Wednesday, May 16, 2007


In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

A few words on the difficulty of adjusting to a calling:

"The worst time was twilight. As the days grew longer and lighter and dusk came later, melancholy would descend, longings, a sinking and an infinite loneliness as if she were estranged, not only from all she had left, but from everyone in the abbey - except perhaps the abbess - And I cannot go bothering her with my colors.

Dame Ursula and Dame Clare had seen the melancholy and had learned - odd though it seemed to Dame Ursula's way of thinking - that Sister Philippa was better if left to fight it out alone. 'Go down to the bottom of the garden,' said Dame Ursula, 'and turn and see the lights and think of the warmth of interest and companionship we have here - and everything we need. Then think of those who have nothing, the truly lonely, the sick, the refugees. That will make you feel better.'

'Go down to the bottom of the garden,' said Dame Claire, 'and look back and see our buildings against the sky, particularly if there is a gale and the weathercock is spinning. You will see the abbey riding with the church cross at its prow - the light from the west wing just strikes it. The abbey is like a ship under its flag and makes you proud to be in it.'"

These words jumped off the page at me. Sister Philippa was adjusting to life as a newly cloistered nun, and, yes, my calling is not new and not cloistered from the world. I am, however, immersed in a community, and the rhythms of my day are a liturgy of sorts. And though my calling is not new, I still need some perspective at times. When I am overwhelmed or edgy, I will often go down to the garden and look back up at our house. At night, I can see lights shining out of windows upstairs and down. I might hear muffled voices, but no questions or demands.

When I look at the advice of the two nuns, though, Dame Claire's wins my vote. I am not motivated by what others do not have. That might motivate activism of some sort, but I don't find it reassuring; comparing to others is not a good source of encouragement. I prefer a vision of purpose, be it a ship in the seas, a bulwark for defense, a refuge in the storm, a sanctuary in which to grow, etc.

We have no weather vane on top of the house to show the strength of the wind, but the lights coming out of the windows, and the echoes of voices barely heard from the bottom of the garden, do remind me that we are doing good work in our corner of the world. Small things, done well on a daily basis, matter. All it took was five minutes in the garden at night to remember.

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