I have just returned from my annual retreat, which for the last four years I have taken at the Friary of the Society of Saint Francis, Alnmouth, Northumberland. The combination of open space and a religious house is perfect for getting away from it all. In the past I have taken my retreat in various locations, either alone, or with others. What is vital is that my time away is spent in an environment immersed in prayer and with a daily prayerful structure. At Alnmouth the community prays together at 7am, 12noon, 5pm and 9pm. There is a daily mass after noon prayers at 12.15am. I’m always struck by something new and this year, I think for the first time, I was very conscious of just how slowly and prayerfully we recited the psalms. It was like a brake being applied, it felt a bit awkward at first, I recognised an impatience in myself which wanted to move things along, but after the first day I relaxed into the routine, and what a difference. The psalms are a treasury of lived human experience in relationship with God. To recite the psalms so slowly, is to be immersed in each word, or phrase, it was a wonderful experience. Try it.
I know this is rather belated, but Happy Birthday to Ruby who two weeks ago celebrated her 101 birthday!
I have recently returned from a pilgrimage to Romania which has been a wonderful experience, the highlight being visits to the painted monasteries in the north of the country. Their most unusual feature is that they have paintings on their outside walls as well as inside, being mostly protected from the elements thanks to large, overhanging roofs. In the Romanian Orthodox tradition a combination of words and images is the main way of communicating the Christian faith.
I attach two photos of the painted monastery at Voronet, considered to be ‘The Sistine Chapel of the Orient’ erected by Stefan the Great in 1488, with the exterior walls being painted in 1547. One photo gives an overall view of the church, surrounded by the monastic buildings. The other is a photo of the western wall on which is painted the Icon of the Last Judgement, a meditation on the meaning of our existence in this life and in the life to come.
After travelling hundreds of miles round Romania, it was good to be back in London in time to celebrate the Grand Re-opening of the Upper Room last Thursday. This wonderful charity which works with socially and economically disadvantaged people from some of the most deprived areas of London, and which St Nick’s supports, has reached another milestone in its development. It has just completed a new mezzanine floor which will incorporate its Hub for the Homeless project, enabling it to expand the wonderful range of support it already offers. We wish them every success in this exciting venture!
With every blessing