Meet some very special people – Lance & Sue Blake – with whom I spent a wonderful 48-hours, at their Fenland Hermitage, in south Lincolnshire. Their calm devotion, warm hospitality, infectious humour, attentive hearts and gentle guidance imbues the whole place with a holy stillness.
Quickly I felt at home (evidenced, according to Lance, by wearing my slippers in the Chapel !) finding abundant space for prayerful reflection, in an atmosphere which called to mind a hymn-writer’s description: “the silence of eternity, interpreted by love”.
Conversation with these delightful folk flowed freely, giving the distinct impression I could share anything, and be heard lovingly, respectfully and non-judgmentally. And joining in the set periods of prayer in the Chapel was thoroughly uplifting (consisting of a simple liturgy followed by a period of silence for contemplative prayer).
Much time was spent in the high standard, modern, 2-bedroom ‘barn’ conversion – (self-contained, with self-catering facilities) – where I savoured the quiet to think, to pray, to read (Richard Rohr: “Falling Upward: A spirituality for the two halves of life”) & to journal – at will.
Uppermost in my meditations for some weeks has been the life-stage of ‘weaning’ referred to in Psalm 131 “I have calmed and quietened my soul like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” and this developed even further during these days. What a trauma – for child and for mother. What an appropriate analogy of baby believers experiencing first time withdrawal of God’s ‘felt’ blessings. What storms of self-assertiveness ! What howling gales of tyrannical thought blow through the soul in such a process ! What un-spiritual tantrums & rages !
But, moving on … the Fenland Hermitage is situated within easy reach of the Willow Tree Fen, a nature reserve run by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. So, armed with camera, I walked to the reserve, along the Macmillan Way, beside the River Glen – spending an hour or so engaging with the natural beauty of that area … and here’s a little sample for your delectation (click on a thumbnail to enlarge).
Back to base … beside which is the Willow Field containing a grass Labyrinth (not to be confused with a maze). This I was invited to walk under Lance’s gentle direction – being especially encouraged to enter it with a specific question – and as it happened, one sprang quickly to mind. I must confess, however, that I had no expectations whatsoever on setting out on this journey. Indeed, during the early stages I experienced deeply cynical thoughts – viz. “How silly for a 62-year old to be walking round a grass path on a cold January afternoon in the middle of nowhere” and again, “This seems oh, so meaningless”. Chillingly that developed further into: “I wonder if that’s what my life amounts to … meaningless-ness !”
Thankfully the ‘mood’ changed dramatically on reaching the centre, where I was immediately transfixed, as it were. With mind stilled but alert, with heart becalmed but open, thoughts downloaded thick and fast – thoughts of God as the centre of life – of God being my centre – there at the core of my being. (Remarkably, this flow included a distinct ‘answer’ to the question I’d taken into the Labyrinth, too). In those moments I found myself offloading much mental baggage, and freshly embracing God, His Will, and the Cross – the biblical idea of ‘dying to self’. There came with this a deepening sense of renewing grace. You may understand that I didn’t want to leave that place in a hurry – but eventually tore myself away and returned, with lighter heart, fleet of foot, to the end of the path. Lance had indicated that the Labyrinth represents a journey from God, to God – with Him at the centre. Finding this to be so after such initial disbelief only serves to magnify the divine mercy and mystery.
Photo: Sue Blake walks the Labyrinth (taken from the Fenland Hermitage website)
A long period of solitary reflection followed this experience, continued into a relatively sleepless night, where I laid for hours dwelling on what had occurred, allowing it to wash over me and considering the implications. God – my centre – awesome, liberating – flooding me with a new sense of the Father’s love, acceptance and peace, (like being born-again again) which no human words can adequately express – but as we say up North: “it’s better felt than telt”
One of the Hermitage’s prayer leaflets states: “Prayer is like watching for the Kingfisher: All you can do is be where he is likely to appear, and wait. Often nothing much happens. There is space, silence and expectancy, no visible sign – only the knowledge that he’s been there and may come again. Seeing or not seeing does not matter – you have been prepared. But sometimes when you’ve almost stopped expecting it, a flash of brightness gives encouragement”
Methinks, I caught a ‘fleeting’ glimpse of the Kingfisher
So, thank you Lance & Sue – for sharing your home, your love, your selves so readily, and so freely, with one who was previously a stranger, but who now has two hermits among his friends.
Here’s a link to their website, along with my heartfelt recommendation: