of time, it became the practice in the west to receive the Host on the tongue and to reserve the Precious Blood to the clergy. Reception under both kinds, usually with reception of the Host in the hand, has been the experience of most English Catholics since the 1970s. The wider use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass has led to renewed discussion about how the laity should receive Communion. Instead of considering whether some criticisms of present practice are valid, there has been a tendency to adopt extreme positions. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that holy Communion is the Sacrament of unity and should be approached with the utmost reverence. How that reverence is to be expressed externally is more difficult to decide.

I myself am perfectly happy to receive Communion in any way the Church allows. As a community, it is our practice to follow the custom of those with whom we are worshipping (provided it is licit, of course) So, at the parish Mass we receive standing and in the hand. The only difference is that we make a profound bow before receiving. It is a valid criticism that many who receive standing and in the hand omit the genuflection or bow the bishops envisaged we would make before approaching the altar. When we are with a community that is using the Extraordinary Form, we kneel and receive on the tongue. I trust that our exterior disposition matches the interior disposition of our hearts and minds.

So, what is the problem? Apart from the rudeness this debate seems to induce in some who are otherwise polite and well-intentioned, there is the fact that the manner of receiving Communion is often used as a peg on which to hang other and more doubtful arguments. It is troubling to find people discussing the Mass as though it were the preserve of men only, questioning whether women should be allowed to receive Communion with heads uncovered or read or perform any other service during the liturgy. It also troubling to find people talking about the Mass as though the role of the priest were merely incidental and the laity could decide all.

Rome and our own Bishops' Conference will decide how we are to receive holy Communion but we shall have to work out for ourselves how to answer the other questions the debate has raised. As a Benedictine, I take heart from a principle the Rule enunciates again and again. Reverence is something we owe to everyone and everything. You cannot break that sentence in half. You cannot revere God if you are dismissive of people or casual about material things; you cannot truly revere people or things if you do not revere their Creator.

In Context

Looking at today's section of the Rule (RB 30, which you can listen to here), I could not help thinking that Benedict nowadays would be accused of abuse. Readers of Colophon know that we are deeply grieved by what we have learned in recent years about abuse perpetrated by Catholics and that we have no truck with cover-ups or attempts to pretend that it is anything other than evil. However, anyone with an ounce of historical awareness must surely realise that our understanding of childhood and what constitutes abuse has changed over time. The sexual abuse of children never has been and never could be acceptable; but "corporal punishment" takes us into a grey area. In Benedict's day, a box on the ears or a slap or a wallop was obviously perfectly acceptable, as it was in society generally until comparatively recently. It would not be so today; but in our anxiety to rid the Church of the evil of abuse, I have sometimes wondered whether we are in danger of treating everything as equally important; which means, of course, that everything is equally unimportant. Personally, I hate the idea of hitting anyone, but I am also made uncomfortable by the way in which some elderly priests and religious are being attacked for having sometimes slapped their pupils at a time when society did not condemn such practices. It reminds me that prayer for right judgement is never out of fashion.

Vocation Shortage?

From 2 to 4 July Oscott College was the venue for inVocation: an opportunity for young adults to meet priests and religious from many different traditions and think, pray and reflect about where God may be leading them. The event was well publicized and featured some high-profile key speakers and workshop leaders. We kept an eye on the dedicated web site and Facebook page (apparently no tweeting except on an informal basis) while we kept all the participants in prayer. Now the real work begins, when those who attended do their best to respond to the promptings of the Spirit.

So far so good. Yesterday evening we provided the schola for the Mass at Milton and for the FIRST TIME IN NEARLY TWO YEARS we heard a priest speak in his Sunday homily about the importance of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Now don't get me wrong: those who know our community will know that we have a keen sense of the importance of every vocation in the Church, lay, clerical and religious, and that we don't associate the word "vocation" with any particular way of following Christ. There are as many vocations as there are Christians. No, the problem is this: if we really believe that Mass and the Sacraments matter; if we really believe that preaching the Gospel matters; if we really believe that prayer matters, why are we not doing more to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life? Why are our priests so reluctant to talk about vocation? So often all we get is a grumble about how hard it is to be a priest. Of course it is hard to be a priest. It is also hard to be a husband or father, a wife or mother, a single person, a sister, a monk, a nun; it is hard to be widowed, separated, divorced. It is also a great grace, because to be whatever we are called to be is the only way in which we can truly respond to God.

It worries me that we are so namby-pamby about vocation. I don't believe that God has ceased to call people, nor do I believe that people are any less brave or generous than in the past. I suspect that the problem is the much more fundamental one of lack of faith. Perhaps that is what we should be looking at rather than lamenting the shortage of vocations. As they say in exam questions, Discuss.



" . . . the holy time is quiet as a nun
Breathless with adoration . . ."

has nothing to do with nuns or adoration but is about the beauty of evening. I have occasionally wondered where Wordsworth got his ideas about nuns from: was it as a young man, full of hope for the French Revolution and delighting in a kind of nature pantheism, or as the dutiful Church-of-England-sonnets man he later became? Either way, he got one thing absolutely right: the centrality of adoration to the life of any Christian.

When life is overfull or a bit bumpy, I have only one remedy. I go and kneel before the Blessed Sacrament. It helps, of course, if there is no one else around because when one feels one can't pray but can only kneel, (with all the prayer being in the kneeling), anything and everything can be a distraction. So one just kneels before God and turns everything over to him. This is the prayer of Total Incompetence, the prayer of the Everlasting Beginner. It is also the prayer of Adoration because at its heart is the recognition that God is God, supremely good, supremely beautiful, supremely loving. As Walter Hilton said, "I am naught; I have naught; I covet naught but Thee". It is a prayer for all times and seasons, when we ask nothing but allow God to do all. That can be hard for some of us, but letting go is essential because the more there is of us, the less there is likely to be of God. If you have never tried this kind of prayer before, today would be a very good day to begin.

Another Kind of Dame

The death of Dame Beryl Bainbridge has been greeted with sadness by all who enjoyed her books and larger-than-life personality. There will be a flurry of obituaries and "literary assessments" of someone who was dubbed "the Booker bridesmaid" (she was nominated five times) before she is allowed to take her place in the literary pantheon. Many writers produce autobiographies and we all know how sceptically one has to read certain sections, but Dame Beryl did something different. About four years ago she made a film with her grandson called "Beryl's Last Year" to record what she thought she was like. Few of us would be brave enough or imaginative enough to risk such a venture. I think it demonstrates that she was indeed another kind of dame. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

(Note for the perplexed: Benedictine nuns are called "Dame", a relic of the medieval "Domina" or more commonly, "Domna": it is just a form of address [like the monk's "Dom"]; Dame Beryl had received a D.B.E. from the Queen. In her case "Dame" is the equivalent to the knight's "Sir" and is a title of honour.


Sometimes I wonder whether we should have become nuns. Friday is traditionally POETS day (push off early, tomorrow's Saturday) and in many an office the week-end atmosphere is helped along by "dress down" concessions. On these I make no comment, except to say that jeans and a tee shirt, no matter how expensive, don't suit our solicitor though I am happy to see them on friends in the media world. No, my problem is that Friday sees us gearing up for (even more) action. The week-ends tend to be full of visitors (whom we are delighted to see, of course) and a host of related activities, including, naturally enough, grander than usual liturgy on Sundays. It means that when Monday morning dawns and the "working week" begins, we can be a bit limp. There isn't an obvious solution, but I'm inclined to think that the mortification of obedience has been joined by the asceticism of work and there must be something positive in it. Isn't that a heartening thought? When you are worried about "not doing enough spiritually", you can point to your work and say, "That's my asceticism". Just don't let your life be all work and no pray.