Monday, June 16, 2008

Deb's Bookshelf: In This House of Brede

From the cover
This extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life centers on Phillipa Talbot, a highly successful professional woman who leaves her life among the London elite to join a cloistered Benedicting community.

The Second vow was the famous Benedictine "conversion of manners". . . it was an entirely different way of thinking from the world's," and it turns your ideas topsy-turvy," said Hillary: self-effacement instead of self- aggrandizement; listening instead of talking; not having instead of having; voluntary poverty.

On Ash Wednesday afternoon each nun had to give in her poverty bill, an exact amount of everything she had in her cell, and, if she had one, in her workroom. "We don't want to collect things," Dame Clare explained to her novitiate. No nun, from the least to the most important, escaped.

"Everyone should have the same," was the hothead cry of some. "If you pause to think, you could not say that," she Mother Prioress in mildness. "Dame Agnes, for instance, may need twenty books; Dame Perpetua needs one, as she would tell you herself, or perhaps none."

"They are good dear girls," Dame Ursula often said of the novitiate - it did not matter which novitiate - "If only they wouldn't be so ardent. They want to sleep on planks, go barefoot, which isn't necessary, but they won't use up a reel of thread, or make a pencil last, or darn or patch, which is necessary," and "What is the use,"she said to Philippa, "of taking a vow of poverty if you look to the house to provide you lavishly with everything you need?" Phillipa had to smile at the thought of Brede being lavish. "And our poverty," Dame Ursula taught, doesn't simply mean doing without - a great many poor people are niggardly hoarders; it means being willing to empty yourself, be denuded, giving and giving up.

There was always this emphasis on giving - being fit to give. "A monastery or convent is not a refuge for misfits or a dumping ground for the unintelligent," Abbess Hester had often said, "nor for a rebound from from an unhappy love affair - though a broken heart can often find healing in one of the active orders, it will not do for us - nor are we for the timid wanting security nor the ambitious wanting a career," and "Anyone who comes here with the idea of getting something is bound to fail," Dame Ursula warned all her postulants.

"But every human motive is, in some sense to get, to find," Phillipa would have argued, "if only satisfaction." Yet the paradox remained: Only by giving completely was there any hope of finding.
Not a year goes by that I don't eventually decide, "I must visit Brede Abbey." I drop all my usual pursuits and spend all my spare time for days reading Rumer Godden's, In This House of Brede.

I originally read this book in it's Reader's Digest Condensed Version and I liked it so much, I eventually purchased the full version. Mostly the Condensed version gets it right (there was a movie as well which does not). The fact that they were able to convey the essence of the story in abridged form is almost a miracle. However the unabridged version is richer and provides a wealth of detail that is awesome in scope and yet impressive in it's brevity.

Good books always have a moment where you can point out a feeling of empathy with any given character and say, "That's me. I've done that, felt that," and you have a shared moment with the character that brings them alive for you.

However the best books challenge and change you and this book has definitely done this for me. It's new every time I read it because I'm at a different point in my life every time I read it. But the sense peace and "time outside time" have been unchanged each and every time.

This book helped me to finally find the courage to eliminate some of the clutter in my life, physical and mental. It is fine fictional depiction of a journey into discovering Christianity but it can also be read as the journey of finding peace with one's own life and the timeless story of finding your destiny in the most unlikely places.

Definitely a life changer and not to be missed. I'm glad just to be able to share it with you.

Rumer Godden: In This House of Brede


  1. Hi Deb! I just found your blog today and have been happily reading along, backwards, deeper and deeper into your posts, when I found this! I had already restrained myself from commenting several times (Is it too soon? Shouldn't I get to know her a little better?) but - "In This House of Brede" is one of my all-time favorite books too. And I just finished rereading it for maybe the 15th time. As usual, it sent me on a dreaming voyage to Brede myself, and set me to wondering why the life of a contemplative nun holds such fascination for me (did you know that the Holy Adoration sisters wear habits in the most amazing shade of pink??

    Forgive the length of this comment. I am enjoying your blog and your point of view very much, I'll be back. Good luck with school.

    P.S. I found you because I saw a truck across the street with painted on it and was curious - it's amazing where the Web will take you...

  2. Hello Briget!

    LOL, It is amazing the connections that the Web makes.

    I didn't know about those particular nuns but I have seen habits in everything from deep burgundy to pale blue and every suit, dress and skirted style in between. It seems even nuns have a need to be distinctive even in their plainness and devotion.

    Feel free to comment as much, wherever and as long as you like! I'm trying to get more people (that I KNOW read this site) to delurk! : )

    Welcome to DebLite! : )


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