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The Best Laid Plans

I did wonder whether it was a little over-optimistic to think in terms of some major upgrading of the site over the week-end. We have made a beginning, but only that. The L.I.E. Group were, as always, a delight but Sunday was definitely piano after having spent most of the previous day in the kitchen or, most monastic of occupations, moving chairs. Monday morning unfortunately saw two thirds of the community hors de combat (with maladies quite unrelated to the week-end's activities). John Gummer MP is scheduled to view the work of St Cecilia's tomorrow, so let us hope there will be a rapid restoration to health. Otherwise Benedictine hospitality may be of the spartan kind.

Snap, Crackle and Pop

This week-end we begin some much-needed site maintenance and (hopefully) improvement. All previous podcasts have now been archived and will soon be appearing on a special subsite. In the meantime, the "almost normal" service continues. Today's podcast, recorded under adverse conditions by our intrepid Scot, draws on a reflection by Robert Ellsberg on the feast of All Saints. Two great feasts in the week ahead, uniting heaven and earth, the living and the dead. What a heartening thought as we go into the increasing darkness of November.

The Afternoon Walk

Whatever happened to The Afternoon Walk? Once upon a time, it was an essential ingredient of university life, an opportunity to thrash out ideas, mind enriched by the access of oxygen. Children were driven out in droves for "a breath of fresh air", accompanied by Nanny/the family dog/other little monsters, depending on circumstances. Frail escapees to the South Coast took a turn or two along the Front, for the sake of their ailing health. Even monks and nuns could be seen dutifully pacing round the enclosure, thinking deep thoughts. What have we done with the time we have gained by giving up walking?

Dry as Dust?

Three times a year we read through chapters eight to twenty of the Rule. Three times a year we listen to Benedict's arrangement of psalmody and lessons for the Divine Office with a kind of glazed awareness that most monasteries have adapted Benedict's original schema to one of their own devising. Is there any point in listening again and again to a liturgical code few adhere to nowadays? Would we not do better to omit all the detail of the preceding twelve chapters and skip to the magnificent teaching on prayer in chapter twenty? Perhaps the divine is in the detail. We need to be reminded how our prayer in common has to have a structure; how that structure unites us with the Universal Church — we sing "according to the Roman custom" — and is itself a facet of the "disciplina" that helps us towards God. The liturgical chapters are not easy listening, nor is the quest for God easy. The "disciplina psallendi" is part and parcel of our way towards Him.

St Luke's Summer

The sun is streaming through the windows, scarcely noticed by the toiler at the desktop. That would have pleased A. W. N. Pugin (of whom, by the way, I am a great admirer). He had some rather odd ideas about nuns, one of them being that they should mortify their senses by not looking out of windows. We smile at the notion now, but the idea that nuns are somehow a race apart still persists in places. Today's podcast is a brief reflection by our oldest community member on the relationship between being a nun and a feminist. It is also a mini-review of a book that may interest you.

Normal Service Resumes (almost)

A fraught and expensive few days. The G4 duly died in mid-back-up (blessed be God) just as the proofs for the Catholic Directory of England and Wales were expected and final copy for the Portsmouth Diocesan Year Book was being outputted. We now have a new Mac and Digitalnun is grey from lack of sleep as she tries to make up for lost time (blessed be God); the bursar is whey-faced at the number of zeros on the invoice (blessed be God); and our guests look a bit pale, too, as the standard of catering has slipped while we concentrate on IT and finance (blessed be God). In short, the kind of problem people face every day, which we have coped with as best we can, grateful there was enough in the bank account to enable us to replace the faulty machine, slightly concerned about the economies we can make in the future. To bless God and not curse when one is feeling devastated (and even the loss of a computer can make one feel devastated) is not "pi in the sky", provided one can be honest about what one feels. It is, rather, a way of finding peace in the midst of the storm —something most of us aim at but achieve only imperfectly, if at all. It is humbling to think where Jesus found his peace during his last days on earth.

Death of a Mac

Our trusty G4 is in terminal decline just as we are at our busiest in the Veilpress, so this may be the last post for a day or two until we can get a new machine (grey faces in the bursar's department, notwithstanding). The computer is the new monastic scriptorium. Each user has her own peculiar arrangement for the files and folders she uses most often, quirky bits of software that no one else is supposed to pry into, pet projects begun some time since and still "in via". There are also orphaned treasures that no one lays claim to, rather like the relics of a bygone age. There are (digital) reams and reams of liturgical material, account books, correspondence, chronicles and so on: an archive on silicon rather than parchment. There is a special prayer that we use before booting up, too. Next week we may share it with you.


A friend has picked her quince tree and brought us a basket of lovely golden fruit.Their strange, sweet fragrance fills the kitchen. Soon we shall have quince tart and quince cheese to share with our guests. An almost Lenten thought!

The Frankfurt Book Fair

Troubled by pangs of envy as friends fly out for the Frankfurt Book Fair which opens tomorrow. New technologies do not spell the death of the book as know it (though from time to time one wonders whether we have fulfilled Trevelyan's gloomy prediction about a people knowing how to read but unable to judge what is worth reading), but open up interesting new possibilities. In 2008 (D.V.) we shall be working with the English College in Valladolid on a scholarly project which will combine the best of classical bookmanship with some of the latest advances in information technology. This is precisely the kind of engagement with contemporary culture that the Church, including its monasteries, can help to foster.

God's Sense of Humour

You have only to look at a basset hound or read the Book of Jonah to realise that God has a sense of humour. That may seem at odds with what St Benedict says today in the tenth step of humility: not to be prone to laugh too easily. It is important to remember that there are several kinds of laughter. Against the kind that builds up, there can be no prohibition. But there is a laughter that is more questionable: the sort that belittles others or derides their sorrows or infirmities, or is simply tasteless. It can be a salutary exercise to examine one's own sense of humour and beware of any tendency to misuse a divine gift for an evil end. From all tendency to mock and scorn, good Lord, deliver us.


An autumnal morning here in Hendred: shimmers of heavy dew, leaves turning orange and tawny, the tang of woodsmoke. There is a definite chill in the air, and it will not be long before we talk of the nights drawing in. How lucky we are to experience the seasons!

St Bruno

St Bruno makes me think of silence and solitude and snow. Cardinal Hume once remarked that every Benedictine should feel a certain sadness, a certain regret, that the great vocation of the Carthusian is not for him/her. But of course, every vocation contains within it the need for silence and moral solitude, even if physical solitude is not a possibility. When Jesus told his disciples to go to their inner room and shut the door and pray to their Father in secret, he can hardly have meant to be taken literally since most people in first century Palestine had no private room to retreat to. We must make a Charterhouse of the heart, and allow our prayer to embrace every need.

Of Doms and Dames

Every craft or business has its own special language. As a printer, I delight in the the "devils", "monks", "friars" and "hell" that inhabit the world of letterpress, so much more colourful than the "hickies" and "jaggies" of offset and digital printing. Monastic life also has its special terms. "Dom" and "Dame", abbreviated in both cases to "D.", are the customary English titles for a solemnly professed Benedictine monk or nun. They come from the Latin "Domnus" and "Domna", late forms of "Dominus" and "Domina", the ordinary forms of courteous address. Benedict was very keen that we should show courtesy to one anotherr and actually prohibited calling people by their bare name. Instead, everyone is literally entitled to respect. The use of "Dame" sometimes causes amusement among our guests, more often pleasure. It is also quite useful for disconcerting a pushy "cold caller".

St Francis

St Francis from a window at Hendred

St Francis must be one of the best-loved saints. There is something immensely attractive about his joyful embrace of poverty, his delight in natural beauty, his engaging simplicity of manner. But there is another side to Francis that comparatively few dwell on: the Francis of the stigmata, the mystic. Holiness is never one-sided. It is we who are not holy who try to reduce it to terms that we can grasp or feel comfortable with. I suspect that St Francis was not always easy to be with. His Master is not always easy to be with, either.

Guardian Angels

Siegfried Sassoon once wrote to D. Felicitas Corrigan that he had seen an angel. His description was such that D. Felicitas retorted wryly, "How could a mighty spirit be so circumscribed?" I daresay many people think of today's feast in terms of chubby winged bambini forever flying through Tiepolo skies and utterly irrelevant to their existence, or perhaps as a kind of Jeeves-with-wings, quietly extricating them from uncomfortable scrapes and observing with a little moue of disapproval their less admirable antics. Trivialising angels is only one step away from trivialising God. An angel is, after all, His messenger. A mighty spirit in very truth.

St Thérèse of Lisieux

Feastday of the Little Flower. Feastday of the Little Diamond, more like. The irritating touches of soppiness ought not to mask the strength of Thérèse's character and whole-hearted pursuit of holiness. She is a good reminder to contemplatives of the apostolic zeal which should exist in the cloister, and in her longing to be a priest, a good reminder to the clergy of the immense privilege of their vocation.