Thursday, 21 May 2009

Moving on

The Benedictine nuns of Stanbrook Abbey leave for their new home in Yorkshire today.
It is the culmination of years of deliberation, preparation, apprehension and anticipation, and the reality of their departure will be difficult to grasp for those who have known them and who have benefited from their presence within the landscape of Worcestershire. We have always known them to be there, and whether we had contact with them or not, the simple fact of their presence has been a source of peace and strength for all who have lived within reach of the Abbey. It was there, as a child, that my own Christian roots were planted, and it was from there that I set out on my journey.
We shall all regret their leaving, particularly those who have made close friends there, but beyond this expected reaction to the human separation involved, some – including those who have never set foot inside the gate – may feel the change as a withdrawal of an important part of the structure upon which they have habitually hung their religious routines and their experience of prayer and faith. The contemplative quiet which has always formed a partial backdrop to their lives will now become an emptiness; the beauty of silence will give way to the hollow lack of all that made it beautiful. The buildings will remain; outwardly everything will look the same, but these people’s homes and hearts will no longer be blessed every day by the unchanging consolation of the community’s presence.
But this is a selfish and superficial way of thinking. We need to pause for a moment; to shake ourselves a little in an attempt to see the situation as it is, not as we feel it to be, and to appreciate how the departure may feel to those who really are involved: the individual members of the community.

All that we fear to lose – other than the physical closeness of friends – cannot be lost.
If our relationship with Stanbrook has only ever been on a basis of personal relationships or as a convenient place to hear mass, without having (either already present or acquired through contact with Stanbrook) any life within ourselves that has felt truly at home there, our feared loss is a merely imaginary loss. The feelings will dissolve in the cares and activities of everyday life and will be gone within a week.
If such life does dwell within us, then the feeling of being home when at Stanbrook has never really differed from the feeling that accompanies us wherever we may be. Friendships, and the collective consciousness and prayer of the community have, of course, focussed our awareness of it whenever we have visited, but it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that makes us feel at peace and at home. So long as we walk with our Lord, having Him and knowing Him as our friend, we are always close to home. It was Christ in us meeting Christ in our friends at Stanbrook that heightened our awareness so much. It is this that we really fear to lose. But, again, this should not be lost. If it is, it is through our own fault.
This is why our meeting with others is so important. We are alive, and we carry the Spirit of God within us; in this way we are self-sustaining, but when we meet in any meaningful way we become more than the sum of our individual parts.

‘For where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18:20)

The community is its own living and breathing home, but we all need a place of rest; a haven in which to undo the sandal straps from the tired feet of our friends; a place in which to confidently unburden ourselves and where others can safely share their burdens with us; somewhere to gather in hope and expectation.
For Stanbrook that place is now in Yorkshire. Our Lady of Consolation awaits them there.

Let us wish our friends and the community not only God’s speed, but God’s peace, God’s direction and God’s empowerment in the new place to which they have been called; and let us open ourselves to whatever He wills for us in their absence.
Today is the feast of the Ascension; the commemoration of Christ’s ascension to Heaven. This was the last time He was seen by the apostles: His final departure. His last recorded words to them were, “And now I am sending upon you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city, then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
When Jesus had left them, they ‘went back to Jerusalem full of joy’ (24:52), and ten day’s later, on the feast of Pentecost, the disciples received the Holy Spirit while gathered together in ‘the upper room’. The Christian Church was born.

We too must be joyful in the departure of our friends, and hopeful in the promise of God’s Spirit among us and within us.
In ten days time, all of us, wherever we may be, should aim to gather in our equivalent of the upper room. It will be Pentecost.
May the Stanbrook community be truly blessed with a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will ignite what God has prepared for them, and may we also be enlightened and empowered to take our places in the building of God’s Kingdom.

About Me

Who I am should be, and should remain, of little consequence to you. Who you are is what matters; who you are meant to be is what should matter most to you. In coming closer to my own true self, I have gradually been filled with the near inexpressible: I have simply become "brim full", and my words to you are drawn from those uttered within myself, as part of an undeniable overflowing that brings a smile to my every dusk, and to my every new dawn.
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