There is something to be said for having an ordered mind.
I’ve been thinking about this recently because my life, probably like yours, can be very crowded at times- so many things to do and inevitably, things fall by the wayside. Technology is supposed to help, but even that can be a hindrance.. my overflowing email inbox is testimony to that and a constant reminder that I am running very hard to stand still, if that makes any sense.
Sometimes, it is impossible to just stop and be still.
Unless we make time and that is an increasingly rare commodity.
And so it was that for weeks I had been looking forward to joining an ecumenical pilgrimage to Landevennec, a Benedictine Abbey in Brittany. The five day journey was organised by Cornwall Churches Together who have been making the journey every two years since the 1980s. And I was grateful to be allocated a place along with thirty or so other pilgrims.
I may write in more detail about what happened during the pilgrimage in a future blog, but I just want to reflect a little here on a couple of aspects that really resonated with me. The bigger picture, as I see it.
Our days were very structured and we were encouraged to join the monks at these services throughout the day :
0520 : Vigils;
0800 : Lauds;
1115 : Mass;
1815 : Vespers;
2030 : Compline.
So you can see that there was a lot of praying ( and all in French, of course!)
I tried to follow the words, but most of the time, got completely lost, but it didn’t matter because the atmosphere and obvious spirituality of the monks transported you to a higher place. I will never forget receiving a blessing from the Abbot, Jean-Michel, whose face radiated goodness and light.
That was one of many moments which will stay with me forever.
But, going back to the structure of the day…our rooms were basic.. bed, chair, desk, wardrobe, sink. But with doors that lead onto beautiful gardens which overlooked the River Aulne. So during free time, you could sit and reflect in complete peace and privacy.
But what was so striking was the simplicity, a space without clutter. A place where you could appreciate everything around you.
One afternoon I found myself looking close-up at the jasmine bush next to my chair….I was so struck by its beauty and scent. I have jasmine in my garden at home, but I have never appreciated or really thought about it at all.
The environment and space encouraged me to look at things with a fresh eye and I hope I can hold on to that.
I have, as I may have mentioned before, a sweet tooth. I hadn’t thought to bring any treats, but on the first afternoon, I remembered a small six square bar of Bourneville which just happened to be at the bottom of my bag. I had to ration myself to one square each day and do you know, I savoured that and appreciated that little square so much. It made me think about the mountains of Easter eggs we all seem to have and how we think nothing of all the delights around us.
It made me realise that our lives have become so crowded with material things and stuff, that we have lost sight of what is really important.
I loved the simplicity and order that began to declutter my brain. Having time to make sense and appreciate the bigger picture.
Waking up early and making my way to the early vigil along a tree-lined pathway which was just beginning to come alive with birdsong, walking down into the intimate salle de prieres and waiting as the Brothers came in to begin their prayers…. realising that this ritual, along with all the other services, continues 365 days a year, day in day out, is comforting to me. I know that wherever I am in my life, they are there, continuing their order and structure and routine. And reaching a higher level of communication with God.
And on the first evening, a 24 hour Silence began. It wasn’t compulsory, but I think most of our pilgrim group wanted to observe it.
There is something immensely powerful about seeing people you know, members of your group and being silent. Eating together in silence is profoundly moving, all the clutter of life is stripped away, no adornment, just ourselves and our shared humanity.
How often are we really ourselves? Properly ourselves when in the company of others?
Just being quiet if we want to be quiet?
How often do we feel we need words to break an awkwardness of silence?
How often do we feel the need to be a little different to our true selves?
I realise how fortunate I have been to have been a part of this pilgrimage and I know it sounds self-indulgent, but it has changed the way I view the world. And I hope that lasts.
It has made me realise that the divisions and tensions in our society, the squabbling of party- politics, the desire for more and more material wealth, is an irrelevance when set against the magnificence and natural wealth of our world. There is a much bigger picture.
Perhaps by stripping away the layers of our lives, returning to some sort of simplicity and order, taking time to appreciate what we have and each other, sitting in stillness with each other, will lead to a new contentment for each of us and in time, a new stability for our world.
Thank you for reading all this…. by the way, we also had fun too!
And here are some photos of my lovely fellow pilgrims, including one of the Abbot Jean-Michel!