Reflection for the Anniversary of the Dedication of the Abbey Church - 20th June 2021
Church with scaffolding summer 2021
Today we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of our church in the odd situation of being unable to worship in there. It brings into focus the paradox of our experience of God’s presence – we know that he is everywhere, in all things and especially that he is deep within our hearts. We worship him “in spirit and truth”, not in one special place. Yet it is also true that particular places seem to focus God’s presence and put us in touch with him in a powerful way.
When we moved out of the church I was struck by how quickly we settled into worshipping together in the chapter house. As a worshipping community God is in the midst of us wherever we are, but also the fact that the chapter house was once the chapel has no doubt contributed to the sense of God’s presence in that space.
Chapter House with flowers for feast of the Dedication of the Church
I am enjoying the intimacy of the space and the seating arrangement that this space required – maybe that is something that touches you as well? But I also miss the spaciousness of our church and feel somewhat cramped. I hope that when we move back we can retain a sense of intimacy in the way we arrange ourselves in that much larger space.
I have heard it said that the space in which we worship inevitably shapes our spirituality. We are physical beings that respond to the space around us and we have to live in dialogue with that space. Our older sisters tell us how moving into the new church in the 1960’s called forth a new way of celebrating the divine office and the Eucharistic liturgy. Its physicality has shaped the spirituality of this community. The starkness calls us to a simple nakedness before God but there is also a womb-like quality that enfolds us in God’s love.
Our offices for this feast draw on texts from throughout the Bible that tell of people who are seeking God, wanting to know where he can be found. Especially in the psalms we hear the longings of people who want to enter God’s house, asking who may enter his presence? We also meet people like Jacob who was surprised by his encounters with God when it was not what he was seeking at all. At Lauds we will hear of his dream of a ladder set on the earth, reaching to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. When he awoke he said:
“Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (from Gen 28:16-17)
The first chapter of John’s gospel draws on this image when Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (Jn 1:51). Jesus himself has become that ladder between earth and heaven and where he stands is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. This theme continues in the next chapter in the account of his clearing of the temple. He speaks of his own body as the temple, which when destroyed would be raised up after 3 days.
Throughout John’s gospel Jesus is revealed in various ways as the place of encounter with God. This reaches a climax in the Farewell Discourses where the disciples are called to abide in Jesus as he abides in them. This is a call for all of us who follow in the footsteps of the disciples. We too become gates of heaven and living temples. Wherever we are we can say “Surely the Lord is in this place.” As our office hymn puts it, we are the place God’s indwelling. As we look round at one another we are looking at temples of God, places where God dwells on earth. How awesome is that!
Chart for the Dedication of the Church 1966
Mother Anne - 20th June 2021