21 Sep Renewal of Vows
Every year, on September 14th, feast of the Triumph of the Cross, we renew our vows. This is always a special moment in the life of the community and, during the ceremony, which takes place after Mass, the Prioress gives a short address. The text of this year’s follows: I would like to reflect with you on a relevant poem by Lucy Beckett, a contemporary poet who lives in Yorkshire, not far from the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey. The title of the poem is Monks Renew their Vows but with the permission of the author I will put it into the feminine.
extravagance, this hurling of the best
wine over desert sand, what a (woman) is,
the heart of (her), demanded, sacrificed
again, in steadfastness, in fire burning
lifelong the insistent self, the enemy
resentful as Satan of God’s turning
our fallen flesh towards eternity
in Christ his Son; heaven and hell have split
without a sound in you, for he who spins
in ice the furthest planet and its moons
and hears them crack has seen you as you sat
under a figtree and not let you be;
his work your difficult fidelity.
The poem encapsulates a double reality: the mystery of God’s choice of each of us, and the totality of the gift we try to offer in response. he…has seen you as you sat under a figtree and not let you be. At some point in our lives, perhaps even before we clearly understood it, God’s gaze rested upon us, singled us out for a special relationship with himself and, through all the varied circumstances of our days, before and since we entered Carmel, has never let us go. This is, indeed, the only explanation for the radicalness of our response: this extravagance, this hurling of the best wine over desert sand. It is a powerful image: rich wine being sucked beyond recall into the dry sand. It invites the same question as Mary of Bethany’s pouring of expensive perfume over the feet of Jesus: “Why this waste”. Could not better use have been made of our lives? In our hearts we know the answer. It was Christ who first “emptied himself”, poured himself out in extravagant love over a barren and thirsting earth. And when he saw us, one day, under the fig tree, he claimed our participation in his holocaust. We re-affirm this privileged, costing participation each time that we renew our vows, and some words of the poem invite us to examine whether our offering remains as radical today as when we first made it. Do we still allow our heart to be demanded, sacrificed again, in steadfastness, in fire burning lifelong the insistent self ? There will always be the temptation to evade or resist the full implications of the gift we made recklessly on our Profession day. But when we experience our weakness, or the wearing down that can come with familiarity and routine, encouragement comes in the last line of the poem: his work your difficult fidelity. His work. Lifelong fidelity is difficult to sustain and constantly renew, but we have no need to be discouraged because we do not depend on our own strength. Our fidelity is God’s work to which we have only to lay our hearts open without reserve. Let us renew our vows then, with re-kindled generosity and re-awakened gratitude for our call.