Monthly Archives: June 2015

Savouring Solitude

Savouring the solitude of Alton Abbey

Savouring the solitude of Alton Abbey

Prior to my ordination, after which life will change and inevitably get a lot busier, I decided to spend a day on a personal retreat at Alton Abbey. This community of Benedictine monks offers generous hospitality, prayerful worship and a space to simply be, all the while surrounded by a  natural and inviting arbors from which you can gaze at the world in contemplation.

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Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

I went there principally to gain a sense of stillness; a few hours to calm the mind and refresh the soul, but as the day wore on I realised that there is never complete stillness in solitude. For God’s presence is fully alive in creation and she demonstrates her vivacity in a vibrant showy display of life in sight, sound and smell.

On other occasions It might have been a day for expressing myself in poetry or art, but I discovered that this day was purely a time for sitting and waiting, observing and listening. Let me share some of these moments with you now.

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The Abbey houses bathed in sunlight

Firstly, I have to acknowledge that I visited on a glorious, sunny day – something that the Brothers told me was unusual, as the Abbey often has its own micro-climate of fog and rain, and summertime has its own pleasures when the freshness of spring has given way to abundant blooms and lushness of grass and burgeoning leaves on trees. So after a period of settling into the room I have been allocated for the day I ventured out into the gardens and grounds

A walk along the first path I saw from the doorway took me past the overflowing honeysuckle (see title picture) with its sweet scent and colourful trumpets, before I came to a pause, suddenly aware of the movement and sounds that were coming to me. A row of trees whispered loudly that they were very much alive as their leaves danced in rhythm with the breath of the Spirit; their rippling tones a background pulse to the melody of the birds whose notes rose and fell as if urgently repeating a song of sheer joy.

Woodland shades

Woodland shades

Choices… whether to take the woodland path or enter the formal garden with its gated entrance and a notice that stated, ‘You are welcome, the rabbits are not! Please shut the gate behind you’. I plumped for the shady woods.

Fallen fruits, yet like sparrows 'not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father' Matthew 10:29It was cooler and quieter here, and yet underneath my feet crunched the husks of autumnal beech nuts, reminding me of harvest abundance. Whilst the cascade of lace-capped hydrangea and towering rhododendrons gave promises of future profusion and growth. Even the flowers that had fallen to the floor, still radiated beauty; and in the dappled shifting shade, glints of light flashed like beacons signalling a presence.

Fallen blooms, yet like sparrows ‘not one of them will fall to the ground
unperceived by your Father’ Matthew 10:29

On days like this, time ticks imperceptibly onward and I found it was necessary to hurry back into the Abbey Church to join the Brothers in Midday Prayer, then lunch, which even though it was taken in silence, was much appreciated and gave one time to digest one’s thoughts.

The drowsy courtyard steeped in peace

The drowsy courtyard steeped in peace

The sun by now was high above in a cloudless sky and although I am not normally a sun-worshiper of any kind, I was drawn to the tranquility of the courtyard where I settled on a stone bench and closed my eyes, Warmth has its own life, as it seeps into your bones and lingers on the surface of your skin. My sense of drowsiness was dispelled by the sound of water erupting in shimmering jets of cascading jewels that fell to tumble over a moss-covered fountain, splashing the lily pads, under which fish found shade, their diaphanous tails swirling in lazy circles. All the while the tall purple and yellow irises quivered in anticipation  as gentle bees brushed their petals and a kaleidoscope of pansies turned their faces to the sun, exuding a honeyed fragrance so familiar from childhood.

Alton Abbey Daisies 012 blogThere is nowhere that creation is out of place and as I left the courtyard, my feet grazed the small stubborn weeds that had pushed their way up through the cracks in the paving and brushed against delicate ferns that sprouted in vertiginous splendour high up on the walls. These humbler plants, despite attempts to eradicate their existence, are no less beautiful, and as I walked around the side of the church to seek a shadier nook I encountered tiny white daisies nestling with bright blue speedwell and baby pink cranesbill, which had escaped the mower’s blades.

As always when you visit somewhere for the first time, you’re never one hundred percent sure whether you might stray into areas that are private; secret places full of hidden treasures. Yet the well-worn wall seat was placed invitingly at the end of the two pools of water and seemed a perfect place to linger before Evening Prayer and Supper. Here I was rewarded with a deep feeling of peace, as if God had saved the best till last. Here was life in abundance from the immeasurable variety of insects, including carmine and turquoise bodied dragonflies hovering on lacy wings, and the unseen life within the silty mud, that sent bubbles up to break the tension of the water’s surface, to the chattering house martins that swooped overhead.

I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places. Psalm 45:3

I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places. Psalm 45:3

As the day drew to a close, and I packed my bag and said farewell to the Brothers, I reflected how lucky I was to have been granted that time and that space to simply be another small part of God’s incredible creation. Those images and thoughts that filled my time there will no doubt sustain me for quite a while to come; a point in time both sacred and divine, a moment of sheer grace.

Alton Abbey blooms blog

Exuberant life in seed and bloom

For more information about Alton Abbey, its people and the work it does, click here

Letting Go And Moving On

Butterfly transformation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

The last few weeks have been a series of consciously starting to let go, as I, and many of my fellow final year ordinands, come to the end of our formal training. I suspect that this process has been happening over a much longer period, but our final weekend at college brought us together as we ‘prepared for ministry’.

As part of that we were asked to plan a creative act of worship, and under the leadership of Sue (Smith), we, that is Ruth (Peet), Jenny (Tebboth) and I, worked collaboratively to do just that. What we produced turned out to be a powerful release as we thought about how we were continuously being transformed. That enabled us to let go of those things that may still be causing us to worry, to hesitate, to hold us back; which we could lay down at the foot of the cross and then to commit ourselves to moving out toward our new or existing ministries.

We wanted to share some of the ideas that went into creating this service as they might be helpful to others who are also on this pathway or who may be in need of laying something down before moving on.

A weighty pebble to hold

A weighty pebble to hold

On entering the room we were each given a weighty pebble which we were asked to hold on to at all times if possible until later. These were to represent the worries and burdens that we might consciously or unconsciously be carrying with us at this time. By keeping hold of the pebble we became aware of their weight. Sue then introduced our service.



Our training has been all about formation; however, over the last two or three years we can now see how our lives have also been transformed. Taking the example of the life cycle of the butterfly, we took a moment to think we are now in that process

For many people this proved to be a trigger to simply sit and consider just how far they had travelled and to realise that it would soon be time to emerge from the chrysalis – scary prospect but one that we didn’t do on our own, as the words of The Butterfly by Margaret Orford reminded us

My hands are warm to the butterfly
I am trying to set free.
Delicate, frail creature of beauty,
what can it know of me?
I am outside its comprehension.
It knows sunshine and showers,
darkness and the feel of flowers.
We do not ask it to do the impossible
and know Man.
So we with God,
who looks with tenderness on our frailty,
trying to guide us.
Trust him!
He knows the way and if we let him,
will open windows,
and cradling us gently in hands we cannot comprehend.
will lift us up and set us free.

These rocks have let go...

These rocks have let go…

Ruth then led us in a meditation which culminated with us placing our pebbles around the foot of a cross.

(Holding our rock …) God is always leading us to new places on our journey through this life towards the kingdom, and sometimes that means letting go of people, places and things that are familiar to us. For some of us this experience is particularly acute right now.

We may be moving to a new home in a new community; we may be finding a new way of being in a familiar community; both these transitions mean letting go of an old way of being … and beginning a new journey, finding out who we are in a profoundly different role.

For all of us, as God calls us forward, inevitably there are people and places and things and aspects of life we need to let go. The rock we are holding represents all this. These rocks have let go of their original place, hewn by wind and rain, and buffeted by storms and sand and sea, they are all the more beautiful for that. And the new rock face revealed creates the potential for other unique and beautiful new creations.

The rocks are heavy, not necessarily because the things we need to let go are heavy, but because the knowledge that we need to let go and the act of doing so may weigh on us so heavily. We may have been carrying this weight for a while, and we have represented this by holding onto the rock this evening.

We follow in the footsteps of many: Abraham let go of his home and moved to a new land.The Jews left the familiarity of Egypt to journey through the desert. The apostles gave up their means of living to follow Jesus. Jesus … gave up life itself for us. Now … it’s our turn. Still holding the rock … let’s think now about the things we are letting go … think about all that has been good in them … all the experiences that have taught us and shaped us … and we thank God for them now ……

Now we focus on one aspect … it may be the thing that we have to let go that is weighing on us most heavily … and in it let us find something good … an experience, a lesson, or an act of kindness we can cherish and take with us … and let us thank God for that now ……

Looking at the rock, we can imagine it laying on a beach. Now we ask God to show us a new thing that he wishes to grow in us, when the warmth of his love hits us like the sun bursting through clouds onto the surface of the rock. May the tiny sparkles the sun reveals on the rocks surface, represent the beginnings of new joys for us in the service of God ……

Then, when you are ready, and only if you feel that you can … take your rock and let go of it at the foot of the cross as a sign that you are letting go of the past and moving on … not forgetting … remaining grateful for all that we have received … but simply giving it to God and letting it go ……

Jesus said … ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’ (Luke 18:29-30)

Moving Onwards
For many of us this was a significant moment as we realised that what was happening to us was very much real; but we were not left to dwell too long before the tension was broken by the song ‘Be who you were born to be’ by Bliss which encouraged us to look forward instead

Gotta jump off that cliff and be who you were born to be

Gotta jump off that cliff and be who you were born to be


Stepping out...

Stepping out…

Getting ready to step out
Just before we took those first steps to go out though we were encouraged by Jenny’s prayers:

Lord God, you are the one who makes all things new. Not discarding the past but redeeming it for a richer way forward. Thank-you for all we have been learning and for the way you have been forming us. Thank-you for this place and for the care and teaching we have received. We pray for the work and development of this college and for all the staff and students here

Lord in your mercy….hear our prayer

As we have released those things which we hold close but need to surrender we have empty hands to receive all that you will give. Help us to fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith who we follow and whose Spirit is our companion and helper so that we can go forwards confident that the way ahead is known to you and that you will equip us for every work that you have prepared.

Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer

We pray for your Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know you better. Enlighten our hearts to know the hope to which you have called us…. And help us to know your incomparably great power. Fill us with hope and expectation, faith and especially with your love for people we will meet and reveal to us where you are at work already so that we may work in tune with you.

Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer

We pray for those communities where we will be working…….. We pray for those who will be training us………. We pray for our families as they adjust with us to our new situation…… We commit ourselves to your unfailing love

Let us say the Lord’s Prayer together:

Our father in heaven hallowed be your name, your kingdom come your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the Glory are yours now and forever, Amen

shutterstock_85086514Stepping Out
And so we were now ready to step out, hopefully a bit more confidently than before. Our final act was a commitment to hand everything over to God to whom we knew we could return whenever we needed to. Each person made this commitment by laying their ‘feet’ along a path, strewn with a few rocks on which we might stumble from time to time, but that led out towards the door and our new ventures… we were finally moving on!

Leavers Feet