Glastonbury Retreat 2010
Who would have thought that I’d be rooting around in the top of the closet in the monastery guesthouse looking for a blanket? It’s intriguing to me that on the day I set out to this place of prayer to lift up this moment in my life, with all its change and transition, the world around me transits as well. This bright, dry, 90-degree summer turns on a dime and becomes a dark, wet, barely 60-degree season that looks and feels more like late October than mid-August.
Like most monastic settings, and indeed many places of Christian prayer, times of common prayer here are signaled by the ringing of a bell. This evening the bell rang when a human hand moved it to call the community to prayer. But it rang as well throughout the evening and during the prayer, shaken by the wind, by the finger of the spirit. Walking back to the guesthouse there were leaves and small branches strewn all around in the darkness. It really has the look, the feel, the smell of autumn.
Sometimes seasons seem to change suddenly, though I am more than sure that we have a lot of summer left yet. But tonight, with the early darkness and the waving tress striking the chapel windows, the feel of that later season has been real. It made me think of Halloween trick or treating, of plans for Thanksgiving, of where to shop for Christmas! It made me look around for the blanket here, which I did find and put at the end of the bed.
That coming season is one in which, like tonight, it feels good to be inside, to be sheltered, to be embraced by light and warmth, the sound of human voices and the feel of real affection. It feels like the embrace of God, hugging us in the darkness and asking that we not be afraid, assuring that there is no reason for fear. Fear, the Word of God sang tonight at compline (night prayer), has no season of its own, no season at all: “God’s faithfulness is a protecting shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day. . . . You have the Lord for your refuge; you have made the Most High your stronghold” (psalm 91).
These assurances are given and received in every season, in light and darkness, in heat and in cold. They are simply true.
Surrounded again by a Benedictine welcome, I recall vividly in an instant so much of the feel of the summer of 2005 at Glenstal Abbey in County Limerick, Ireland. There I first felt the assurance given that enabled me to follow a path that led in new directions, yet based on the foundations and the principles and the faith that I’ve known and celebrated all my life. That assurance was renewed at Eastern Point in Gloucester during the 30-day retreat in the summer of 2007. And these days, these bright days and these dark nights, that assurance means more than ever.
The beginning of next month I leave behind the day to day experience of almost everything familiar to me, for the purpose of moving deeper into what is most fundamental – the experience of knowing God in God’s people. Both the leaving and the arriving feel massive, and yes, there are the pangs of fear.
But then I arrive here, on a night like this, wild and wet and realize anew that there is nothing to fear. There is everything to trust.