Welcome + Worship + Witness
dinner for one

The Rector: Dinner for One

Sunday 17 October 2021
20th After Trinity
Sung Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

Some of you may be familiar with the comedy play “Dinner for one”

It was written by the British author Lauri Wylie in 1934 and is traditional viewing on New Year’s Eve in many European countries

The play is about Miss Sophie Warden who is celebrating her 90th birthday

Every year she has invites her four closest friends to dinner

These include, Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr Pomeroy and Mr Winterbottom

There is only one problem – they are now all dead – and so Miss Warden invites her butler to impersonate her dinner guests

The play is fairly slapstick but has now taken on a cult status in a way that could never have been foreseen

And can be purchased along with celebratory fireworks as a special package for New Year’s Eve

In the Church calendar this week, we celebrate the feast of St Theresa of Avila

St Theresa was a Spanish mystic

She was born to a noble family, and entered the monastic life at the tender age of twenty

Later in life, she became instrumental in the reform of the Carmelite Order leading to the establishment of what are known as the “Discalced Carmelites”

Discalced nuns live in cloistered monasteries and follow a contemplative life – as well as walking barefoot or just in sandals

Although this Order was Spanish in origin, Reformed Carmelites spread throughout the world

In our country, the former art critic Sister Wendy is probably the best known

She lived, alone, in a caravan in the grounds of a monastery in Quidenham, Norfolk allotting just two hours a day to work in order to earn her living as an art critic

Apart from the Prioress – and a nun who brought her provisions – the rest of her life was dedicated to solitude and prayer

This might look like an extraordinary decision for Sister Wendy or any other person to take

However, such life was in keeping with the founder of the order herself, St Theresa

Even as a nun, finding herself consumed with work and worldly distractions, St Theresa broke away from the Carmelite order to pursue the contemplative life

She described this as her “second conversion”

And wrote an account in her autobiography entitled “The life of St Theresa” and then a subsequent work called “The Interior Castle”

Both are spiritual classics and wonderful guides for those seeking a closer relationship with God

I thought I might share some of her insights with you today

In her first book, “The life of St Theresa” she likens her solitary life to “setting out a garden for the Lord’s pleasure”

Like all gardens, it requires irrigation and she describes the way this might happen

As she put it, “you can carry the water by hand, construct a water wheel or divert a stream”

Alternatively, “you can wait for it to rain”

The analogy of the garden is, of course, a metaphor for prayer

At first, we need to deliberately concentrate our efforts on communing with God

But as time passes, conscious effort becomes less and less necessary and, once it rains, God has intervened on our behalf

This, in turn, brings about union with God -a union which, in the case of St Theresa, led to her ecstatic visions

Her second book, “The Interior Castle”, St Theresa uses an alternative metaphor

Inspired by the passage in John’s Gospel that “there are many rooms in my father’s house”

Theresa saw the human soul as moving though many different rooms until it found its way to the centre

Where lives the King of Heaven

As with the garden, there is a gradual shift from human action to divine gift

Having shed ourselves of the temporal realm we, paradoxically, fuse “the darkness of unknowing with divine illumination”

And find the capacity to live a life wholly centred upon God

From that hidden centre, the mission of God goes forth in our lives

St Theresa is one of the great theologians of the Catholic Church

She represents the highest point of Catholic Spiritual writing and, after Don Quixote, her autobiography is the most widely read prose classic in Spain

However, the most striking fact for me is that it is an intensely personal journey

St Theresa makes it clear that somehow we, as individuals, need to remove ourselves from the distractions of the temporal realm

It is only through this separation from others, that the believer is able to engage in a meaningful quest for God

Which, in turn, reveals a potential for Divine union

As one commentator remarked “The separation of the worshipper from the medieval flock”

If you like “Dinner for one”

This life and spiritual guidance of St Theresa stands alongside the readings this morning

Both are about feasts

The Old Testament reading invites us to God’s banquet to “come and eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed”

And the New Testament reminds us that we so often abuse that invitation

The life of St Theresa is, admittedly, an extreme way to accept the invitation –

But reminds us all that, to respond to God’s invitation, we require discipline and commitment

We need to break away from our temporal distractions – be it your farm or business

And be of the right disposition – in other words, properly dressed

In that sense, it is “dinner for one”

But the remarkable thing about this invitation to the banquet is that, although it comes to us individually, it is sent to us all collectively

Not just dinner for one, but dinner for all

And whereas, Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr Pomeroy and Mr Winterbottom may be dead

Unlike, Miss Sophie Warden, we do dine with all those on earth and in heaven

And we don’t require a butler to impersonate!