Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The summer months have always been precious to me. As a child they meant 11 weeks of pretty much doing as I liked. Sure we (my five brothers and sisters) were sometimes dragooned into weeding the garden, or tidying the house, or some other chore, but mostly my mom let us be, and that meant we had not only our own beautiful farm to roam on, but the land all around us owned by our neighbours.
I especially liked getting out of the house and into some quiet place to read my book. We had a large family, and so a bit of quiet was always appreciated. Our house was kind of small, so in the winter months it was not that easy to find solitude, but in the summer I had a whole range of places that were quiet, comfortable, and special where I would sit and read my book, or just lay on the ground and look up at the sky through the green canopy of the oak trees.
That was one thing that was quite special about our farm, it has an abundance of oak trees which is not that common in the area, and I don’t know why it was so. Mostly the woodlands where I grew up were made up of fir and pine. I have always loved a grove of oaks, the way they stretch out their arms and sort of reach outward as well as upward, embracing and kind of lifting one up.
Last week I went to Durham and spent time in the cathedral attending services and just enjoying the atmosphere of peace and ‘otherness’ with a friend, after a very busy time at work. And of course, in addition to spending a fair amount of time sitting in the cloisters drinking coffee and eating cake from the café (they now have tables in the cloister where you can eat food from the café, I highly recommend it) I did visit the gift shop…okay I visited the gift shop on numerous occasions!
One of my purchases was a book by David Adam* who was vicar of the church at Lindisfarne. This week I began reading it, and as usual I quickly ran into thoughts that resonated with me and that I wanted to share with all of you. What a fortunate person, to serve God on Lindisfarne, and it's not surprising that his topic is holy places and pilgrimage. It really struck me when I read: ‘I believe that we rarely discover that the world is a holy place until we have found one holy place’. He goes on, ‘Once we find one holy place there is a chance for all to become holy’ (9).
Coincidentally, though perhaps not so coincidentally, because I often find that God provides us what we need from many different sources, I also read something in another book that also spoke to this theme. I often read from the book Celebrating the Saints** during my morning prayers which is a collection of daily readings that follow the calendar of saints and inspirational people celebrated in the Church of England Calendar.
I picked up this book in the gift shop at Canterbury Cathedral last year…okay, I know you are beginning to sense a theme here! Anyhow, I was curious about the different saints and saintly people that pop up in our daily calendar and this book has been a great way to begin to get acquainted with these people.
So on August 4 (my father and sister’s birthdays, but that may be one to many coincidences!) There was a reading from the spiritual guide, Jean-Baptiste Vianney. And in one passage he writes: ‘Prayer is nothing less than union with God. When the heart is pure and united with God, it is consoled and full of sweetness; it is transfigured by a wonderful light’ (292).
Reading the words of David Adams and Jean-Baptiste Vianney together again helped to remind me that this world, this most amazing and beautiful and life sustaining place, is an emanation of God’s love pure and simple. There are holy places all around us, places where when we stop and exist solely in God’s presence, place where the prayer of our heart bursts spontaneously from us, both enabled by the place in which we are, and the love that God that continually pours into our being. When this happens, that place, no matter where it is, becomes holy, and we step out of the linear time of our mortal lives, and live in God’s eternity.
I think the Holy Spirit taught me this before I even understood, in those quite summer days lazing about in the cool and quiet places of our farm in Yelm. Holy places surround us, and the place where we are, becomes one those holy places through prayer, through quieting ourselves in God’s presence, or sometimes simply through the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us, it can happen to anyone at any time! Churches, Cathedrals, forests, mountains, oak groves, our own gardens large or small, a corner of a room in a comfortable chair, sitting on the couch with a cat purring or a dog resting beside one, these are holy places. My readings this week reminded me that when the ‘business’ of the world is too much with me, then I only need to step into a holy place, opening myself to God’s presence, to be refreshed and strengthened in body, mind, and spirit.
With Blessings and Love
*David Adam, The Road of Life: Reflections on Searching and Longing (2004).
**Celebrating the Saints: Daily Spiritual Readings to Accompany the Calendars of the Church of England...new revised edition, ed. Robert Atwell (2016).