Some people lived, and died within one hundred or fifty or even fifteen miles of their birthplace. Others, like Philippa, wandered the wide world, only to return to the place of their birth
Even as a nun, Philippa's path would take her to ends of the Earth most adventurers could not hope to find. Even as Prioress, this very English woman, would not be near her home, her mouth constantly shaping sounds that weren't hers -- except for the Latin. Yet, none of her sisters realized how close Suwa was to the home where she'd been born and lived the first twelve years of her life. In leaving her home at Brede, she'd renewed her life, watered her roots.
The chant, the office, the rounds of the day and night -- Suwa and Brede had petitioned the Pope for permission to keep the Office in Latin at Suwa while others prepared the Japanese translations. From Rome, the answer had come, "Benedicite."
Her voice had not improved. Age shortened the vocal chords and thinned the voice even as constant practice and repetition helped strengthen her volume and deepened her faith.
Her daughters, her sisters echoed her antiphonally on this the last day the divine office would be sung in Latin here at Suwa. There would be a feast tonight, local fish and preserved fruits donated by their wider community, Sama Colette Kazuko making the Three Kings cake as her namesake Dame Colette had taught her years before.
Tomorrow, Philippa would sing a new office, in Japanese. And the day after, Sama Julia Yoko would be elevated to Abbess, Suwa's first with Hahaoya her new title, and, seeing her daughter, her sister installed, Philippa would once again be a Dame, a true sister of Brede Abbey.
As so often happens, friendship was deepened through correspondence. Abbess Catherine's words of advice, "remember we become more ourselves for having chosen to be sisters and for having been chosen by God," had guided her through her tenure at Suwa.
The first sight of it, seemed dull compared to her memories of Japan, the promises of Konishi-san. The hydrangea's shades of cream, pink, and blue, which put her in mind of the English seaside seemed wan, the only color in a vast sea of green. It wasn't the lush green of England or the sere grey-green of the Los Angeles dessert, or even the greenery of wartime Washington, and it seemed a little strange to her eyes.
Stranger still the summer stayed hot, hotter than memory, and the colors faded farther to the golds and browns of the wheat harvest just outside their enclosure. Philippa often went to the highest point in the garden to look out on the land then so strange, now so dear to her heart.
The office upheld her: Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, Matins -- that comforting, stark office of the night. Dame Cecily wrote her, "Don't try to make it profound. Intone clearly, as I know you can, and it will just be."
And slowly, slowly the garden changed. The reds and golds of autumn came through -- all that greenery now variegated and thrilling. Their first November, the month of the dead, Dame Colette's name had headed their list, and the first silks woven in their enclosure were finished -- orphreys in stylized black and white worn by the priests at All Souls Day Mass.
By the time of the first Epiphany in the house -- the first Three Kings Cake only needed to be one for all of them -- Philippa was home again, in the land of her childhood and in February, when the first almond blossoms showed against the melting of the snow, she truly felt like mother to her community.
Dame Monica had been her bastion, though they'd hardly been close while at Brede, but the chant was the center of their faith and prayer, and therefore the center of their lives. And as so often happens in a community of faith, surprises of friendship abounded.
Sama Grace Mariko, in helping with the translation of the chant, had renewed her interest in styles of traditional calligraphy. Her work, with words of wisdom and abiding faith, was beginning to be known outside Japan. And with knowledge of her work, came interest in her life, and from sharing that knowledge there came vocations.
Most were Japanese, some were mixed race from the War, and some were Japanese born elsewhere -- belonging to the Catholic faith yet yearning for the home of a Japan they'd never known.
Dame Sophie as Novice mistress would first send those who wanted to lead the romantic life of a nun to Dame Monica. The first time she'd sent one to Philippa, the poor girl had nearly fainted. But Dame Monica with her knowledge of music and her connection to the inner life and workings of the community didn't frighten girls away. Instead, they often found what they were looking for elsewhere, yet remained friends to Suwa and its work. A few became oblates, and now, some, were novices among them. Three had been clothed the past summer, two more had made simple profession and one, slightly older than the others, an American-born Japanese, had made her solemn profession the day after Christmas. Sama Stephen Aya was now among them, a choir nun soon to be zelatrix, one day ready to take over from Dame Sophie.
The first spring at Suwa was tough. Thirteen people don't provide enough variety, and even the seasonings of Father Thomas and Konishi-san were not enough to prevent tempers flaring. Privation is never easy, and the cleansing of Lent, which scours mind and soul too, was made more difficult by the English nuns finding the fast harder than they'd imagined. There wasn't less food than they were used to, but the beginning of spring vegetables weren't the ones they knew and the lack of cheese and the endless miso wore them all down.
Yet still the rounds of the office upheld them. The Latin flowed through their bodies, the chant uniting them, immersing them in the rhythm of the year, of their house.
When Philippa left the church after the first Mass of Easter, the azaleas were in bloom. Two days ago, there were barely buds, and now, proving that resurrection was possible, they were massed in riots of red and purple and white and gold. All the colors of Lent and the risen Christ greeted her and her sisters on a clear, chill morning.
By Ascension's feast, they were back in harmony with each other. The pressing homesickness of the English nuns had been alleviated with the coming of spring. Each feast and fast brought its own new joy to the garden, Philippa learned, and Ascension brought clouds of wisteria framing the landscape and Pentecost brought the first thrill of a nightingale's call between Matins and Lauds.
A decade is a long time. Dames Sophie and Monica would stay at Suwa for another five years at least. At that time, they could choose to return to England and Brede or vow themselves to Suwa for life.
There was a temptation for Philippa to stay. She was honored here, both as the oldest and as the first leader. But she chose to return to the house she was vowed to.
Konishi-san was accompanying her back to Brede. Two postulants who were fluent in English would begin their paths as choir nuns there before coming back to Suwa. A third member of their party, also fluent in English was coming to study beekeeping with Sister Hannah after taking her vows as a claustral sister at Suwa. She'd stay two years and the postulants would remain through simple profession. In return, Suwa was getting two English postulants, fluent in Japanese, who would also renew the links between founder and foundation.
The speed of the bullet train gave way to the madness of Tokyo. Japan recognized the need for silence more than England, but assaulted it more in day to day living. The flashing lights, the riot of color, the press of people nearly overwhelmed her. The hard-won concentration of her religious life nearly fleeing in the few hours spent there.
The flight was startling. The first time she left Japan, it was on a ship taking her family from the only home she'd ever known to the place her parents meant when they used the word home. They'd stopped in Hong Kong and Trivandrum and Capetown and Gibraltar before finally coming to port in Southampton. It took weeks of adventures, the changes in season and hemisphere and place all guiding them toward a new life. Now, she would be in London twelve hours after leaving Tokyo.
There was a chime from Sister James Egao's watch and all their party pulled out their breviaries and began to read the words of Vespers.
Tomorrow, there would be a slow train through the countryside, followed by a walk up the hill to the house she was vowed to. Philippa felt as if her journey, mirroring the one of more than two decades ago, would end in joy.
She read the words of the Magnificat hearing the chant clearly in her mind and echoed with a full heart, "My soul glorifies the Lord."