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Posts Tagged ‘St Beunos’

It’s a Tuesday morning.  School run done and car parked, I hurry up the path to my house.  Key in the door whilst shoving with one foot only to be met by a happy Honey Basset blocking my way in.   Whilst fussing her I’m hit by the lovely smell of fabric softener; clothes drying in the house, too cold outside today for anything to dry on the line.  I walk to the radio left on in the kitchen for the aforementioned Basset, and hit the Off button.  Silence! 

Coat off.  Washing-up away.  Load of washing in and set to wash, all in the space of about five minutes.  I have to be careful not to get engrossed in domestics or, before I know it, they’ve become a procrastination, a means of prevarication, a distraction.  I’ve been doing domestics since 5.45am this morning so everything else can and should wait because I need to pray. 

Matches in hand I head for the lounge to light my prayer candle which sits in my plain but beautiful St Beuno’s candle holder on my altar; I only have to look at it to be instantly transported back to that beautiful place.  I grab this month’s Magnificat and begin.  I stand in front of my altar to pray Morning [Lauds] prayer.  Evening prayer [Vespers] can happen anywhere, in my bedroom, in the car outside school, wherever the opportunity presents itself.  I pray Compline [Night prayer] in bed usually, if I can stay awake.  I am lucky that I have the time to devote to this practice at the moment.  Not working might mean less money but it has the huge benefit of being able to spend more time with God.  After praying I make myself a latte and settle down with this year’s edition of Sacred Space to study today’s gospel.  It’s a time to reflect, to talk to God and just be.  Listening.  Waiting.  [eta Sacred Space for 2019 is out now ~ click the link in the side bar >>>]

Now, in an ideal world every day would be just like today.  However, some days life takes over and prayers are missed or don’t happen at all and that’s just the way it is.  But ideally I like to be able to spend time in prayer every, single day.  Even if it’s just once for a few moments. 

Pray, I hear you ask?  Why would you do that?  It’s not Sunday, you’re not at Mass so why?  And this is a really valid and sensible question and one I’ve asked myself a lot over the last few years.  Why do I feel the need to pray daily?  Have I always done so and does it do any good?

First I feel the need to explain that I am driven to pray every day, it’s a need, a desire, almost a necessity.  If I don’t do it I miss it, something just doesn’t feel right, I feel empty and a bit lost.  As I said before, prayer doesn’t or can’t happen every day, some days I’m just either too busy [not always procrastinating with domestics but running errands etc] or quite simply too lazy.  I don’t give myself a hard time if I don’t get round to it because that’s pretty pointless.  However, I have the intention to pray every day; morning, evening and night with Mass thrown in if I get there.  It’s an act of fidelity.  The definition of fidelity is:- ‘faithfulness to a person, cause or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.’  Prayer is me being faithful to God.  As I said somewhere else, it’s a bit like being married.  You are faithful to your husband or wife because you love them and you [want to] show that love through acts of fidelity which can be anything from a hug, a loving word, a gift, washing the dishes…anything done in love for another.  So, back to the question why do I pray?  Because I can’t not, it’s that simple.

Have I always done so?  No, absolutely not.  Certainly not in those early days but in the last few years it’s become a habit that I can’t break.  It ebbs and flows according to employment and commitments but it never completely stops.  It really is a way of life now and is vital to maintaining my faith and my relationship with God.  As my faith has grown and matured, so has my prayer life.

What isn’t always obvious to those ‘looking in’ is that this relationship is a two-way thing.  I am faithful to God and He is faithful to me.  “For the son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt 20:28 NIV  I’m not sure what I feel about Christ serving me [that was actually a question in last Sunday’s gospel study] and I suspect that’s a post for another day, but in any event this is relationship of equals.  I can sense that all of the time.  I show up and God is always there, never late, never awol, constant and reliable.  He comforts, strengthens and guides me.

Does prayer do any good?  Hmm well that’s tricky and I can only answer for myself and from my own experience.  Firstly, it doesn’t do any harm that’s for sure and it can be very cathartic.  I try to keep a journal of personal intentions and people/situations that I pray for and I can honestly say that I often go back and find that 90% of them will have been answered.  I also find that during unstructured prayer or silent contemplation I often receive the answer to a problem or have a sense of peace about an important decision or difficult situation.  It’s nothing tangible but it’s undeniable and it’s happened too many times to be a fluke.

So, who can pray?  Well anyone obviously.  Those of faith or of no faith.  There are no qualifications required.  Anyone can talk to God, anywhere, at anytime about anything.  It really is that simple.  You don’t need all the structure and books that I use.  I use those things to keep me focussed and accountable but I also have unstructured times when it’s just me and God.  Prayer is not a ‘one size fits all’ thing.  It’s unique to each person to pray as they feel.  Sometimes, it’s just a word thrown heavenwards.  An arrow prayer launched towards God in a moment of desperation or difficulty.  It’s quite simply a conversation with God where you get to say what you want or just sit and listen with the ear of your heart.  

God bless. . .

Sharon xx

You might also like this previous post = “What is prayer?”

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As promised I thought I’d share something of my time at St Beuno’s, a Jesuit Spirituality Centre in North Wales.  I went there at the end of June this year and, although it’s been on my Bucket List for a few years, I can’t actually remember what finally prompted me to book an individually guided [silent] retreat.  One minute I was just browsing their website and the next the retreat was booked and paid for and the train tickets purchased with only two weeks to wait!  I’m not usually known for that level of spontaneity, but sometimes the stars just align and you have to go with it.  As the previous posts explain I was in the middle of a bit of a crisis of denomination which I’d been unable to resolve on my own. I knew about St Beuno’s from a three part, BBC documentary I’d watched back in 2010, “The Big Silence”.  It was later released on DVD but I’ve checked and it seems to be ‘currently unavailable’ so I’m sorry, but I can’t link it for you.  I bought it a few years ago because I enjoyed the documentary so much, certainly worth buying if you ever see a copy.

I didn’t have a set agenda for the retreat other than to just go and be open to whatever came my way.  I was in such a mess spiritually that I just hoped for a bit of clarity and direction really.  I’ve also found, having been on a few retreats before, that if you go with a ‘shopping list’ of things you want to achieve they rarely happen.  We make plans and God laughs, as the saying goes.

I caught the midday train out of MK with a view to arriving in Rhyll just after 3pm.  I’d booked my taxi in advance and, like a star, he was there waiting for me at the station.  I finally walked through the huge front door of St B’s at 3.45pm.  Super friendly welcome and my room was just gorgeous, I’d splashed out on an ensuite room as I was only there for the weekend and it was so worth it; absolutely immaculate too.  I was up on the Priest’s Gallery and the view was outstanding.  I was left to unpack with the promise of coffee downstairs.  I found my itinerary on the desk in my room; I was all set.

There were a few of us there just for the weekend [other longer retreats were happening at the same time] and we were each allotted a Spiritual Guide.  Mine was Helen and she was so calm and wise.  God chose well!  I worried that entering into the Silence would be difficult and I knew I didn’t have long to adjust, but not at all, I literally ‘RAN’ into that silence and embraced it immediately.  Obviously much needed!  It’s made much easier by the gentle ethos of the place and the fact that everyone around you is also being silent.  I quickly settled into the daily rhythm.  The gardens and breath-taking scenery are also very conducive to contemplation and self-discovery.  It’s not boring, oppressive or stifling as some might think, more welcoming and comforting.  I had a sense of anticipation….because there in the silence….sooner or later….you find….God!

We met with our guides at least once everyday at a set time, I met with Helen twice on the last day.  You’re advised to enter into prayer three or more times a day.  There is Eucharist everyday in the main chapel and a smaller chapel for your use with various other rooms set aside for prayer or reflection.  The gardens are stunning and perfect for prayer and reflection.  Lots of beautiful walks due to the location.  A large library for your use.  A fully stocked art room is available for those who enjoy being creative as part of their expression of faith.  The food was yummy and plenty of it with drinks available all day.  I was blown away quite frankly and I’d return in a heartbeat, in fact I plan to do so as soon as I can.

Being a Jesuit Centre you are introduced to a lot of Ignatian spiritual exercises to help you pray, meditate, centre and focus.  I also used art, scripture and poetry to help me while I was there.  I’d never used images before and it was quite a revelation and very productive, I’d always actively shied away from using art but I’ve no idea why because it was amazing!  I’ve continued using religious pictures since I’ve been home with equal sucess.  I have an affinity with Ignatian spirituality and have become a bit of a closet Jesuit over the last few years.  It’s a charism that fits well into daily life and can be lived out very successfully in both a secular or monastic setting.  THIS book by Fr James Martin, SJ was what started my Jesuit journey, but there is a plethora of information and resources online should you be interested.  Fr Martin has also written many other amazing and eminently readable titles which I can’t recommend highly enough.  

So, the end of the retreat came all too soon and Helen and I felt a weekend just wasn’t long enough.  However, as I mentioned before, she promised to put me in touch with a Sister local to me, which you may have read about in the previous posts, and that meeting proved to be a complete blessing.  Usually when I leave a retreat I find it really difficult to readjust back in to regular life, particularly the noise lol.  However, this time I very much brought the peace and stillness with me and I avoided the usual post-retreat hangover as I pretty much floated my way through the next few weeks.  With Helen’s guidance, I had achieved so much in such a short time and was very much back ontrack spiritually speaking; things have gone from strength to strength since.  God’s hand was all over the preparations and the success of that weekend. The ressurection of this blog is also a testimony to that as I feel I actually have something I want to share and write about again.

If you ever get the chance to go on a retreat, be that religious or otherwise, then I’d strongly suggest you do it.  Some places offer Quiet Days which are equally valuable and don’t involve quite such a commitment of time or money.  Our lives are so busy and noisy that time alone in silence and stillness can be hugely beneficial to both your spirit and your mental health.

Every blessing. . . .

Sharon xx

[click on an individual photograph at the top of the post to see it enlarged]

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So, following on from yesterday’s post about church and possible reasons why people do or don’t attend, I thought today I’d write a little about my relationship with ‘church’ and how that has changed over the years.  Yesterday’s post might make some people wonder why I go to Mass [church] at all if I rarely find or ‘hear’ God there so I thought an explanation was in order.

Naively I always thought that people of faith just went to church and that was that.  Easy!  They might attend a church they always went to with their family or they might find a new one if they moved, but either way it seemed pretty clear and straightforward.  Hmmm lol the reality turned out to be a little more tricky than that.  To recap I received my Calling in June of 2006.  I didn’t live in MK then, I lived out near Banbury, in a little village called Sulgrave.  For three years after my calling I remained purposely non-denominational.  Partly because I was unsure what the next step was and partly because, in the May of 2007, I moved to MK.  Once here I tried lots of churches and denominations on for size.  I’d mostly worshipped in Anglican ‘pointy spire’ churches as a teen and in my twenties, which encouraged me to give that a go here.  I also tried the Quakers, the charismatic evangelical Happy Clappys and the Baptists.  All were lovely, all were welcoming but none felt like Home.  

2008 found me still without a spiritual home but there had been some defininte and persistent nudgings from God towards catholicism which horrified my mother who was a lapsed, pre-Vatican II, cradle Catholic.  Taught by nuns and raised in “fear for her immortal soul with the distinct possibility of burning for all eternity in the fiery pit”.  You can see her point but I felt things had possibly moved on by 2008 surely?  They had indeed, I found an amazing Priest in Fr J, told him I was a divorcee and he told me, “God meets you where you’re at” and before I knew it I was attending Mass every Sunday and yes, finally I felt I’d found my spiritual home.  During the Easter Mass of 2009 I was received into the Catholic church, it was beyond wonderful!!  My mother didn’t attend. 

All sorted you’d think wouldn’t you?  Well things change, priests you didn’t realise you relied on so much move to another parish.  You listen to dogmatic people and read dogmatic literature which tells you that divorced catholics aren’t allowed to take Holy Communion.  You doubt yourself and before you know it you’re not enjoying Mass anymore.  You stand there feeling a fake and a fraud.  You try a new parish and all seems fine but eventually Mr Nagging Doubt comes back and starts pecking away at you again.  Let me be clear, no one in my parish ever said anything negative or unkind to me, it was all about my own self-doubt and feeling like I should ‘come clean’ which is ridiculous given that I’d ‘come clean’ at that very first meeting with Fr J.  Admitedly there were some priests that I felt wouldn’t have given me the time of day but, for the most part, all the clergy were lovely and supportive.  What I didn’t realise was that this was between me and God, not me and the Church. 

Fast forward to 2017 and the death of my mother in the July followed by the life-threatening complications after my surgery at the end of October, and suddenly there were more emotions flying around than I could deal with.  I certainly wasn’t up for the weekly self-imposed emotional torture of Mass.  So I stopped going and the certainty about my choice of denomination plummeted.  Not so much a crisis of faith, more a crisis of denomination.  If anything, my faith and relationship with God improved rapidly and drasticly once church was removed from the picture.  That was when I realised that church, instead of enabling and facilitating my relationship with God, was actually hindering it massively but I didn’t understand why and was still too all over the place emotionally to even begin to work it out.

In early 2018 I went back to a few of the denominations I’d tried before.  I also went to Mass very occasionally, but never in my own parish, only where no one would know me.  Nothing felt right anymore and I was very lost at this point and quite sad that I’d got it so wrong.  In early June ’18 I found myself on the St Beuno’s website looking at retreats, I still can’t remember what prompted me to do that. [my photo’ at the head of the page is one I took of St Beuno’s at sunset]  It was one of those moments when everything aligns; I had the money, despite it being close to the retreat there was still a space, it fitted with Simon’s schedule, I bought the very last train ticket for that day…it just all fell into place effortlessly.  Clearly meant to be. 

That weekend was truly fantastic and marked a huge turning point. I would do it an injustice to try and talk about that here so I’ll save it for another post but suffice to say I had an amazing Spiritual Guide in Helen and I left there feeling back on-track and with a promise to be put in touch with a Sr who lived locally to me here in MK so I could talk further about my issues with attending Mass.

True to her word I had an email from, and consequently a meeting with, the aforemetioned Sr M who was just lovely.  Such a down to earth, compassionate lady with a super twinkly smile.  Very intouch with real life and she put me straight very quickly.  What the Catholic Church teaches and what happens in reality and practise are not always the same thing.  Reading a lot of dogmatic literature can be damaging.  My relationship is with God first and foremost and the church second.  The church teachings and the recent papal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia clearly state that it’s down to your personal conscience regarding receiving Holy Communion at any time.  In my heart I think I knew all this but it was so good to hear someone actually say the words.  I felt lighter suddenly.  We also discussed the possiblity of Mass and, at her suggestion, I would try a different parish still close to me but not with people that knew me, a fresh start.  It also offered weekday Mass which was super handy for me as Sundays are often homework heavy and, if Si is on-shift, that just leaves me to help Ethan if he needs some support.  I do like a plan!!

This feels like the perfect place to leave part one.  I will carry on tomorrow. 

 

Sharon xx

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