Monday, August 08, 2005

everyday habits

The early desert mothers and fathers realised that if we wish to find any peace in this life then we must occasionally flee the madness of the secular world to sit in silence before our God. Having just got back from a seven day retreat at the St Mary at the Cross Glasshampton Monastery, I can heartily agree with them.

That's not to say my short stay there was particularly restful. I found myself challenged, disheartened and confused at first. There was one guest who broke down in tears on her first day; she had come on a retreat 'because that's what religious people do' only to find a lack of purpose and direction in her life. Fortunately monasteries tend to be populated by monks (technically they are 'friars' or 'brothers') and as I have always suspected, monks are full of humble, generous wisdom. The brothers stand both as a challenge and a comfort. They provoke us to consider how much of our lives we give to God, how committed we are to prayer and to our neighbours. But ultimately, their perseverence in faith is a reassuring message in our post-religious world. By the end of my time there, my prayers had found their foundation and I have the confidence to go on meditating daily even when faith can seem like a fairy-tale.

The house itself is an old stable-block at the top of a hill in a very small village near Worcester. I've never been much of an 'outdoors' sort of person, but I certainly found walking around the woods and fields near the monastery gave me sufficient space to organise my confusing theological thoughts. One day, when God felt very far off, I decided to wander off into the trees with no particular sense of where I was going. As I walked deeper into the forest, there were various other paths leading off the track that I was on. Still with minimal sense of direction, I plodded on ahead. 'I have no idea where I am going,' I thought, suddenly conscious of my accidental allusion to that famous prayer by Thomas Merton. The road soon became steeper, muddier and harder to walk along. I momentarily entertained the idea that there might be a parable in the whole experience. Soon enough, after walking aimlessly for about forty-five minutes, the path opened up onto a field and I could see the back of the monastery. I had walked right round in a circle. As I came into the hall, I met one of the guests who is a minister in the Church of Scotland. I told him where I had been. 'Ah,' he replied, 'sounds a bit like a parable!'

      We shall not cease from exploration
      And the end of all our exploring
      Will be to arrive where we started
      And know the place for the first time.
        - T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

Yes going on retreat is good, I recommend it, I try and go once a month for a day and 2 twice a year for a week. Time with God is so important. Sounds to me that God is working in and through you, don't stop searching, I will continue to pray for you.


Nice one there Andy. I have often toyed with the idea of visiting a monastry... reading things like this, and watching things like that excellent BBC docu-drama thingy very much strengthen that impulse.

Thanks for sharing.

I'd share a similar impulse to Ash, from time to time. I've wondered about finding a place within a Monastry, even for a brief while. Perhaps the biggest practical issue is my lack of a firm place within one of the main traditions concerned - being neither Anglican nor Roman Catholic. But, though there are real questions about my place anywhere but the everyday world I live in, what you've there struck a deep chord.
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fairy tale faith

not believing something

but feeling something's there

anyway, in the fairy tales.

in your spirit.

Laurence - the only requirement for participating in the Eucharist at Glasshampton was being 'a communicant member of a Christian church', which you are. Heck, the brothers even welcomed an atheist who asked to be excused from chapel services but enjoyed the silence. Monastics - catch em before they disappear!


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