Exploring New Monasticism
I think the last year proved a very difficult one for many people across the world, not least the Ukrainians in the aftermath of the invasion by Russia, and this had knock on effects to all of us in Europe and the wider world. I got involved in helping out with the welcome of Ukrainian refugees in the local area in France, and all of us were hit with increasing fuel prices and inflation in the cost of food and other commodities. People wanted to get back to 'normal' after the pandemic, as it gradually subsided in its impacts, but the other events were causing problems which made it very difficult to do so. Many were still afraid to mix with other people in close proximity, and so we continued with our online events, prayer, conversation, fellowship, and general meeting together online for mutual support.
We decided to buy a second hand comfortable caravan which is self-catering, so that folk could gradually begin to have the confidence to come and stay again.
We continue with the renovation of the gite so that will also be available sometime in 2023 for those who want more comfortable accommodation. We were very involved with being grandparents and the various health challenges met by Sarah and her little daughter. Thankfully, her husband was able to work from home some of the time and retained his job, where there are many who are not secure in their work. Sarah's had dropped off a lot during the pandemic, but gradually picked up more towards the end of the year.
Having mininstered as best we could through the year in person, in our local area, and internationally through our online groups and communications, we realise that we will need to find a new direction in the year ahead, and so feel we have reached a time for waiting on the Lord to see what He has in store for us in coming months and longer. Decisions will need to be made. Choices in line with God's desires that will serve Him best. If we set our hearts on Him, He will open up the subtlety, nuances, shadows and contradictions, as well as the brokenness and variance in almost everything. But if we surrender to the Great Love, He will be faithful and help us all find ourselves, and a life of abundance in Him, no matter what the wider world looks like. These are our hopes by day, and our prayers by night - the dawning of a new tomorrow.
The year 2021 challenged the whole world - with the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the fallout economically, socially and in the mental health of groups and individuals across the world. Many found this year harder to deal with than last year. There is a huge disparity between developed countries and their access to vaccination and treatment, with the wealthier countries streets ahead of the poorer countries, and the 'we're all in the same boat' mantra that was trotted out in 2020 has failed to materialise. The differences between rich and poor have become ever more stark during the whole of the pandemic. in addition to this, the global challenges and changes needed to combat the effects of climate change continue to make the younger people, and those in lowlying and arid areas fear the future, and those in comfortable suburbia ignore it at best, and deny there is a problem, at worst. A mood of despondency and hopelessness resides in the minds and hearts of many.
So how are we as followers of Christ meant to respond? We can't solve the problems that are global in nature. We can't make the decisions that those in power make, and our influence on them seems less and less significant, as world leaders continue along the well worn pathways that have not worked in the past, and are unlikely to work in the future. We can't meet the huge need that there is across the world because it is too big a problem for individuals. The media constantly brings bad news to our attention, and it is difficult to find the light in the tunnel.
But, we are in touch with the Divine, and that must surely bring hope. Prayerfulness, as individuals and in small groups can help those directly involved, as well as those for whom we pray. We can utilize the modern media and technology to reach those we cannot meet in person. We can create an eco-friendly world in our immediate environment, as much as possible. We can choose to buy less, grow more - even in a pot on the windowsill, recycle, re-use and mend rather than replace items we need in our daily living. We can try to find the positive in every situation we find ourselves in. We can reach out to God in our pain and disappointments, allowing Him to transform us through them. And we can be kind and generous to those we encounter in the place where we live. Giving the time to listen to others in their struggles, can sometimes be the best gift we can give them.
The way of Saint Francis, Charles de Foucauld, and Anthony of the desert, among may others, is to live simply, engage with nature, and see the Christ in all creatures. We can do well to emulate them.
On a practical level, our year has been mostly about the very protracted move and development of the new location for our ministry at Savigny-le-Vieux, but has also had the laughter and tears associated with the birth of our grandchild. We are delighted that Anya is now part of our family - what joy a new life can bring, and how directly they can put us in touch with simplicity and pure love. That is probably more from the point of view of the grandparent than the view of the exhausted parents, up at all hours and sleep deprived for months on end! But Jesus knew what He was talking about when he said that 'of such is the kingdom of God'. They do give us a portal into the spiritual world and the innocent connectednes with the source of divine love that we all had once, and somehow lost as we grew up. May we all discover that connectedness in the best way we can, as we head towards another year in 2022.
For all of us 2020 has been an unusual year right across the world, to put it mildly! For some, it has been a year of tragedy and loss – friends, family, jobs, ways of living, social contact, disruption to education and so on. For others, it has been a turning point, a time to reflect, regroup, find a better way of living, enjoy the lack of busyness, the time alone, the time to try out new hobbies, pick up old ones, do more cooking, do less activities – you can fill in the gaps, I am sure. These things all point to paradox, one of the things the Northumbria Community novitiate process invites us to embrace, and one which probably underlines the nature of life, love and God.
I think we have all discovered, and perhaps tired of, Zoom, for a multitude of reasons. We have certainly found it has helped to serve people in keeping together virtually, if not in person. This has helped in linking people across the Continent of Europe and beyond. Due to the limits of people movement as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have had regular Evening Prayer with folk from Africa, the Continent of Europe as well as the UK via Zoom. We have also linked with other NC companions and friends across France, Germany, the Netherlands and Hungary in conversations and a new fledgling NC in Europe group.
People have managed to come on retreat in between covid-19 lockdowns to us here at L’Abri à Suvigny, but it has been more challenging than previous years, and some have had to cancel their plans. It was particularly good to welcome Gerd and Sybille from Germany, and have a conversation about the group to help connect people across the Continent of Europe.
We were blessed to be able to share in a family holiday to South Africa to link up with Andrew’s family there celebrating a big birthday for his father, and that renewed our love for the country and the folk living there. The natural landscape, vibrancy and colour of South Africa always energises and inspires us. Happily, we saw no violence or criminal activity while we were there, although we know these are ever present, and form a paradox with the beauty of the region that can, at times, be overwhelming. Later on this year, we were given the wonderful news that our daughter, Sarah, and her husband will be parents for the first time (God-willing) in the Spring, so we enter a new chapter as grandparents!
And now for the news about L’Abri à Suvigny. It is soon to become L’Abri à SAVIGNY, as we move from our location between Mortain and Saint Hilaire-du-Harcouët to Savigny-le-Vieux, near to the ruins of the 11th century Cistercian monastery that was started by Saint Vital, the most influential monk in these parts at that time. He was also chaplain to Robert de Mortain, and his hermitage is just outside Mortain where he retreated for some time in his life before being given extensive lands (including the forest around Savigny) by the Comte de Mortain to build several abbeys and monasteries.
We have purchased a farm house and multiple barns, and amazingly, it also has a chapel which needs restoration and revival. So, our next challenge is to rebuild the ancient ruins, raise up the foundations of old and mend the broken altar, hopefully reawakening the interest of the local French population in its use.
We hope there will be folk from the Community who will be interested in joining us on this new adventure in the fullness of time. Interestingly, this property has its own upper and nether springs. Our water source is from near the top of the hill above the house, and there is a well just near the house, so that seems to reflect something which has been important in the story of the Mother House.
We are currently engaged in managing the handover of Suvigny to the delightful couple who have bought it as the fulfillment of their dream to own a home and live in France – very much a ‘meant to be’ for them, and they will continue its story, revering the past, and building for the future. Continuing here was made impossible for us because of the car accident and subsequent injuries that I suffered to my back, which meant I couldn’t do the DIY anymore.
We have learnt much from our time here, and put into practice the risky living that is the Celtic way, but it is now time to move on and pick up new and different challenges, but also to be available to the opportunities in the place that God has chosen. We will be able to continue the links and friendships we have built up over the years in this region of Normandy, but also, open the door to new relationships and an adjusted future for ourselves that will be more suited to our current situation.
So, for us, a new chapter begins, although the stories and memories of people from the past will still be there to sustain and inspire us. We hope to welcome many more people to the new ‘L’Abri’ at La Vallée, Savigny-Le-Vieux. We will keep this website updated to keep you informed, as well as contributing to the Mother House newsletter.
This life ensures we are surrounded by seeming paradoxes, separation, and togetherness, loss and gain, the past and future, not knowing, yet trusting, feeling powerless but faithful, lonely, and yet linked, experiencing tragedy and celebration, life taking a sudden twist, and then new paths becoming visible. If we take time to see, in all these things we find the eternal Christ, sometimes hidden, sometimes revealed, not the ‘either or’, but the ‘both and’ in whom ‘all things hold together’ (Eph 2:21), and through whom, all things are reconciled (Col 1:20). We hope and pray that, as we enter this new year of 2021, we may all find the Christ consciousness that will enable us to connect with paradox and mystery in a way that will transform us more and more into His likeness, and enable us to hold together the paradoxes that we find in ourselves and our lives.