Both my Primary school and my Secondary school were run by the Sisters of Mercy, a religious congregation founded by Catherine McAuley, in Dublin, in 1831. Whilst I can’t remember any explicit teaching about Catherine McAuley, I can remember the atmosphere the sisters created in the school and the values they embodied. We often had school Masses, usually in the playground, as this was the only place large enough for whole school. At one such Mass I remember singing the words, ‘Mercy, droppeth as a gentle rain’ as a refrain, to a simple, haunting melody. I wouldn’t have been aware that these words were Shakespeare’s, but was keenly aware of how they made me feel. I associate these words with a quality of tenderness, of quiet acts of kindness, a smile or a gentle acknowledgement. At that young age mercy felt within my reach, something simple that I could do. In later years, when we studied the Merchant of Venice, I would learn the rest of the quotation:
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.
My understanding of mercy deepened as we studied Shakespeare, though I don’t think I was able to make the connection with the literary text and my own life. And now after more than 20 years of living according to the Rule of St Benedict, mercy is a ‘building block’ of my life. Each day there are opportunities to grow in this quality, each day there are situations that call for mercy.
I look forward to seeing how Pope Francis continues to embody mercy throughout this year.
Pope Francis Maundy Thursday
During Lent we have reflected as a community on the theme of kindness. We were invited to spend time with scripture quotations, references to kindness in the prayers of the liturgy and references from Patristic readings and other sources used at the Office of Readings (our first service of the day). I found this helpful on several levels. From the outset my awareness of the word ‘kindness’ was heightened and I began to listen more closely in the liturgy. As the weeks of Lent passed, I felt that my understanding of the Paschal mystery deepened as I saw God’s work in Christ as a supreme act of kindness. In the last week of Lent I began to make my own connections as to what this might mean for my living of monastic life. There was one scripture quotation that kept coming to the surface in my prayer: Give and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back. Luke 6:38 The image of measuring strikes a chord with me. I have managed our kitchen for several years and now know the importance of measuring. I know the times when things need to be exact and the times when I can take a guess. The image here is of a God who is more than generous, who measures out so much that my lap overflows. This is not a God who uses digital scales for absolute accuracy. No, God pours until things overflow. This is a God who is kind beyond all measure. It’s easy in the day to day to become so caught up in the jobs that need to be done, that the opportunities to show kindness pass me by. Once I start ‘measuring’ how far I am prepared to put myself out, then I have moved away from the image of God in Luke’s quotation. I hope that as Eastertide unfolds I am more open to those opportunities to show kindness, more open to measuring out as God measures out.
Each year, in Advent, I read Maria Boulding’s book, The Coming of God. I’d go so far as to say that this would be my ‘desert island’ book choice. Maria Boulding wrote this book in 1986, after nearly 40 years as a Benedictine nun at Stanbrook Abbey, Worcester. The text is very human, thoroughly biblical and speaks page after page of God’s tenderness and mercy. It is a source of great hope to me that 40 years of faithfulness to the monastic path can produce such profound writing. From a theological perspective she touches on all the major themes of the life of a Christian. As I read I hear the echoes of her monastic journey. I hear the resonances of a life closely with scripture and all the joys and challenges of monastic community living. Her poetic style means that I only read a few pages at a time and then take time to stop and think. The quotation above is from the opening chapter and is one of the most powerful sentences that I have read in a long while.
Do you have a ‘desert island’ book?
Sr Miriam osb
Jeremy Driscoll’s book, A Monk’s Alphabet, is a simple and engaging read. As we follow his path through the alphabet, we are offered theological reflection and a little quirky insight into the monastic mindset. He writes with an honesty that draws the reader in. I was so drawn in on first reading that I was inspired to start my own text. The framework of the alphabet helps to focus my thoughts. There is something contained and manageable about 26 entries. Although this project could take several years, from my present perspective it looks possible.
Attitude has become part of our modern vocabulary- to say that someone ‘has attitude’ implies a range of things from self-assured to arrogant. I have probably behaved in all of the ways which the word implies. A question keeps surfacing for me: Is there a monastic attitude? I am beginning to realise that there is an attitude which is authentically monastic. It is a disposition that involves assuming the good and believing that with God all things are possible. Monastic life is for the long haul and much can hang on my attitude. Allowing God to be the shaper of my attitude is both the challenge and blessing of my path.
I have been struck recently by how much time in the monastic day can be spent waiting. We assemble five times each day to pray, twice to eat and once for a period of recreation. At seven of these gatherings there is a ritualised way of waiting. Before some chapel services we assemble in a corridor known as statio, and there we stand, in order of seniority, before processing into the chapel. For other services we sit and wait in our chapel places. Our mealtimes in the refectory begin and end with a formal grace and here we stand and wait for the superior to begin the grace. Our recreation has no formal beginning, but sometimes we might wait for the whole community to be gathered before some announcement etc is made. Each of these times of waiting have a slightly different quality for me.
I have recently re-discovered the Jesus Prayer and this has the potential to transform all of the different forms of monastic waiting. The simple rhythm of the prayer can help to re-connect heart and mind. I have noticed that time can pass more quickly when I try to use the Jesus Prayer and sometimes I find I might have solved a little problem or got new courage for a situation.
What form does waiting take in your life? What can it teach you?
The Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Every so often someone shares a video with me that sets me thinking about the potential for glimpsing God in the everyday events of life. The video below is one such video:
The Cup Song
I’ve watched it several times and each time have felt both uplifted and a sense of awe and wonder at the potential of human beings. The song is a Gaelic rendering of When I am Gone, from the film Pitch Perfect. In itself the song is beautiful and the percussion provided by cups makes it all the more so, but what draws me to re-watch the clip is the sense of unity created among the group. There is something very powerful about such a large group engaged in something so simple, something that unites and brings joy.
Present in this short clip are some of the elements that we might associate with contemplative prayer; focus, intentionality and deep joy.
People are often surprised that some of the nuns of Turvey Abbey are Facebook users. Social Networking sites are easily criticised for the influence they have, particularly on the young. Many see the use of such sites as opportunities for time-wasting, cyber-bullying and serious crime. The dangers are real and shouldn’t be dismissed too lightly. However, as a monastic, my experience of using Facebook has only been positive. There is something more engaging about sharing a picture and a few words of text or a video, than a straight forward email. I enjoy the mixture of profound, humorous and often challenging material that appears on my news feed. I don’t feel the need to update my status everyday, but I enjoy contact with those who are frequent ‘posters’. Over the years I have re-connected with primary and secondary school friends and have made new friends. It’s in this web of connection that I sense something of the Body of Christ. I am richer for these connections.
There is something too of the Body of Christ in the phenomenon of the Flashmob. It is to the faces of the onlookers that my attention is usually drawn. As they hold up their mobile phones to capture the moment, their faces show, joy, delight, wonder and often tears. There is something about the sponataneous singing and dancing that draws the onlookers in. There is a connection made between performer and onlooker and in this connection I sense the Body of Christ. That station concourse or marketplace will never be the same again. Both the performers and onlookers have sensed the sacred.
Do you have a favourite Flashmob?
I was struck recently by an article in the Church Times entitled ‘See the children’s bread from heaven’ Peter Hill, the Arch-deacon of Nottingham outlines a diocesan motion to be put before the Synod that seeks to allow children to distribute communion. He writes of his own experience in informal settings of receiving bread and wine from the hands of a child; ‘it has always been a most natural and graceful act of sharing in Christ’s love and goodness.’
Whilst it is hard to imagine the Catholic Church discussing this motion, it nevertheless raises for me some important issues regarding children and how we see their contribution to our worshiping communities. Madeleine Simon, in her book, Born Contemplative, sees children as natural contemplatives. Watch a child at play and you will glimpse something of Madeleine Simon’s understanding. Children have an innate capacity for awe, wonder and reverence. When I think back to the children whom I taught, I can name several who would, without any training, have made very reverent ministers of the Eucharist. Maybe one day our church will discuss this too?
Church Times 16 November 2012
Today’s Gospel passage for the Feast of St Andrew begins;
‘As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake, for they were fishermen.’
Jesus calls two men, two men who shared the same upbringing and then the same trade. They both respond to something in Jesus, they both make a decision to leave behind the familiar for the unknown.
It’s fairly common in monasteries and communities of religious to separate siblings, to find a place where each can be themselves. The wisdom of this seems to be that the presence of a sibling may make adjustment to monastic life more difficult. Yet Simon Peter and Andrew had to rub along together. I can’t help but wonder just how this worked out. Did Andrew live in the shadow of Simon Peter’s rather impetuous way? Or did Andrew quietly support him?
This gallery contains 4 photos.
Today’s Gospel passage, Mark 13:24-32, on first sight, presents us with something of a challenge. Apocalyptic language is a little alien to many of us and something to which we probably don’t pay a great deal of attention, unless it is … Continue reading