Tag Archives: monastery

17 July: The tyranny of caprice, by Dr Johnson

Dr Johnson’s first sentence reminds us that the Catholic church was still regarded with suspicion in England in the 1740s, even if there was a growing degree of toleration. But he seizes a part of the monastic vocation in this paragraph, as well as presenting us with the mystery of death and dying. Right now, I would quit this life with reluctance, but I hope that I will be able to say my Nunc dimittis when the time comes. Meanwhile, free me from the tyranny of caprice, my own and other people’s!

“I do not wonder that, where the monastick life is permitted, every order finds votaries, and every monastery inhabitants. Men will submit to any rule, by which they may be exempted from the tyranny of caprice and of chance. They are glad to supply by external authority their own want of constancy and resolution, and court the government of others, when long experience has convinced them of their own inability to govern themselves. If I were to visit Italy, my curiosity would be more attracted by convents than by palaces: though I am afraid that I should find expectation in both places equally disappointed, and life in both places supported with impatience and quitted with reluctance. That it must be so soon quitted, is a powerful remedy against impatience; but what shall free us from reluctance? Those who have endeavoured to teach us to die well, have taught few to die willingly: yet I cannot but hope that a good life might end at last in a contented death. ‘

From “Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765” by James Boswell.

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25 May: Keeping on keeping on.

Eddie walks in the same bluebell woods as the family Turnstone

Eddie Gilmore of the Irish chaplaincy in London describes how he was coping with the discipline of working from home and not going up to the office. Read the whole article here.

My life in lockdown has become a bit monastic, and there’s a lot I like about that. There’s quite a nice, simple balance of work, prayer, meals, reading, recreation (much of that in the form of walking or cycling). I’m a bit more tuned in than usual to the subtle but magical changes in the natural world: the colours and the smells, the times of the day when the birds sing more loudly, the wonderful sight in the sky a few nights ago of a crescent moon underneath a brightly shining Venus.

Thank you Eddie for allowing us to use your writings! There will be a barbecue to end all this enforced confinement, but even now, let your heart be unconfined!

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10 March. Desert XIII: Wilderness.

City dweller Robert MacFarlane wondered if there were any wild places left in the British Isles, and he set out to find them. Often enough early Christian monks and hermits had been there before him; to islands and other inaccessible spots.

But what did he mean by wildness? Early in the book he discusses the idea:

Wildness … is an expression of independence from human direction, and wild land can be said to be self-willed land.  Land that proceeds according to its own laws and principles, land whose habits — the growth of its trees, the free descent of its streams through its rocks — are of its own devising and own execution. Land that … acts or moves freely without restraint; is unconfined, unrestricted.’*

Town and city dwellers live in human directed lands, concrete, brick and glass, but also most of the British countryside is farmed, drained, controlled. Can we find wilderness, to use the old Biblical world, without travelling to distant places?

We have to look for it nearer to home, in pockets and cracks. There are the weeds that devise and execute their own growth and spread, like traveller’s joy rooted on railway land. Or there are remnants of countryside, like the plum tree that Abel likes to hide behind; it is surely a sucker from a rootstock left behind when the orchard was grubbed up for housing in the 1960s, since its fruit is insignificant and unpalatable. There are overgrown cemeteries, like that in Mile End, full of life that is quite unexpected in London’s East End.

The wild tries to return, perhaps we should salute it and follow its example to revisit the corner of our heart that moves freely, without restraint: that is open to love, growth and renewal.

*Robert MacFarlane, The Wild Places, London, Granta, 2007, p30.

 

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8 March, Desert XI: Fear 4.

mercy.ruin

Thomas Merton is living through the hotter part of the Cold War; the Cuban Missile Crisis would blow up a year later; he had cause to be afraid. In the days before this diary entry,* bombers had been flying low over the Monastery of Gethsemane, his home. Thinking about US and world politics aroused:

… my own fear, my own desperate desire to survive, even if only as a voice uttering an angry protest, while the waters of death close over the whole continent.

Why am I so willing to believe that the country will be destroyed? It is certainly possible, and in some sense it may even be likely. But this is a case where, in spite of evidence, one must continue to hope. One must not give in to defeatism and despair, just as one must hope for life in a mortal illness which has been declared incurable.

This is the point. This weakness and petulancy, rooted in egoism. 

Defeatism and despair are rooted in egoism, and they are not necessarily good survival tactics. Let us ask the Lord for a taste of the perfect love that casts out fear and despair

Thomas Merton, Turning towards the World, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, p162.

Image from CD.

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October 23. Month of Mission: Thoughts from my cell.

Another example of Mission is the Irish Chaplaincy. Here Eddie shares some thoughts on the prison ministry side of that work. Enough to read his article to know how important it is.

I awoke in my cell having had an interesting dream in which I was in a kind of social club with my guitar (the one mentioned in the last blog) playing ‘Country roads’ with lots of people singing along.

                 

It’s one of the songs I’d sung at a prison event a couple of days before, after one of the guys said he liked American country songs and sang a couple himself. He had a really good voice and wasn’t at all shy. None of the others, though, seemed too interested in singing and were happy to sit and chat with one another and with those of us from the Irish Chaplaincy, away from their cells for a blessed couple of hours.

I should explain that the cell I was in was at a monastery where I go regularly to spend 24 hours in silence, and I was particularly curious on that occasion why the monastic tradition gives the same name to the room of the monk as that used in prisons for the place of confinement. It was an interesting link to our Traveller event at Wormwood Scrubs, so too the dream.

Our event at Scrubs was surprisingly relaxed, especially considering that it was one of the hottest days of the year, when the tiny, airless cells must be like infernos. We were in the multi-faith room, with doors wide open (exceptionally) and fans whirring, and the space was laid out café style, with tables and easy chairs. There was a lot of pleasant conversation, a little bit of singing (not too much, and that was fine). And then there was the food: a feast of bacon and cabbage and potatoes, with lots left over for the guys to take back to their mates who hadn’t been able to attend (or to eat again themselves in their cells!). And after the meal there was chocolate and other treats that Breda and Ellena had brought. Several of the prisons staff came along, for they also enjoy and value our events, and it’s probably a bit of light relief for them too from the major challenges in running a prison today. Sarah the governor was there, with several of her senior staff, plus Zahid the head of Chaplaincy and Fr. Chima the RC chaplain. They’re all good people doing a good job, and I was a little sad to read in the news the following day that Wormwood Scrubs is on a list of 16 prisons judged by the MOJ to be of ‘serious concern’ (the Irish Chaplaincy has a presence in a few of those on the list). Years of under-investment and over-crowding have taken their toll; and when availability to drugs is thrown into the mix and prisoners locked in their cells for large parts of the day then there are some very dangerous and volatile situations created.

Following the food there was a group photo outside with everybody in great spirits, and then there was time to help people with a questionnaire about our ‘Travelling Forward Resettlement Project’. I was struck that in answer to the question about previous education most of the guys ticked ‘1’ (the lowest score), whilst for the questions about interest in training and in being helped to get a post-release job most ticked ‘5’ (the highest). And the majority of the guys needed somebody to write down the answers for them.

I don’t know what these men have done to end up in prison, and I don’t need to know. I simply enjoy the time with them; to share a meal together and a bit of craic. And they’re so appreciative of these events. For Travellers (people who are used to moving around and being out of doors) being confined to a small cell for prolonged periods must be a particular hardship.

As time was called on the gathering (the two hours having flown by) there were multiple handshakes and ‘thank you’ was said repeatedly. And then it was back to the cell. In my monastic cell, from which I could hear the gentle sound of rain through the open window and look out at the woods surrounding the monastery (and from which I could leave whenever I wished), I thought of those guys.

Eddie Gilmore

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May 31: R is for Rugeley

joseph etheldreda

Rugeley is a former mining town in Staffordshire, which used to have two coal-fired power stations; the second one closed in June 2017. One step towards cleaner air for the country and the planet.

Rugeley is also where Janet and I married, on this day, more than a few years ago in the Church of Saints Joseph and Etheldreda. One step forward together, and we’re still finding our way.

Unlike Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, but not the father of her child; and unlike Etheldreda (or Audrey) who was a Saxon Princess, Queen and Abbess, we got married in order to be and remain fully married and to accept the blessings of children.

Etheldreda was twice married for political reasons, but in each case she lived as a nun despite her married status – with her kingly husband’s consent each time. Except that her second husband eventually changed his mind.

Etheldreda did not change hers and ran first to Saint Ebba, whose monastery was just north of Berwick, across what is now the Scottish border, and thence to Ely, surrounded by marshes which hindered pursuit enough for her husband to  turn back to Northumberland.

Ely Abbey – for women and men, like Hilda’s Whitby – flourished under her leadership.

Let’s pray for the gift to hear what God is saying in our own hearts and the grace to follow his word.

And let’s pray that today’s church leaders will recognise the leadership gifts that many women have been given; and that innovative communities may flourish.

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January 29, Aberdaron VII: the beginning

aberdaron church leaflet3

We continue reading the guide to Saint Hywyn’s Church. It is sobering to sit in Canterbury and read that this church dates from the first half of the sixth century. Pope Gregory only sent Augustine to Kent in 597!

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15 May: Saint Carthage (c555-637)

st Carthage

Saint Carthage, whose day it is today, is also known as Mochuda. He was a humble swineherd from what is now County Kerry and after joining a monastery he was ordained a priest. His life is marked by a series of phases where he established churches and places of worship and pilgrimage only to be turned out after making successes of his endeavours. His demise each time was due to the jealousy of others. But he picked himself up, moved on and succeeded again someplace else and in doing so left a trail of churches and holy places. How often does God use the negativity of others to bring into fruition His plans for us.

As a Tertiary Franciscan I have been enamoured of the stories of the early Franciscan friars whose lives are detailed in the book called, Il Fioretti, or the Little Flowers of St. Francis. Often they were despised and accused of many things but Francis taught them that from such condemnation is perfect joy. Our natural instincts when we are criticised or gossiped about is to react and feel negativity in return. Yet by changing our reactive attitude and transforming it into a force for good we can transcend and so continue with greater energy our journey in Christ. After all, Jesus was the most perfect Son of God and did he escape jealousy and envy? Not a bit. In fact His essential truth and reality in Almighty God polarised, very quickly, all those he came into contact with.

So along with Mochuda and with Christ, let us take heart and be encouraged by any darkness of spirit from others and rejoice, for it is by these things we are marked as servants of God. And we may, just by our attitude, allow others who fear to become a little more positive themselves.

CW.

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25 November: Inter-Galactic Discoveries: XVIII The Galloping Dik-Dik

dik-dik

 

‘T’ and the Chihuahuas continued to listen raptly to bits and pieces of the story of the Lady Domneva and her dik-dik and, in doing so, were transported back to the vanished world of the wild and woolly seventh century.

It seemed that every monastic foundation required a kind of demesne, or endowment; enough land to ensure peace and quiet and also to raise some hard cash for bee’s wax candles, mason’s wages for the carving, and subsequent maintenance, of gargoyles and stone arabesques, lentils for the nun’s soup, ducks for their eggs and down to stuff the duvets in the guest quarters (the nuns themselves, having taken a vow of poverty, did not use duvets), some cattle for Feast days (as well as a sip of wine) and parchment, and, of course, lots and lots of sheep for lamb chops, mutton stew and wool to make their distinctive black habits (not to mention a large quantity of the rare and expensive beetle carapace used to make the dye). Well, let it simply be said that running a large monastic foundation could be expensive. Land was also needed for orchards of apples, pears, and apricots, wild flowers, and the oddly placed fisherman’s cot. In fact, back in the seventh century, as feudalism came into its first virile wind, well, land meant just about everything.

The Kentish king, encamped with his vast court on the site of the future monastery, was both vexed and perplexed. Since the king was new at founding monasteries, he wasn’t quite sure how much land might be required and the Lady Domneva was also of little help since she had only been a nun for a very short time. It was then that one of the scullery people, noticing the frisk of the Lady’s dik-dik on a particularly cold day, came up with an idea that delighted everyone.

‘Why not leave it up to God?’ the young maid said, rather enigmatically. And when all agreed that that must be a fine idea…another question immediately sprang forward – ‘but how?’ It was then that a wizened hermit emerged from a nearby wood and, approaching the diminutive dik-dik, began to stroke the lovely creature while spoon feeding it some black currant jam. In tones of deepest respect, he asked a beaming Lady Domneva if the tiny deer-like creature had a name. ‘Indeed, he does,’ she cooed, ‘Boanerges.’ And at the sound of his name the tiny dik-dik licked a spot of jam from his nose and rolled a triple somersault on the emerald lawn to everyone’s delight. ‘Surely,’ the hermit intoned, ‘God can speak through a Son of Thunder?’ And, so, it came to be.

+++

The little dik-dik ran and ran…and ran. Throughout the Isle of Thanet from dawn until dusk. The brisk, late-November chill served as both motivation…and inspiration…as the near-magical creature raced the howling east wind. By royal decree, everywhere it traversed would become the endowment of the monastery and, some say, that if it hadn’t been for the watery barrier of the mighty Wansum, well, the dik-dik might have galloped all the way to Scotland.

TJH

 

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12 September: Saint Eanswythe of Folkestone.

eanswythe

In the ‘Dark Ages’ there seems to have been a high degree of enlightenment among the noble women of England and Wales. Think of Hilda or Winifride. Not such dark times at all.

There are people ready to cast our own time as a new dark age. But once again, I suggest, not so very dark.

Think of today’s Saint Eanswythe: like her niece Mildred of Minster, a Kentish maid. Eanswythe  died around 640, just 43 years after Pope Gregory sent Augustine to convert the people of Kent. She was not the first teenager to feel that marriage was not all a girl could aspire to. The cloistered life appealed: prayer, community and scholarship. Her father took some persuading, but with his help she founded the earliest sisters’ monastery  in England, overlooking the sea at Folkestone. She was a brave pioneer.

No sign of her original church remains, but Eanswythe’s relics were successfully hidden at the Reformation and can now be visited at the Church that bears her name.

And today’s young people? Here is part of a reflection from Ignatius who was at the World Youth Day in Krakow:

The entire World Youth Day was one big Holy Communion, in which I found Jesus over and over and over again. We were all there together, being made one, by the one body, the one love, of our one Lord.

Catholicity
mercy.carving. (328x640)

Now, the real challenge begins: to take God’s mercy home with us and out to the world…

And here’s Christina:

I have always wanted the truth.

Being raised Catholic, I was poorly educated in the Faith.  Probably because, being in a wheelchair, people assumed that I was “closer to God” and, therefore, going straight to Heaven after death.  But, that bias is ignorant of the fullness of reality – and I want the fullness of reality. I want the fullness of truth.

And there is many another to give us hope. God be with them. And may he help Team Agnellus to proclaim the Truth in all our posts.

MMB

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