Exploring New Monasticism
Thank you Jane and Andrew for a restful home. I loved being chief berry picker (and eater!), cooking up a storm in the kitchen, joining in the daily routine, walking the countryside and learning about the Celtic saints and the area. I am sure this place will only continue to grow in spirit and life as more and more people enjoy your space - Mishal
We celebrate 10 years of this house of prayer and hospitality .....
Enjoy the pictures of 'Then and Now'
2016 - has been a year of linkage with people and organisations that may or may not have a part to play in the future of L’Abri, but we give thanks to God for the opportunities to meet new people, sow seeds, receive seeds to sow ourselves, and leave God to do the watering and harvesting in His own good time.
These linkages have varied from Northumbria contacts in the UK – particularly the other houses in Oxfordshire and Hereford, people in Ukraine, where Jane visited in February, the New Frontiers church which has started this year in St Hilaire-du- Harcouët, France Mission representatives at an away day in Portsmouth, people connecting via the website from France, Nigeria and South America, our Dutch friends – old and new, the local people – particularly English speakers. There have been social events and BBQs, as well as formally planned Community Group events and the annual Easter Retreat.
A major project – now complete – that Jane has been involved in for some time, was the translation into French of the Daily Offices, Complines, set of meditations for 31 days, and the music melody lines. This work is now published in two booklets, and available from L’Abri à Suvigny and the Mother House.
Changing family circumstances have also had an influence on the year and resulted in much travel between France and the UK as well as South Africa! There are more changes afoot next year with our daughter’s impending marriage, and Andrew coming to live permanently – we hope – at L’Abri à Suvigny. Brexit is a major issue which may adversely affect this, but we hope not, and trust God for all our tomorrows, however uncertain they are.
Looking back over this year, I wondered what sort of image would encapsulate something of our experiences in 2017. The image of a boat on a restless sea seemed to spring to mind. And then my mind wandered onto the links with the Celtic saints who came back and forth between Gaul (Celtica) and Ireland, Wales and Cornwall (Britannia). They went through seas of change into the unknown, landing where the wind took them, and never quite sure when they would return to the land of their fathers, or if they ever would.
We too, have spent a fair bit of time literally on boats this year, and also in a more metaphorical sense, floating on a sea of change. This can be unsettling, and disturbing, fearful and stormy, but it can also be glorious, calm, exciting, and a deep learning experience.
So, how did all this change come about for us at L’Abri this year? Well, Andrew handed in his notice working for the URC Eastern Synod, and left the office in mid-March. We immediately took to the seas in an amazing trip from the French Island of Reunion via Mauritius, the Seychelles, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. During this lengthy time at sea, we experienced wonderful international friendship, mostly speaking languages other than English, with a crew and passengers from all parts of the world. We learned from a most informed and sensitive lecturer from Bologne University about the culture, politics, philosphies and religions of all the regions we visited. Together with wonderful scenery (thousands of photographs!), great entertainment, and in depth conversations with our new found friends, we explored whole ways of thinking and believing, and seeing the world through new and widened eyes. Andrew and I also used the time fruitfully to rebond with each other to prepare for our return to France as a couple, after our 5 years alone and together.
Coming back to France, we were welcomed by Sarah and her financé, Mateusz, who had been looking after L’Abri in our absence. So we became a team of 4 running the house and grounds, and welcoming visitors. This meant more adaptation and change to the dynamics and organisation of the house of prayer and retreat.
With the wedding of Sarah and Mateusz at the end of July, there was much to prepare for, and arrangements to be made, in the French system, which was unfamiliar to all of us. At last the days leading up to the wedding arrived, and family and friends from all over the world started to gather at L’Abri and nearby Gîtes, and the time was fun, full and festive. The big day arrived, and everyone had a wonderful time, made particularly special by the fact that the blessing service in the church was allowed to be taken by a minister from the church in the UK where Sarah grew up, a Scot who loves all things Celtic. So we were able to design a Celtic flavour ceremony in a part of France where the good Celtic ones of old had also been able to serve in this manner many centuries ago.
Of course, their marriage means a change in family dynamics, and although they are currently still living here with us as part of the team, they will have to spend time in the UK over coming months as Mateusz finishes his degree. Thereafter, they do not know if they will be able to return to France to seek work and live, but this is their desire.
Andrew and I continued to travel on ferries back and forth between Normandy and the Isle of Wight because of our property there, which we were finding it difficult to sell. The political and financial uncertainties in the current climate between the UK and Continental Europe deeply affect us all, and none of us knows what lies ahead.
So, in all this change and uncertainty, where do we find our hope?
My mind goes back to the boats……… in a vessel on a rough sea, the most stable point is the centre, the pivot around which all other motion functions. This is the place to go to, to avoid the unpleasantness of ‘mal de mer’. So too, in our spiritual journeying, the centre is the place to go to, frequently and regularly, tapping into the art of meditation and contemplative prayer, in order to allow God to seep into the rest of our turbulence, and make it calm. To let Christ give us the ‘peace which passes all understanding’, when all around is in turmoil, changing and challenging, and unknown.
‘Lord, I (we) will trust You, help me (us) to journey beyond the familiar, and into the unknown. Give me (us) the faith to leave old ways and break fresh ground with You. Christ of the mysteries, can I (we) trust You to be stronger than each storm in me (us)? I (we) will trust in the darkness and know that my (our) times are still in Your hand.’
On the physical side, we have invested in solar panels to become more self-sufficient and eco-friendly in our use and production of energy. This has not been straightforward, and has taken more than 6 months to get all the different organisations linked up to each other so that the installation, production, recording, transmitting of information, and sale back to EDF in contracted and completed. We are still at the last stage incomplete! So, patience is very necessary and taking the long view – very counter-cultural in our modern world……
Another big challenge has been to tame the now well-developed woodland, as some of the trees, notably the aspens, are something like 30m high and well beyond us! So we are endeavouring to curb and prune younger trees to shapes that will be farmable in an ongoing and effective way – dangerous work and needing patient and skill in handling.
The beauty of the autumn in the woodland this year was breath-taking.
We have added 3 Suffolk sheep to our livestock, and they are a delight – friendly and interested in what we are doing outside, keeping Carlos the pony company so that he is not so lonely, and helping to keep the grass under control.
Next year, we hope to have rabbits too, and yes, they are destined for the pot to help in meat supply. Talking of supplies, we had enough butternut squashes to feed an army this year thanks to seeds germinating in one of our compost bins, and more seeds germinating in our daughter’s cupboard! All put to good use, and with the long hot dry summer, a perfect season for an abundant crop. Also a good year for apples with the previous wet of the winter followed by the warmth and reasonably windless summer.
and Airbnb, as well as our usual monastic retreat days and other retreats on demand from those seeking time with God for specific or not so specific purposes. This has meant many and varied interesting people coming through our doors. We continue to hold the prayer in the same vein as the Day 31 meditation ……… that ‘God will bring the people of His choice and keep others firmly away.’ Our prayer is always that in both the timing and the people that come, it will be for God’s purposes and the growing of His Kingdom.
Of course, Brexit gives us all concern, particularly those of us who will become 3rd country nationals after the UK’s departure from the EU – a profoundly sad and unfortunate decision by the UK government after what has been shown to be a very faulty method of getting there. Something which would sadden the heart of Jesus, who always welcomed the stranger, uplifted the outcast, and spoke of brotherly love as the most important thing binding us all together in this life and the next. Division, racism and treating the ‘other’ as somehow unworthy, were at the back of the queue of his teachings about the Kingdom of God.
How awful it has been to witness the hate speech, sectarianism and unkindness coming out of the mouths of leaders in the UK, both towards their fellow Britons, as well as to their nearest neighbours across the Channel. As a Community, we feel we must fight this and present a completely different face of English speakers living as immigrants in France.
As one draws towards Christmas again, one is reminded that the Son of God was an immigrant and a refugee, fleeing with his family to a foreign land in the hope that it would take them in and house them until it was safe to go home. If Egypt had been as unwelcoming to them as nations are today in their refusal to help immigrants and refugees, we would have no Christmas story to tell at all.
In the words of Brigid the hospitable one –
There is a friend’s love in the gentle heart of the Saviour.
For love of Him we offer friendship and welcome every guest.
Lord, kindle in my heart a flame of love to my neighbour,
to my enemies, my friends, my kindred all,
from the lowliest thing that liveth to the name that is highest of all.
I would welcome the poor and honour them.
I would welcome the sick in the presence of angels
and ask God to bless and embrace us all.
Seeing a stranger approach - I would put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place, music in the listening place,
and look with joy for the blessing of God,
who often comes to my home in the blessing of a stranger.
We call upon the Sacred Three
to save, shield and surround
this house, this home, this day,
this night and every night, each single night.
The year of 2019 was a year of much hospitality – some we enjoyed with family in New Zealand with Andrew’s sister, husband and sons. This was a lovely reunion, and for Jane the first time of meeting with her nephews. Later in the year Jane took part in a mini-reunion with some old school mates in Ireland, which was also a time of blessing.
The rest of the year we were the ones extending the hospitality to many people, mostly through our Chambre d’hôte business, but also several retreat guests and other friends. We keep to the monastic rhythm no matter who is here, while maintaining flexibility on times or not always engaging in a given office because it it inappropriate for the immediate context. We find that the spirit of monasticism pervades while also being able to accommodate individuals and their needs. This is because we are not a group of people, but a couple, and sometimes more people, and our daily pattern is shaped by the context we find ourselves in from day to day.
We have also been able to spend some time on the continued renovations and maintenance of the property, making good use of the dry weather and plenty of sunshine to renovate the front of the house. We are pleased that the solar panels installed last year have proven their efficiency in not needing much from the National Grid.
We also re-roofed the chapel and extended it with a porch which both protects the chapel and provides a place for people to stand in the dry when coming in and out of the chapel. This was necessary because the roof has been leaking for a few years, and we didn’t want permanent damage to happen to the chapel or the contents.
The barn also needed the gable redone, as the initial work undertaken all those years ago was letting in water, and the internal beams were rotting. That is now well-protected, and should last for a very long time.
We have also extended our animals to sheep and rabbits. These are partly for enjoyment of sharing one’s lives with animals, partly as grass control, and also for the table.
Our vegetable garden has also been most productive, and this, together with the orchard provides most of our non-meat needs. The woodland now provides nearly all our log-burning requirements, so the initial dream of being reasonably self-sufficient and eco-friendly is definitely coming to fruition now.
Life has got more complex and busy, and we are challenged to keep the simplicity of the monastic principles when the local community, family, ongoing maintenance, and visitors keep us very occupied. How to find a balance, is a continual question we ask ourselves.
Being too busy leads to hurry, and ‘hurry is an unpleasant thing in itself, but also very unpleasant for whoever is around it. Some people came into my room and rushed in and rushed out and even when they were there, they were not there – they were in the moment ahead or the moment behind. Some people who came in just for a moment, were all there, completely in that moment.
Live from day to day, just from day to day.
If you do so, you worry less and live more richly.
If you let yourself be absorbed completely,
if you surrender completely to the moments as they pass,
you live more richly those moments.’
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
(taken from Celtic Daily Prayer – book 2)