Meditation written and read by Cathy Tamsberg.
St. Mary’s Abbey in West Malling, Kent, was founded as a community of Benedictine nuns around 1090. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the late 1530s, it passed into secular ownership. In the late 19th century the abbey was restored to its original purpose by a charitable trust. Since 1916 a community of devoted Anglican women has resided in “this place where prayer has been valid,” gratefully entering into its heritage of peace and God-centered quiet. They live a mostly cloistered life that includes the Prayers of the Hours. This means they gather seven times a day in their stone chapel to chant the psalms, sing hymns, and pray together. Guests are invited to be present for all except Lauds, which begins around 5:00 AM. However, active participation by outsiders is limited to the early morning Eucharist. During the other prayer times, guests sit in a side alcove and simply listen prayerfully to the beautiful voices of the Sisters as they fill the chapel and echo between the stone walls.
When we got off the train with our bags and began the ten-minute walk to the abbey, I expected it to be located outside of town, separated physically from the small village of West Malling. To our surprise, the directions led us down one of the main streets of town. Then the walls that surround the abbey appeared on our left as we reached a row of cafes and businesses on our right. In fact, the abbey sits near the middle of town.
At the beginning of the week, I was very aware of the sounds of passing cars, blowing horns, and other human activity. But as our week progressed and we adopted the rhythm of the abbey’s life, my sensitivity to the noise beyond the abbey walls diminished. If I focused on the outside commotion, I could hear it. Otherwise, it did not exist in any conscious sense. Instead the abbey became a place of peace and quiet that encouraged going deeper into one’s heart and soul.
Reflecting on my increasing lack of awareness of the village outside the walls, I was reminded that the abbey is what most of us seek for our lives – a place of retreat where the “noise” of the world is diminished. In those places, our lives, our families, our jobs, and our daily activities still exist and we are not disconnected from them. We can respond quickly when we need to do so. But behind the wall is where we can “find our quiet center.” This is what Lent can be for us if we let it. This season invites us to go “behind the wall” to find a location, a practice, a rhythm that opens us up to the Holy inside of us. And, thankfully, 800-year-old stone walls are not required. Just an open, willing heart.
This meditation is from “Lent: Sowing Season, Holy Time,” a collection of daily readings by Associate Pastor Cathy Tamsberg. Each day during Lent, from Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013, to Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013, a new excerpt read by a member of the Pullen congregation will be made available. To hear each day’s reading as it is published, subscribe to Pullen’s RSS feed, or listen to the podcast in iTunes.