Clare's Elected Silence

In the grounds of Clare Priory in Suffolk is a bronze figure of a person, strolling. The plaque beneath says little of the sculpture, but quotes the first line from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ The Habit of Perfection

Elected Silence, sing to me           

And beat upon my whorlèd ear,

Pipe me to pastures still and be 

The music that I care to hear.     

The poem seems to explain his desire to avoid the pleasures of the world for the holier delights of an ascetic, religious life. Here, he disdains the world's perfume for the incense of the high church service: 

Nostrils, your careless breath that spend

Upon the stir and keep of pride,

What relish shall the censers send            

Along the sanctuary side!       

Later on, he describes his commitment to poverty:

And, Poverty, be thou the bride        

And now the marriage feast begun,        

And lily-coloured clothes provide              

Your spouse not laboured-at nor spun.

The poet converted to Romanism from Anglicanism in 1866. Little wonder his words and sentiments are treasured and celebrated by the re-formed convent at Clare. I often find that the ‘spirituality’ of such places, much like the poet whose words they celebrate, is a reaction against the world, but not necessarily an embrace of the Biblical Christ. It is not silence we must desire, but the voice of Jesus Himself. It is not the burning of incense we must smell, but the fragrance of the Beloved. Poverty for its own sake is not enough- may Christ take all we have, just as He shall one day give all He has to us.