31/May/2008 Filed in: Chapter Talks
This lovely feast, which has given us the Magnificat, has also given us an insight into the family life of Christ. There is something singularly sweet and gracious about the way in which Mary, herself preganant with Jesus, makes the difficult journey to help her older cousin; but there was nothing particularly sweet or gracious about the journey she must have made to do so. And when Mary and Elizabeth meet, there is no recounting of hardships on the way or grumblings about the aches and pains of pregnancy. Instead, from Mary comes a wonderful stream of praise drawn from the scriptures and from Elizabeth that humble, wondering response: "Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?" John leaps for joy in his mother's womb at the nearness of his God. Only Jesus Himself apparently gives no sign. The Word of God is silent and still, awaiting the moment when He will reveal Himself, speak His gracious word of forgiveness and leap upon the Cross to redeem the sins of all. As Zephaniah prophesied long ago, God will rejoice over us with shouts of joy and dance for us as on a day of festival.
30/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
This is, liturgically, the first anniversary of this blog. Mentioning that highlights one aspect of monastic life that may be difficult for outsiders to grasp. Within the monastery time is calculated, ordered and experienced liturgically. Just as we measure out the hours of the day with the Hours of the Divine Office, so the seasons of the year are measured out with feasts and fasts, each of which acquires a particular hue or cast from the music, texts or rituals associated with it, or domestic details such as rolls for breakfast or honey for supper. For me the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart is inextricably linked with the Sixth Mode and peonies before the altar (and, to be frank, some really treacly hymns). It is also one of the few days in the year when we all try to keep work to a minimum and make time for hobbies and recreational pursuits. Perhaps today I'll find time to tidy up this web site, but just as the cobbler's children have no shoes, so the last web site to receive attention will always be the monastery's own.
29/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
Two of us have spent the early part of the morning clearing gutters. I, with my morbid horror of heights, have contrived to do rather more than my fair share of holding ladders rather than climbing aloft. No good telling myself that it is perfectly safe; no good reminding myself "not to look down" (as if I could, anyway); fear paralyzes one utterly. It is useful to have some very obvious shortcoming one can neither deny nor dodge. It keeps one grounded in reality (in my case, literally.) Whenever we are confronted by some weakness in ourselves, it is tempting to rail and rant at the affront to our inflated ideas about our own importance and self-sufficiency. Perhaps we could try thinking about these things as gifts instead. It is when we cannot do what we would that we begin to learn.
28/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
The roses in the garden are heavy with raindrops, which reminds me that May is traditionally Mary's month. People often assume that a monastery of nuns will have lots of devotions to Mary and are very surprised that we don't really "do" devotions at all. That does not mean that we do not hold Mary and the other saints in great honour, or that we do not invoke them in prayer. On the contrary, I think monastic life makes one more and more aware of that "great company of witnesses". But the daily round of Mass and the Divine Office, the regular practice of lectio divina and contemplative prayer, mean that we have many "peak moments" when we reach out to that which is beyond all thought or feeling. Devotions, though good in themselves, are perhaps less necesssary to help us focus. In any case, the liturgy gives us two beautiful daily reminders of Mary's presence in our lives, a presence which mediates Christ but in no way supersedes Him: the Magnificat at Vespers, and the anthem to Our Lady at the end of Compline, the very last prayer of the day. Maria, Dei Mater et Mater Ecclesiae, ora pro nobis.
27/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
We keep today the feast of St Augustine of Canterbury. Sad to think that he is so often forgotten, even by English Christians. If you go to Ebbsfleet today, you would scarcely be aware that Augustine and his followers began their historic mission there. Fortunately, in Hendred we have a stately reminder in the form of the Anglican parish church. I was interested to see that the plaque commemorating St Augustine has exactly the same features as the frontispiece to Pusey's traslation of the Confessions of St Augustine of Hippo. Perhaps in nineteenth century workshops there was a template designated "Augustine" which was used for any and every Augustine. We owe a lot to Augustine of Canterbury, but there are two qualities in him that I find immensely attractive. He wasn't keen to come to Britain, and had to be chivvied by Pope Gregory the Great; and he was humble. When Gregory taxed him with delighting too much in the miracles God was able to work through him, Augustine took it to heart. The result is that we have no miracle stories recorded of him as we have of other early missionaries.
26/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
A typical Bank Holiday Monday, with rain and wind. How intense all the garden smells are once the rain eases off! In the meantime, much amusement can be had from viewing the various ways in which the community ensure their veils are not reduced to sodden, shapeless rags. Even a minor shower is disastrous as the veil loses its central crease and ceases to hang properly. One wonders how nuns managed in earlier centuries, when there could be no recourse to umbrellas and waterproofs (or tumbler driers and electric irons) but only the slower, less immediate remedy of a washing line and veil press. Does anyone know of a medieval book illustration showing a nun with bedraggled headdress caught in shower of rain? Or was all perfect in days of yore when nuns were universally young, beautiful and saintly?
25/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
It seems very strange to be celebrating Corpus Christi on a Sunday. We have now had Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity and Corpus Christi on four Sundays in succession and have had to do some juggling with texts and antiphons as, of course, we never thought that Ascension and Corpus Christi would be celebrated on any day but Thursday. How easily we slip into "certainties" that then get overturned by events. Ah well, another opportunity to learn humility!
23/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
Out for a walk on the Ridgeway yesterday. The larks and lapwings were in fine voice, but the big thrill was seeing and hearing a pair of Yellowhammers, now becoming a rare bird (red alert status). As usual, it is the male that flaunts the gaudier plumage. The characteristic song, "A little bit of bread and no cheese" is remarkably cheerful and a nice contrast to the plaintive cry of the lapwings.
22/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." How true. We have been in a whirl of activity since the last post so have decided that the next prayer podcast will go up at the week-end rather than at the tail end of this week. On a more positive note, today's section of the Rule contains some real gems about behaving well towards others and offers the final thought that we must never despair of God's mercy. How often do we reach a point where God seems far away and uninterested in us and our difficulties. Where was God when the cyclone hit Burma; where was God when the earthquake shattered China? The truth we are often reluctant to acknowledge is that God was right there, in the midst of the suffering – not Himself the cause of the suffering, not taking delight in seeing His children suffer, but one with all who suffered, sharing their pain and somehow redeeming it. I wonder whether we also make God laugh –a little sadly– when He encounters our shrunken and despairing notions of Him, the kind of god railed against by materialists and true believers alike.
19/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
Readers of this blog will have noticed that we managed to celebrate Trinity Sunday, our patronal feast, without adding an entry, thus neatly circumventing the need to say anything about a mystery so sublime that we are all reduced to babbling about shamrocks and wine bottles (although the late Peter Hebblethwaite used a cricketing analogy that is as much a mystery to me as the Holy Trinity). It wasn't cunning, it was sheer pressure of events. However, the good news is that we have worked out why our RSS feed isn't working correctly, although both Google Reader and Yahoo will stream the content to you without problem. In a number of places we have used some typographical niceties that plain text doesn't recognize. This effectively corrupts the feed. We can now either go through all 200+ entries and edit them , or leave things as they are. This blog is henceforth just a web page. And how does that tie up with SS Dunstan, Ethelwold and Oswald? Well, apart from their importance in the tenth century reformation of the church in England (even the dourer Ethelwold was quite innovative, translating the Rule of St Benedict into English and the feminine form for the Winchester nuns and encircling the Nunnaminster with an enclosure wall in the latest continental fashion), Dunstan was such a polymath (artist, musician, blacksmith, you name it, he was it) that one feels certain that he would today be blogging, podcasting and vodcasting. And I'm sure his feeds would all be flawless. (Our prayer podcast will go up tonight once we have edited out a neighbour's lawnmower . . .)
16/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
The Friends of Holy Trinity Monastery are holding a plant sale in the monastery grounds on Sunday. Ideally, we should be tidying the garden so that it looks a bit more kempt than it does. Unfortunately, work and weather conspire against that, so visitors will be treated to rolling English savannah and Amazonian levels of undergrowth if everything continues its present growth-rate. Surrounded by so much lushness, drought in Australia and elsewhere seems almost unreal. The same is also true of suffering. Burma and China are still in the headlines, but Zimbabwe, Darfur and the Congo have slipped down the page, while "smaller" human tragedies, like that of the Fritzl family, or individuals struggling with illness or bereavement are lost to view. As contemplatives, we don't have the option of forgetting. The world and all its joys and sorrows must be contantly brought before God in prayer. We need to connect.
15/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
Today marks the beginning of our sixth year at Hendred. Lots of plans, lots of hopes, lots of dreams, all of them subject to the will of God — easy to say, but not always easy to accept if God has his own ideas about how things should go! For some people, the fact that God does not always respond to prayer in the way we expect or want leads to some very illogical conclusions: God does not love me; God does not exist; and so on. Can we turn things round and say, isn't it amazing that God does sometimes (often even) respond to prayer exactly as we hope or in ways that exceed all our expectations? Perhaps our ideas about God are a little askew. We want freedom for ourselves but are reluctant to allow it to God.
14/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
St Matthias could be called the forgotten apostle. During his life on earth, Jesus did not single him out for any special ministry or role: he was just another disciple, so to say, who listened and learned and was therefore able to witness to the same things as the apostles themselves. The early Church, however, understood the importance of the Twelve and the necessity of choosing someone to take the place of Judas. The election of Matthias could be described as the first truly ecclesiastical act, and a sign that the Church is, sometimes at least, perfectly attuned to the Holy Spirit. Matthias proved worthy of the trust placed in him — a man of integrity whose whole life was lived in obscurity but who, by his fidelity and perseverance, made up for the betrayal of one whom Jesus had chosen as his friend. A good patron for those who are not "first choices" or "obvious candidates" but who in the eyes of God are the right person for the job.
12/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
Back to Ordinary time today, but the weather clearly doesn't think there is anything "ordinary" about it at all. The Dawn Chorus began at 4.17 this morning, when the sky was already tinged with blue. Good that a trcikle of aid is beginning to get into Burma, but it needs to become a flood. Let us continue to pray.
11/May/2008 Filed in: Chapter Talks
Pentecost is the great feast of the Church. It is easy to think about the gifts of the Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit, and become "lost in the numbers", so to say. What we often forget is that we already have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us by virtue of our baptism. Curiously, it is our ritual of death that makes this most clear. We bow towards the dead person's body, we sprinkle it with holy water, we place the Easter candle at its head and when finally we come to lay it in a coffin, we place on the coffin the Book of the Gospels — all these are powerful reminders that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that gives life, that makes the Church.
10/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
Early morning on the Ridgeway is always a delight, with the larks and lapwings, and hares loping across the fields. This morning we said part of Lauds there because the sudden heat has become a bit oppressive, and in any case, on Saturdays we generally go to Abingdon or one of the other local churches for Mass, so Vigils, Lauds and walking the dog all have to be completed before 7.30 a.m. No doubt the Ridgeway has been used for many and various religious purposes throughout the centuries, but it is good to know that we too can make it a place of prayer. The gift of prayer has been poured into our hearts along with the gift of God's love – something we celebrate in a special way at Pentecost.
09/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
As a matter of principle, we usually don't comment on anything "political" but the tragedy in Burma has been tugging at all our hearts. What kind of leadership allows its people to suffer because pride and paranoia make accepting help from others virtually "impossible"? We are all capable of that kind of obstinacy. Fortunately for most of us, it only affects our stupid selves. Let us pray for the people of Burma.
08/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
Two committee meetings last night, one at six and one at 7.30 p.m., no wonder we haven't got the Colophon feed formulated correctly (excuses, excuses). We all tend to rail at the time and energy consumed by committees, but how else would any group get things done? Benedict provided for two types of consultation in the monastery, the general meeting or chapter of all and the smaller meeting or council of seniors. Both contribute to the good of the community, but it is usually the smaller body which channels the energy and creativity of the larger group into achieving something worthwhile. We need smaller groups to get to grips with the nuts and bolts of how to do things. Good to remember, then, that St Paul saw "admin" as a work of the Holy Spirit.
07/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
We said Vigils earlier than usual this morning, so at six o'clock Duncan and I were walking towards the Ridgeway, past the lambing fields. Lambing begins quite late here, so the first lambs are only just putting in an appearance. They frisk and frolic in the sunshine and give every sign of enjoying life, with ne'er a thought of what may lie in store. At Mass we invoke Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. When we do so, we are thinking primarily of the Passover lamb, the lamb of sacrifice, and Jesus as the sacrifice which takes away the sin of the world – serious theology packed into a few words. Serious theology, however, doesn't need to be glum, indeed it oughtn't to be. Perhaps we should take a second look at the lambs in the fields. The Lamb of God takes a huge joy in the whole of creation. That is why he was ready to sacrifice himself for us, and as Hebrews reminds us, ready to do so joyfully..
04/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
Can't quite get my head around the idea of celebrating the Ascension on Sunday, when the Orthodox and many other Christians continue to celebrate it on the Thursday, which makes sense both scripturally and liturgically. The nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost are days of special prayer, when we ask anew for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They are, indeed, the model for all "novenas". This year we need to pray most earnestly for the gift of wisdom, not only for ourselves but for every other person on the planet. But we need to pray with confidence. Christ's vistory is assured, however much muddle and mayhem we create.
02/May/2008 Filed in: Jottings
We have finally managed the migration to carbon-neutral servers, which means we shall be creating less atmospheric pollution, although doubtless our postings will continue to be scattered abroad over the fair face of blogland. The process of moving hosts is usually quite simple, but the on-off Broadband connections from which we have been suffering have been tiresome in the extreme. Once we are sure that all is working as it should be, we'll put up our new content. The fact that today is the feast of St Athanasius seems somehow appropriate. He was an interesting man, a bit awkward of course, but a person of great integrity, with rare spiritual insight. Perhaps he should be a patron saint of monastic bloggers?