Palm Sunday has something of a bittersweet feel about it in terms of liturgy and the sentiment that is expressed through words and gesture. I always find it difficult to enter into the scene by actually waving my palm branch. Is this natural reserve, or is there something different going on?
This evening in our Vigil service we will listen to part of a sermon by St Andrew of Crete, an 8th century bishop. I have always found this a helpful text at the beginning of Holy Week and I think his approach goes some way to helping me find a point of entry into the Palm Sunday liturgy.
Come then, let us run with him as he presses on to his passion. Let us imitate those who have gone out to meet him, not scattering olive branches or garments or palms in his path, but spreading ourselves before him as best we can, with humility of soul and upright purpose. So we may welcome the Word as he comes, so may God who cannot be contained within any bounds, be contained within us.
So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ- ‘for as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ’- so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet.
Not only is this invitation poignant at the beginning of Holy Week, but it also encapsulates something of the monastic journey.
A View of Lazarus
See he is coming from the tomb. His eyes
Need shelter from the light. We crowd and press
Towards him, some say nothing. One or two
Whisper. Others look afraid but stare,
Most turn their eyes away. Such a strange
Light is coming from behind the man
Brought back from death and coughing in the breeze.
One by one his senses set to work
To ease this man to us. A look of loss
Shows on his features but he does not speak.
Some begin to question him about
What dying felt like and how he did break
Back to us. He can relive our doubt,
But he seems dumb and we don’t want to make
His rising difficult although we long
To look back at the glimmering kingdom he
Has left, if Paradise is there
But is not for the snatching. Lazarus now
Opens his eyes and it’s at us he stares
As if we all were strangers. Then it’s odd,
But we feel we should stop talking. Lazarus is,
Yes no doubt of it, now shedding tears,
And whispering quietly, God, O no, dear God.
I found this poem some years ago and made a photocopy of it. Unfortunately I didn’t write down the author and now it’s haunting me. I thought it was Elizabeth Jennings, but I can’t see it listed amongst her poems. Does anyone know who wrote it?
Thanks to Tess for researching this. My hunch was right, it is Elizabeth Jennings
Each year I am struck by the wealth of images that we are offered through the liturgy in Lent. I am always glad that I have 6 weeks in which to explore and ponder. It’s tempting to try to engage with every piece of text that I am offered; I can never really manage this. Inevitably, I need to narrow my focus and decide where my energies will go. This year, despite the pull of the Book of Exodus which we hear at Office of Readings, I am drawn to the Gospel passage for each day.
Which images strike you this Lent? Which texts take your attention?
There is something wonderful when liturgy and environment join together, making both stand out as something special, unique and deeply meaning ‘full.’ Every day the sun rises and every year we have the feast of the Presentation. The sun rises with all its resurrection resonance, the feast of the Presentation is celebrated with its resonance of end things, hopes fulfilled.
When my inner space is longing for those same resonances, with the chance, with just the chance, that long born sorrow and frustration, the product of my own and of all human frailty and sinfulness, may come to some sort of resurrection, then God can slip in, or maybe reveal that God’s work in me has already begun, in silence and secret, in my heart and will, yes, and in my flesh.
This morning at Lauds the sun rose with full colour luminosity as we sang the Benedictus, blessed be the Lord the God of Israel, he has visited his people and redeemed them.
Image © Turvey Abbey
The week of prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January) is very close to the heart of our community as we were founded in part to work for ecumenism. It reminds us that we are called to be one in Christ, and to think again about how we can reach out to other Christians in a spirit of reconciliation, love and acceptance. In 1982 Brother Roger, the founder of the Taize community, wrote:
“It is possible to welcome within ourselves the attentiveness to the Word of God, so deeply loved by the ecclesial families born of the Reformation, together with the treasures of spirituality of the Orthodox Church, and all the charisma of communion of the Catholic Church.” (“And Your Deserts Shall Flower”, 1982)
It strikes me that each of these gifts are essential for every Christian, regardless of denomination. As you approach the week of prayer for Christian Unity what will help you to discover the gifts that each of these “ecclesial families” offer to the universal Church?
What will help you to grow in attentiveness to the Word of God in your life?
What will enable you to discover the treasure of a spirituality based on the presence of the risen Christ in every aspect of life?
What will encourage you to seek communion with God and with other people?
Images: Turvey Abbey. Image layout: Corel Snapfire Plus I
At the beginning of Advent Isaiah’s dream gave us a vision of hope for a fragile people in the midst of political and religious uncertainty. This dream was pondered and reflected on over centuries raising expectations of how its fulfilment would look.
But dreams are surprising things, they’re not quite what they seem, and their fulfilment doesn’t look quite how we expected. In many ways, I think Christmas, the fulfilment of Isaiah’s dream, is like that. Like the Israelites we are expecting a messiah who will “wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples.” (Isaiah 5:4) But what we appear to get is something very different, a baby, born to an unknown mother in dubious circumstances. It appears that the coming of the Messiah is quieter, smaller and far more interwoven in the nitty-gritty of ordinary human life and relationships than we have expected.
And this has important implications for us. Our expectations so often deeply affect what we are able to see. I know I’ve very often been caught out when I’ve been looking for something and can’t find it because it’s not in the kind of packaging I’m expecting to see. Something similar can happen at Christmas, our expectations of what the coming of the Messiah means blinds us to the quiet presence of God in our midst today. As approach Christmas in the midst of our own political and religious uncertainty what will help you to see the presence of the Messiah in the nitty-gritty of your life?
Image: Turvey Abbey, layout : Corel Snapfire Plus I
On 13th December the peoples of Scandinavia celebrate the Feast of St Lucy. Despite being born in Copenhagen and brought up with a good deal of Scandinavian influence, it was only in the monastery that I discovered St Lucy. As a child I attended several ‘St Lucy parties’ and looked on in awe as one girl would be chosen to dress in white and wear a wreath of candles on her head. St Lucy, herald of Christ and bringer of light to a darkened world, all but passed me by amid the excitement of a pre-Christmas party.
Here in the monastery at Turvey, St Lucy has been celebrated for many years, as our former Prioress, M.Lucia Antonissen, kept her Feastday on this day. In terms of the liturgical calendar, St Lucy is classed as a Memoria and therefore doesn’t have special readings at Mass. However, some years ago, one of our sisters wrote two beautifully poetic hymns which we now use at Lauds and Vespers. You’ll find the text of my favourite of the two in the presentation below.
Each year as Advent begins I am drawn afresh to the writings of the prophet Isaiah. For the next few weeks I’ll revisit well known texts, hear again the poetry that stirs me and be prepared to be challenged by ancient words and images. As well as listening to Isaiah in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass, I’ll also be listening at Office of Readings. Inevitably the sequences of texts overlap and images become overlaid. The more familiar I become with the texts, the more easily I’m able to hold together the wealth of images.
The first reading for the First Sunday of Advent comes from the beginning of Isaiah. Here Isaiah presents his dream.
The Vision of Isaiah, son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem .
In the days to come the mountain of the temple of the Lord shall tower above the mountains and be lifted higher than the hills. All the nations will stream to it, people without number will come to it; and they will say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that you may walk in his paths; since the Law will go out from Zion., and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.” He will wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples; these will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war. O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Writing at a time of religious and political uncertainity, Isaiah’s stirring vision offers hope to the fickle hearts of the people Israel. It’s a dream to which Israel will need to hold fast when they are faced with Exile. The message is no less urgent today. What are your ‘swords’ and ‘ploughshares’? How can you live the dream?
The first word of the Rule of St Benedict is “listen”. He tells us to “listen carefully to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” (Rule of St Benedict, Prologue, V1). This puts listening very much at the centre of Benedictine life. We are called to listen for the Word of God, spoken through Scripture and through prayer, but also through the daily activities and interactions of our lives. To do this we have to try to be as attentive as possible to every situation because God could be revealed in any of them.
Every year our community retreat reminds us of the central place of listening in our life, and calls us to take time to become more attentive. During the retreat we generally have extra time for Lectio Divina. I like to use these times to respond in some creative way to the Scripture. I find this helps to unwrap the meaning of the text for me and allows me to deepen my understanding of its significance for my life.
This year I used the gospel readings from our daily Eucharist as the basis of my Lectio. Each day of the retreat I made a collage from photographs that resonated with the words of Scripture that had touched me most deeply from the gospel. When the retreat was over I made these into a presentation which you can view by clicking on the link below.