Thursday, 9 May 2013

Anchoring the Light

Yesterday, May 8th, was (in the Church of England at any rate) the feast of Dame Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century anchoress who wrote the wonderful Revelations of Divine Love.

You can read about anchoresses and anchorites here.  An anchoress would in a little house called an anchorhold, built against the exterior wall of a church.   As I understand it, the anchorhold had a window into the church, through which the anchoress might receive the blessed Sacrament, and a window into the market-place through which she might give her godly counsel to those who sought her wisdom. There is an anchorhold still at All Saints Church, Kings Lynn - see here.

The Ancrene Riwle (sometimes called the Ancrene Wisse; text here, intro here) is the rule of life written for the medieval anchoresses, and gives vivid insight into their lives. Each lived as a recluse, not going forth from the anchorhold, but having two domestic servants to care for her needs and go out into the world for that purpose – much like the extern sisters in a contemplative community.

The anchoress’s life was modelled on that of Mary of Bethany, who sat at the feet of Jesus, in contrast to her busy sister Martha.  In the Ancrene Riwle, Martha is seen as the type of the housewife, occupied with the care and wellbeing, the many tasks, of her household; Mary is the type of the anchoress, freed from all domestic responsibility to focus on Jesus.

I have always been inspired by the concept of living retiredly and quietly, neither part of the busy world nor part of the busy church, in such simplicity as to leave space for the work of the soul in the presence of Jesus.  I love the idea of the anchorhold being on the very edge of the church, one wind-eye opening into the church and one into the marketplace.  It resonates within my soul.

Pictures of Julian of Norwich often show her with her cat.  Anchoresses were discouraged from keeping domestic animals (cows, goats) as, in the free-ranging pre-enclosure Middle Ages, the care and containment of animals required application and vigilance which would have been a distraction from the prayer focus of the anchoress.  But everyone had mice and rats, so she was allowed a cat.  And Dame Julian loved her cat dearly (see this post at The Cat’s Whiskers blog).

What I hadn’t realised before I read that blog post, was why they were called anchoresses, and their dwellings anchor-holds.  That it was because they were called to anchor the Light to the Earth, each in the place where she lived.

There is so much in this that I find wildly exciting.  Living as Mary, at the feet of Jesus; living in seclusion, ‘dead to the world’; living with one window opening onto the sanctuary, one onto the marketplace, in a dwelling built onto the very edge of the church exterior – so, actually, outside the church in the world, not in it; occupied with anchoring the Light for this part of the Earth, in this time.

I cannot be a physical, literal anchoress, because I am a married woman with family obligations; but I recognise in the anchoress’s life something very akin to the life to which I am called and drawn.

  • To anchor the Light in my day and situation
  • To live on the boundary between the church and the world, built onto the church but in the world
  • To live in quietness, simplicity and seclusion
  • To be not idle, working with my hands about the house and garden and in writing, but living in such simplicity, retiredness and non-attachment as to be not busy or involved.
  • To sit close to the feet of Jesus, listen to Him and keep my eyes fixed upon Him.


Anonymous said...

If you are spending your time with God and praying for other people then that's not lazy though, is it?

Ember said...

Just so! But what a thing is and what it looks like to others can be markedly at variance! x

Anonymous said...

The only opinion that matters is God's opinion. If he's calling you to do something, then that is the thing to do.

Ember said...

:0) Absolutely.

Daisyanon said...

In your fifth and final two paras, as so often, you have expressed what I feel about myself but cannot articulate.

It is good to know we are not alone.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful Post! Thank you. You are anchoring God's light in the world. Beautifully put.

Ember said...

Hi Daisy - yes, I thought of you when I was reading about the anchoresses.

Hi Ruth - thank you :0)


BLD in MT said...

I watched a great, but short, documentary on Julian of Norwich which then launched my reading into this area. Amazing women. I admire how you take an idea that interests you and adapt it so well to your circumstances. That is a great gift/talent/idea.

Ember said...

:0) Hi Beth! Waving! x

Bean said...

Very interesting. So often people wonder what God is calling them to do, yet often where they are is exactly where God wants them. Does that make sense? Where ever we are we can strive to pray, to live faithfully to the gospel, to help as needed and to treat others kindly. Our calling changes throughout the seasons of our own live, but always the Lord has us just where we can do our best. So whether we are called to solitude, or single life, married life, work life, motherhood, religious, whatever, we should always make sure we allow the light of God in.

I really like that phrase, "anchoring God's light in the world" what a beautiful way to put it. I picture a golden haired maiden in medieval garb holding firmly onto the light of God so that i can be shared with all!

Blessings to you,


Katrina Green said...

Ah! You've put something into words for me there, which I haven't been able to communicate. The Martha Mary conflict. I think this is what disappointed me.

Rebecca said...

Aha! And there is the "rub" (as some say....) I've gone through life kind of looking for my "niche"; wishing there was a respectable title for it; definition of it -- a precedence. Wishing for a small company of others past or present from whom I might draw insight & a certain amount of structure maybe?

This probably indicates a certain amount of insecurity within myself (something which I rue but own).
After 64 years, it's probably time for me to get ON with "it" - whatever "it" is.

Ember said...

Hi Bean - yes; I think if we are looking for God, present reality is always a good start! x

Hi Katrina - I found it clarified some things for me, too. Helped me understand, I think. x

Hi Rebecca - I like what Eckhart Tolle said, "The ultimate truth of who you are is not I am this or I am that, but I Am." We are made in the image of God, the I Am, and that's enough without further definition :0)

Anekha said...

Hi Ember its been a while since I had the pleasure of reading your blog. We've been on a spiritual odyssey of sorts, giving up our lives and possessions for a while and seeing where we ended up. we have found ourselves in the country doing what is called 'pioneering' that is being the first Bahá'is in an area and hoping to build a little community here. It has been an incredible journey that has tranformed the spiritual life of my husband and has left mine a little worse for wear. I find myself feeling more inclined to retreat from public spiritual life. We are the only Bahá'is here and so my spiritual life is now focussed more on serving my family by doing all the domestic things, supporting my husband in his efforts, doing a lot os studying and reflecting, trying to connect more with prayer, I feel myself being drawn more to be, like you said, "anchoring God's light in the world" I had been wondering at my reluctance to be part of an external spritual life of community, I have no patience for all the comings and goings and my experiences of Faith are taking a more mystical flavour. I find my instincts and intuitions and feelings coming to use more and more, while practically I do very little. but now after reading what you have shared about it I see that there is a big role to play in "anchoring God's light", and I think of it as being the heart of the community. That is no small task and I will keep the image of the anchorites in mind. God Bless!

Ember said...

That's a brave faith journey you are making! God bless you in your pilgrimage and exploration! xx

Philip Wood said...

What a life-giving post! I was quoting Julian to a friend of mine yesterday, in the course of a discussion about the simplicity and difficulty of living in the light.

To anchor light to earth is as close a parallel as I can think of to what my friend described as 'the seeing place - the seeing through place'. To live in light is well described as being 'anchored' or perhaps tethered to a place. I'm reminded of the monastic vow of stability.

Peace, Phil

Ember said...

:0) Hi Phil! Nice to hear from you x

Anekha said...

The metaphor of being an Anchor for God's light has been so inspiring and encouraging for me over the past weeks. Its helping me to 'live in trust'. I thought I believed and trusted in God, but its only now I am acting on it. acting as though I trust. It stops me fretting so much. And God helps find solutions to challenges and blessings keep coming. We, despite having not money to speak of have managed to buy a lovely little house in a great community. God literally brought us here. And we find ourselves crossing paths with so many people. We feel we are here to serve the community and bring them together more. In 2 months we have met so many people and others say it takes ages to get to know people. we have had them literally knocking on our door and helping us, despite saying they would never normally do that. we had no furniture and people lent us whitegoods, no garden and we are given plants, no toys or clothes and our son has been given them. Someone is giving us 2 puppies and all sorts of things to build a chicken hutch which i am sure will be filled somehow. A duck moved in on its own.
We feel like we absolutley MUST serve these people the rest of our days. I think that is an example of anchoring Gods light. We have literally done nothing but be here and pray a lot for everyone here and they are gathering around us. We feel this house will be a spiritual gathering place for the community.
This journey was so hard, but I feel like because we made that step of leaping our in trust in God with a desire to serve, He is making it all possible for us to do so. I don't feel worthy, but I am sure He will make me worthy of whatever tasks he has in mind.
Though I won't be locking myself in a wall :)

Ember said...

Anekha! How good to hear from you - for some reason you have been much on my mind today. What a wonderful story of blessing! Thanks so much for sharing that here! xx

Asta Lander said...

What a companion she would have had in that cat. I love the idea of Julian Norwich, and her wisdom and peace. Though anchored to one spot she was an instrument of God's light. It was an amazing calling, and it helps me to value my call as an artist. A x

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes! The focus of an artist is not dissimilar. x