“And now”, said my Rector sagely, “you live it. Go on doing the ordinary things that you do as Churchwarden, sweep the path, clear the drains. And read ‘Seeds of Contemplation’ by Merton. This was his advice after the service. I get the feeling that, if I have any intentions of being up a high mountain following my Consecration, or on cloud whatever, he was telling me I had better forget it. Is this what we could call grounded sanctity? I have to admit that the arrangements for the making of my Vow were unusual to say the least, but they ‘worked’ wonderfully, and were just right for us at All Hallows. The actual making of the Vow was arranged for 7.00pm on the 15th as that was when Bishop Tony, Bishop of Sherwood was available.
Before the service, the Bishop asked me when it all began. I answered by asking a question, where DOES it all begin: baptism (which I never knew about till I was 21 and about to be Confirmed), or when I was called by name, when I was with Christ in God before ever time was? I said that I probably had the longest novitiate in history, even if I counted from 1972, when I made the first pledge of my single life to God in the chapel at Lee Abbey in Devon. That conversation and the subsequent service of the making and receiving of the Vow was enrichment for both of us, and I am so glad that Bishop Tony agreed, especially as any expression of the Religious Life was something that he had never, even vaguely, experienced. When he asked me the first question in the Scrutiny, I looked up from my service paper to find him looking directly into my eyes. No waver.
For a split second I felt a sense of shock, it was so direct, and I was aware of his authority. He demanded an answer. I had no hesitation. It was there again for the second and the third time. Each time my answer was firm, I do, I will, I will.
No time to pray for strength here, deep breath then on, all my desire was in this moment, was it not for this that I was born? Yet, strangely, I was not shaky or nervous. I AM is with you, I AM is in you. Here is passing from darkness to light, from death to life. Here is just one very ordinary person being dedicated to being ordinary. No bright lights, only candles on the High Altar, no organ, only the gentle sound of rain on the chancel roof, and silence: deep prayerful silence. It could have been over in 5 minutes, but no-one hurried, there was a sense of timelessness, of calm. The papers were duly signed on the High Altar, and then we all greeted each other with the Kiss of Peace. I think that the buzz would have gone on a lot longer if it hadn’t been for a wedding rehearsal taking place at 8.00pm. Yes, parish life does not stop not even for the consecration of M.A.G.
The second part of the proceedings was fixed for the following Sunday the 21st, Father’s Day! In front of our normal Parish Communion congregation I repeated the Scrutiny and the Vow. I had spent time between Monday and the second ceremony on the Sunday, in my Allotment Garden; I had a lot to meditate on. I was internally very quiet. One thought that did keep intruding was the one that said, “You have to repeat all that again on Sunday, can you really do that? Have you enough oomph to stand in front of the main Congregation (some 70 – 90 on average), and say again, with meaning (not a mere repetition), those awesome words?”
It was harder, but so different, I was very moved deep inside, and a friend said to me afterwards that I faltered, and she said “I prayed that you would keep going. I was in tears for you.”
I returned to my normal Churchwardens place near the door and did some deep breathing. I did not have a Reception, there really was no need, the Junior Church held a home-made cake stall after the service, and I put on wine and ‘posh’ biscuits. Following that, there was a Baptism of three children at 11.30am and it was all hands on deck to get the coffee and tea things put away. Well I did say that it was a normal day!
As I recall those two days that have marked an amazing milestone in my life, I am utterly overwhelmed at the gracious mercy of our God who so wonderfully prepares and enables us to respond to His Call. That one is able to perform the unthinkable, surrounded by loving and accepting people of God in the ancient and hallowed walls of a place, where prayer has been made for over 800 years. I am humbled, as I am one of the many hundreds of many generations who have been the Body of Christ in this place. Here ordinary men, women and children have been nurtured and encouraged on their baptismal journey in life, and I give to God my one life that he may bless us all and bring us to His Eternal Heart.
I am writing to show how I had been led to make a second vow. In the Handbook to the Advisory Council is the information that a second vow might be taken to express a particular lifestyle. When I made my consecration 4 years ago, I did wonder what I might find to express my lifestyle and I didn’t think “busy and sometimes chaotic” was on the list! However, over the last year, I began to sense that stability, one of the 3 Benedictine vows – an Order of which I am an oblate, might also be one that I might make within my existing consecration. I read all I could find and had conversations with many Benedictines and others. Mother Abbess at Malling Abbey was very supportive, as was my own Rector, who listened silently, asked no questions and gave me a task. I recalled writings of Rilke who wrote that I must not try to answer the question, but try to love the question. The door will often open so quietly that you find the question has been answered. Moving mountains, crossing unsurmountable obstacles or dealing with impossible parishioners and, I may add, being in a very painful situation myself, are all areas that challenge my mind and heart. And I seek redress as quickly as possible and find that I have missed the many-splendored thing.
For those in Community, stability is also geographical, but it is not so for one who has to go out and about; who also was once told (by my mother) that I would find myself coming back one day. I defence of this, I have slowed down. Benedict was not fond of those who go it alone and, I think, for good reasons. For him, the outside world was full of danger at a time of the breakdown of the Roman Empire and I reflect that today is also full of danger too. He was also concerned that those who go out to do battle with the desert, should be well-equipped; having had many years to pray, read, benefitted by an atmosphere of regular prayer, reading and stability and that duly nurtured and formed would be able to survive. What chance for 21st century woman!
I hope that, at 76, I have had time to achieve what is needed to survive. I can only follow the signposts. Part of the vow is also about being rooted and grounded both in outside situations as well as interior ones. Stickability, staying with it patiently keep the centre steady. I think that a lot more will merge over the next few years, and that I have hardly scratched the surface.
How do I see myself now in the life that I am living? I see a cross with heaven and earth in the vertical and the church and the world in the horizontal. All leads to the centre where the heart is. My prayer-room one might say, is a hub from which I go out and return, at least 3 times a day, sometimes 4 – if I am not out at midday. At one time, I fretted that church and churchwardening were pushing out SCL, but now I find the above is integrating itself in a way I did not envisage. So God works. I learn I have only to stop for a minute and recollect the Presence of God to know that Father, Son and Holy Spirit have been there all the time: the Holy Trinity in the ordinary. But that is not all; there is also me. How will stability enable inner growth? Is it that sticking with it listening with the ears of my heart, is where the Lord, with the help of our holy father, Benedict, is wanting me to begin? “Ob audiens” - is obedience also there in the heart of stability?