Friday, January 30, 2009

The Mystery of Private Prayer

David and I strongly encourage contributions to the blog: our intention is that this be a place for dialogue. Thus we thank Mackie100 for taking that risk and engaging in our digital conversations. And, as another means of engaging, we present a contribution from Fiona Wilkie. We are more than happy to add your thoughts to the blog by simply giving us them: we’ll type them. That brings us to Fiona’s contribution. We toyed with the idea of scanning her contribution and posting it as a pdf- her handwritten piece is artful in its beautiful script on crisp thick creamy-coloured paper. Alas, the timeliness factor played in and her piece has been transcribed.

Fiona’s piece underscores for me many strongly-held beliefs: life is enriched by ritual, the transcendental power of music, the liturgical mystery of divine offices, and the need to stop and listen to the still, small voice of God within us.

Thank you, Fiona, for this sharing:

Sometimes the most private experiences are meant to be shared. Nicola has so persuaded me and, as she was the instrument of my blessing, here is my story!

Last Wednesday Nicola interrupted my self-imposed week of house-bound solitude-due to a severe cold and exhaustion-by dropping off a complete, delicious, ready-to-eat, dinner and a CD. To celebrate these gifts, I lit a fire, revelled in the tasty, nourishing feast, then cleared away and tidied the kitchen and returned to the fireside. I built up a good fire, lit a number of candles in old brass candlesticks, switched off all lamps and lay down on the rug in front of the gently licking flames to listen to the CD. I had purposely read only the title: ‘Evensong for Etheldreda’ – the choir of Ely Cathedral.

There followed over an hour of perfect beauty and of heavenly bliss: lying on my back I could see the shadows of the firelight and the flickering candles on the ceiling – a shadowy, cathedral-like atmosphere evolved; I was totally absorbed into the music, its intimate calm, its soaring challenging, overwhelming magnificent passages of choral singing, its hauntingly beautiful soloists, its comforting plainsong—and the organ; as never ever before I was surrounded, wrapped, lifted up and carried inside beauty by the richness and warmth of the organ’s music. I experienced feelings that really defy my accurate or even adequate description- I just knew: beauty was God and God was beauty and I was there.

The range and depth of emotions I experienced differed from those engendered by any Evensong before, and when I read the words and titles in the CD booklet-I understood. ‘Tongues of Fire’ – the final organ solo title- perfectly described the awe, cleansing, encouragement, and even grace, that I had experienced.

Last summer in Buckfast Abbey I was blessed with an insight which has remained with me almost as a point of reference for decision making.

It happened during the middle of three Compline evenings I was able to attend. The service in the vast abbey, lit only by one candle, was one of mystery, meditation and the prayerful chanting of the brothers in their long, black, hooded habits. In that particular brief act of worship, I was unexpectedly but calmly, surely, completely and utterly filled with a certainty that all would always be well. This definite feeling was accompanied by two precise instructions for my life in the next year- totally unsought guidance. I have abided by these tenets despite persistent kindly opposition, and, quite amazingly, I can summon strength by returning in my heart to that Compline in Buckfast Abbey.

Following that memorable Compline, I pursued a slow, meaningful walk through the labyrinthine paths of the Abbey’s lavender gardens. Very separately, and silently, but very joined- so did Nicola.
Fiona Wilkie

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