I was asked to offer a few thoughts about the recent Friends Weekend at St Beuno’s and thought a good way of doing this might be to record and transcribe my impressions. Here goes ...
And so my little gabled room looking out, as Hopkins might say, ‘Away in the loveable west, On a pastoral forehead of Wales, I was under a roof here, I was at rest.’ The windy forehead of Wales, I might add, the noise of that wind in the eaves, the noise of the wind when we're in the Chapel, just beautifully evocative of the Holy Spirit around you all the time. There's something which is very hard to define. I suppose a presence, an atmosphere that hints at the grandeur of God and the huge expansiveness of God. Is that what Gerard Manley Hopkins was picking up on? With the Windhover ‘the rolling level underneath him, the steady air…’
There is magnificence somehow here all around you in nature and in the building. Its nooks and crannies and little dark passages that open onto splendid newbuilds and brand-new open spaces. You never quite know where you are in the building and I got lost so many times, but there's a sense of exploration and being the wrong end of being lost, but in a good way, in a way of discovery.
So in the damp summer air, I went walking in the garden, the little garden where I went and sat and smelt the lavender, I stuck my nose right in it and pulled in the scent. The priests were buried nearby and then the roses of course, I studied them, and marvelled at them… those fat swollen roses full of glistening raindrops.
Walking on across the mossy lawn to a path and coming across the grotto of ‘Our Lady’. Now, as a protestant, I never did ‘get’ Mary but this time, I had a quiet time with her and opened up my heart about my turbulent relationship with my own mother and I felt an unexpected sense of connection. She and I sat and looked at each other and then I bowed my head and then went into my head, and I talked to her. I asked her to put a good word in for me in the best way I could.
That evening the film, The Quiet Girl, made a huge impression on me and the silence afterwards when it ended, no words from any of us, and being able to hold that silence with that group of people. The story of the child, the mother, Mother Mary: it all connected. Then walking outside holding back emotions and looking at the silhouette of the three pines as the sun was setting in the West, so towards the sea, orange and pink and blue. So beautiful.
So, of my encounters with God this weekend… well they were not forced but came from grace, I think. The moments in the garden, moments in the Chapel, moments when I'm reading my book, looking out of the window, or engaging with people across the dinner table. There's a thickness in the atmosphere of possibilities and potential. The same feeling you get when you used to start the beginning of the school autumn term and you got that sharpness in the air and you know that there's lots on the horizon before Christmas, but you are not sure what…
You know, I think that I had been clinging on to a facsimile of God of my own making. I thought of my own mind that I could control God via my prayers, kind of box him into giving me what I so desperately needed in recent turbulent and confusing times. But God is much bigger than our imaginations and what we can even possibly conceive.
I sat in the main Chapel on Saturday night for the exposition of the blessed sacrament, something I have done many times before, but this time it was different. Something moved in me of the almost terrifying grandeur of God. God is without form apart from the personification of Jesus, but the absolute grandeur of God is what I take away with me this weekend.
I think Saint Ignatius Loyola invited us to ‘Throw open the windows of your soul’ or suchlike, and it kind of feels that this weekend I have managed to do that on that damp, windy and gracious forehead of Wales.