Wednesday 20th June, having returned ten days earlier from Sclerder Abbey for the third and final retreat of A Year in God’s Time with The Community of St Anselm.
Here we are, five months on from the silent retreat and it seems I’ve been pretty silent with the blogging since then – that wasn’t the intention! There will be another blog in a week or so when we’ve finished our ten months of NunLife, so I’ll keep this brief, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to use that punderful title.**
I got back from the last retreat with my community over a week ago. After the previous two retreats I’ve come back and posted a blog the following day about it; this time I didn’t. In some ways, it should have been the easiest one to write. It wasn’t like the first week on ‘Life in the Holy Spirit’ when doing a retreat was a whole new experience and I didn’t know the place, rhythm or even the people very well. It wasn’t like the second week which featured Ignatian spiritual exercises done in silence. It was a slightly shorter week focussing on ‘God, me and my job’. Sounds the most straightforward out of them all. Yet I’ve written and rewritten this blog all week, reflecting on those intense but precious few days. The retreat was hard; hard because I knew it was our last one. That, and it involved a lot of reflecting and questioning.
It felt like we really had become creatures of habit with all the ‘known’ bits of a retreat, meaning we could take in the new things happening more easily. We knew how breakfast worked. We could wash up like clock work whilst in deep theological discussion. We could make it to the beach and back in free time. We were challenged by the teaching as it pointed us to Jesus. We took steps forward together as we shared deeply in discussion times. We held each other in times of worship. It was comforting to go back to Sclerder Abbey as a place bound in prayer which holds such significance for us. It was the familiarity that enabled us to settle quickly and engage with God within the routine of the day.
We had teaching in the morning as a whole group thinking about Jesus as creator, reconciler and redeemer. Great. We had time with our sharing groups in the afternoon including creative tasks to help us reflect on what we’d heard. (It was confirmed that I am not an artist and I was frustrated when there was no ruler to make the lines straight on my ‘creative free flowing’ timeline, oh well.) Great. We shared beautiful times in the little chapel at morning prayer, Eucharist and evening worship. Brill. We had some of the residents join the staff team to serve by cooking and helping to run the week so we could participate and enjoy it. Brill.
I returned home once again with a similar pang to previous weeks of missing the place already. Many of us reflected as we were leaving how Sclerder Abbey feels different; peaceful, safe, holy. When you spend time in a place like that, it’s hard to leave and come back to normality – particularly when you know it’s the last time you’ll be there with this group of people.
I know I’m not good at goodbyes and finishing things, so it started to prepare me for St Anselm not being a regular fixture in my week and looking ahead to a few weeks’ time when I will have Monday nights free again. On the last morning of the retreat we were ending Eucharist and sang the well known hymn by Horatio Spafford ‘It is well with my soul’. And indeed I can say, ‘it is well, it is well with my soul’.
God is working in and through me, and will continue to do so even when I don’t see these wonderful people every week. And I’m glad about that, because although I love them, it’s not all about us; it’s all about the One who created us and holds us all in the palm of His hand.
**Back in October a fellow non-resident turned to me when discussing how we had all gone and sat down in a semi-circle in the Crypt without being told to and said ‘Well we are all creatures of habit!’. I was feeling pretty ill that evening and it took a few minutes for me to get the joke (to be fair, that isn’t unusual) though we did decide it would have been funnier if we were actually wearing habits not albs. Technicalities and all that.