Little Gidding Church | photo Mr G
Today the Church of England remembers Nicholas Ferrar.
He is forever connected with Little Gidding which is near Huntingdon. It here that he founded a community to live a life of prayer. This was in 1625. Their prayer was based on the Book of Common Prayer which was that of Edward VI (1559). The Community gathered in the Church at Little Gidding to say Morning and Evening Prayer together with reciting the Psalms. They also maintained a ceaseless intercession. They set up a school for local children, cared for the local sick and helped to relieve the destitute.
Nicholas was a deacon and the community was made up of his immediate family. The community was broken up by the Puritans after Nicholas’s death who feared that it was bent on re-introducing Romish practices into England. (Despite their prayer being based on the Church of England’s Prayer Book!) The Puritans demonstrated what alas is still prevalent today—that fear often leads people to act irrationally and often cruelly.
The memory of the Ferrars lived on and this had much to do with the consecration of the Church at Little Gidding by constant and faithful prayer. It has many visitors, apart from this summer, of course.
Its fame today also has much to do with the 20th Century poet, T.S.Eliot, who wrote about Little Gidding in a poem of that name which was published in his Four Quartets. It was of Little Gidding that Eliot wrote:
“You are not here to verify, instruct yourself, or inform curiosity, Or carry report. You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid.”
That is certainly true of Little Gidding where the prayers of countless pilgrims have soaked into the very atmosphere of the place, and indeed formed that ‘atmosphere’. Well might we say with Jacob in Genesis 28:17, ‘How awesome is this place.; this is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.
This is a meeting place with the Holy Spirit.
For Eliot, prayer is ‘more than a form of words’ which are often inadequate. The Holy Spirit transforms our efforts, however halting, into a powerful utterance which turns buildings such as the church at Little Gidding into portals through which we seek and find a glimpse of heaven. In such places, not all by any means churches, we can sense that the divide between earth and heaven, between us and God, is tissue paper thin.These ‘thin’ places are where Heaven and earth seem to touch. The eternal breaks though. The extraordinariness of God meets with the ordinariness of our lives and reveals the glory within.
These become in some way ‘places of Resurrection’, and you may perhaps revisit some of the places which have become special meeting places with God in your own lives.
Just being able to visit them in your memories may be just as valid because Whilst it is possible, in the words of T S Eliot in Dry Salvages we can have the experience but miss the meaning, it is more likely that the sense of being in God’s presence never leaves us. We can visit the memory and call to mind what God has already shown us – his love. We re-member this as surely as we re-member Jesus in the Eucharist or in his drawing of us safely to heaven. A past experience becomes immediate again.
The search for one’s place of Resurrection is not necessarily a physical journey but it is always a spiritual one. All of us are on a pilgrimage, a journey to where we belong and that journey is towards God. In this journey, as a friend of mine once said, “we are to ask that ‘the journey be long, full of adventures, full of things to learn.’ The significance of the destination is that it gives a reason for the journey. Desire for the homeland, longing for God, quest of whatever Grail we seek” (Ronald Trounson)
One certainty is that on this journey, in those places where we meet him, God touches our hearts wth his love again and again and it is this that ultimately makes all our prayers valid.
Little Gidding and Nicholas Ferrar bear testimony to that.
Loving God, the Father of all,
whose servant Nicholas Ferrar
renounced ambition and wealth
to live in a household of faith and good work:
keep us in the right way of service to you
so that, feasting at the table in your household,
we may proclaim each day the coming of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.