As Abbot of Bec, Anselm wrote a great deal while he was directing the growing community at Bec Hellouin in the late eleventh century, which rose to become one of the leading centres of intellectual and spiritual thought in medieval Europe. He managed to combine those demanding roles with an extensive correspondence with rulers and nobles all over Europe as their spiritual adviser and counsellor.
The extract you will hear here is from the introduction to the Proslogian, an extended argument supporting the existence of God. Its words live on, and the call to draw aside and spend time in the Lord’s presence remains every bit as relevant for today’s generation . . . I love the fact that he says “For this I know to be true, that unless I first believe I shall not understand”. That word unless is such a pivotal one. Unless the Lord intervenes in our life contually where would we be? Let’s be sure to always give Him the chance to do so rather than taking matters into our own hands!
We have set the prayer to music by Henry Thornowitz, played for us by Julia Herzog and Christiane von Albrecht.
Lord, we’re hungry to turn aside from what we’re doing
and from our restless thoughts,
and to hide ourselves awhile in You.
Enter the secret chamber of your heart,
shutting out everything but God,
and that which may help you in seeking Him.
And when you’ve closed the door, seek Him.
Now my whole heart says to God: ‘I seek Your face,
Your face, O Lord, do I seek.’
I will seek You by desiring You,
and desire You in seeking You.
I will find You by loving You,
and love You in finding You . . .
I do not seek to understand so that I may believe,
but believe that I may understand.
For this I know to be true,
that unless I first believe I shall not understand.
The following meditation is by Michel Quoist, a priest who ministered very close to Bec Hellouin in Rouen and Le Havre.
His ‘Prayers of Life’ are known and loved around the world. I used to use them in assemblies when I was at school, and they touched many hearts.
Given the time constraints that many of us face, we can readily identify with the sentiments expressed in this meditation, and pray that the Lord will help us to find ways to overcome distractions big and small, internal and external, and reach a place of creative stillness in His presence.
Lord, here we are . . . Caught between the infinity of our desires and the limitation of our means, torn, pulled here and pulled there, confused and exhausted.
So Lord, here we are, finally still, and finally ready to listen. You’ve seen how dissatisfaction has made us suffer.
You’ve seen how fear has led us astray in choosing our commitments.
You’ve seen how we were afraid of doing too little. And You’ve seen the cross imposed by our limited means.
Lord, make us strong enough to do what we should do calmly, simply, without wanting to do too much, without wanting to do it all ourselves. In other words, Lord, make us humble in our wish and Your will to serve.
Help us above all to find You in our commitments. For You are the unity of our actions; You are the single love in all our loves, in all our efforts. You are the wellspring, and all things are drawn to You. So we have come before You, Lord, to rest and gather strength.