The original castle didn’t have a chapel and so after the community had been established here a worthy chapel was built where the growing community could gather for prayer. It is an impressive place when you enter it and equally impressive outside, thrusting out from the front of the castle.
The first thing we did in the afternoon, however, was to meet as a group to introduce ourselves to each other. As with any group the range is fascinating and the group from Bergen contains a number of ordained men and women in addition to members of the congregations of the various churches that now make up the city centre team. The people from Southwark Cathedral are an eclectic mix and it is great that there are some with us who have not been before on one of these events.
So after getting to know each other a bit better, we went to the chapel to join the sisters for Vespers. You approach the chapel through a series of doors, an outer one, quite narrow with only one side of it open, then a larger door above which are rood figures – the crucified Christ with Our Lady and St John – and finally, through a narthex, you enter the church itself.
It is quite clever, these stages of entry and, whether or not it was deliberate in the design, it made me think of the stages of the Christian life, and the way in which spiritual teachers have spoken about this. ‘The Ladder of Perfection’ by Walter Hilton and ‘The Interior Castle’ by St Theresa of Avila are two which come immediately to mind. It was John 14.2 which was the inspiration for this kind of thinking
‘In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?’
I’m always encouraged by this sense of progression, journey, in the Christian life. For some, I suppose, the concept so described is too linear and I suppose, to be honest, in my own spiritual journey I have gone round in circles or seemed to be in the same room more than once, or the ladder of perfection I thought I was climbing has seemed more like snakes and ladders! But the entrance to this chapel challenged me to think about the journey I am on.
Vespers was lovely and was followed by dinner and then in very quick succession, Compline, which the sisters celebrate quite early in the evening. It gave us time, though, to meet with Sister Carole, one of the OHP sisters, who had agreed to tell us something of the life of the community.
I think what impressed us all was the sheer joy which she exhibited as she described the life of the Community now and in the past. At present the sisters are in Ghana and Swaziland as well as Britain. They live in 8 houses and work in a number of ways – teaching, nursing, social care – but at the heart of it all is the continuous round of worship and work with times of leisure as well. They follow a Benedictine pattern of life.
The challenge to us was the ‘narrow door’, the demands of this kind of life, this living out of the relationship with the living God, a real challenge to us who rely so much on possessions and ‘freedom’. But we came away wondering ‘who had most’, ‘who is really free’.
Sister Carole exhibited a joy in her life and a contentment that was wonderful to witness. The narrow door will be different for each of us, just as will be the journey through the rooms to the vision of splendour which awaits us.
The day ended in the bar, enjoying a drink before we went, not like Sister Carole to her cell, but to our rooms – different doors, but following the same God.
as I choose the door by which to enter
give me the courage to choose the narrow door
and to journey to life with you.