Category Archives: UK 2011

August 10, 2011

Andy finished his errand, and came straight back to the Crown and Anchor. He grabbed a Guinness, and in not just a few minutes, Jo and Emma arrived. They knew Andy already so it was an unexpected reunion for them. The next 90 minutes was a whirl of multiple conversations, a sense of something new in the midst of the strangely familiar (again) and three more people to love.

In the midst of catching up on bits of news from the NC Forum and frankly, getting to know these folks we had, in a sense, just met, there were moments of story telling that Andy and I shared, comparing notes, interviewing one another, establishing a common vocabulary on things spiritual and listening intently for cues for where God might be at work. It was one of those stretches of electrified time.

We had to move along because the tide was about to turn and we had to make our way off the island and to Nether Springs. But Andy very much wanted us all to meet his wife Anna, so he lead us down the lane to “settled” where 7 of us burst in on his unsuspecting family. Let’s just say that it was clear that this was not the first time they had experienced this kind of thing. 

We embraced and  quickly said our goodbyes and spoke of the possibility of meeting again in the next day or two . . . Then back across the causeway to the mainland, leaving the Upper Springs and heading South to the Nether Springs.

In a sense, this was” it”.

This would be the center piece of the trip. After all, historical family connections aside, we might have travelled to Malawi, or Brazil, or Antarctica if it wasn’t for the connection we have established with Nether Springs.

We arrived to a quiet house and a warm welcome from Rich and Adam, members of the House Team. Ingrid, another team member gave us the shake-down tour, helped us get settled into our rooms, and before we knew it, the bell rang out from the cloisters,  calling everyone in the house to Evening Prayer. 

This is the essence of the monastic life: you stop whatever activity you find yourself in the midst of, and you turn your attention Inward and Upward. It doesn’t matter if you are working, playing arriving or departing . . . all activity, all human endeavor is simply a corollary to our connection with God, and so it only makes sense, it simply serves as an expression of honest living, to put aside all corollary activity in order to give Him our attention. 

Mono-Astic: pursuing the ONE thing necessary.

This was the first time I had ever said Evening Prayer in a group. The first time I had sung the Canticle with others, the first time I had said an office with my whole family, the first prayer I had offered at the Mother House . . . And while it was not what I expected . . . It was what I had hoped for.

Over the course of the rest of the evening, we had dinner in the Refectory and we were introduced to most of the rest of the house team and a handful of other visitors.

Afterward, I went for a walk amongst the sharp evening shadows, and found that Nether Springs is as much a working farm as it is anything else. Three hogs penned and working to clear the brush would also become sausage in a year or so . . .  a thank you for their help.  A good sized heard of beef cows right next door, and acre upon acre of wheat and barley surround the place.

I waded into a waist deep field of grain until it felt like the middle, and slowly turned 360 degrees to take in the place. 

Land of my fathers . . . 

20 minutes later, as the the gravel of the parking lot crunched under my shoes on my return, the bell rang out again, calling me and the rest of the house to Compline. 

Even mystical journeys of self-discovery, exploring ancient family connections and thrilling adventure are merely shadows of the one thing necessary: God. 

It’s this essence of simply longing for more of God, seeking Him with your whole heart, soul, mind and body that is the draw of monactisim for me. Over the last few years as I have explored this, discussed it and studied it, I received some strange looks. There has been some good natured ribbing, and I’m sure that there have been a few whispers here and there. But here’s the deal: seeking the truth, longing for more of God, by definition,  MUST take you to apparently, (sometimes actual) strange places. If you NEVER get questioned about the books on your shelf, the amount of time you spend alone in quiet contemplation or how you spend your money, then I question whether you see God as the one thing necessary.

Don’t get me wrong; simply doing “questionable things” is not the same as seeking God. In fact it’s the opposite; it’s pursuing a desired image in the eyes of those around you by APPEARING to seek God. The goals are altogether different.

Imagine two kindergarten students. Both are given a piece of paper with an intricate design on it, a red crayon and instructions to color in the design . . . completely fill it up with red, don’t leave a single, tiny point within the design uncolored . . . .the “one thing necessary” is to get the design completely filled.

The child who doesn’t get it, will come to the inner edge of the line and stop, leaving tiny ( sometimes even large) gaps fear of going outside the lines . . . a rule they had assumed or been taught elsewhere and they are very afriad of being seen as disobedient.

The child who DOES get it will dig her crayon into the paper like a lumberjack digs his saw into a tree. The color will inevitably stab over the lines in places, because the obedient little child is working to accomplish the ONE THING NECCESSARY. Yes . . . There is color outside the lines. No, this is not the goal . . . BUT there is no fear . . . Why would the child spend any more energy on coloring outside the lines once she sees she’s crossed it,  if her GOAL is to color inside the lines? The obedient child recognizes the total waste of effort and resources, and readjusts her approach . . .there is little wasted, and she is not TRYING to color outside the lines. She is trying to do the one thing she was asked to do.

Later, when the teacher cuts away the extraneous paper from around the colored designs, the child who did not understand is handed back an incomplete picture, with gaps in the corners,  streaks and empty patches . . . A mongrel portrait. the child who understood, watches as the useless bits of paper, some blotched with her mistakes . . . her scratches that fell outside the lines, fall away to the  floor, forgotten, and what is left is a lovely, complete drawing, pleasing to her teacher.

 I smiled and picked up my pace as I headed up the walkway to put aside the day, and give thanks to the One who made it.

August 9, 2011

Lindisfarne, or Holy Island has been a place of Christian worship since the 6th century. It is the taproot which anchors the massive tree of Celtic Spirituality into the soil of Northumberland.

In the NC ethos, Lindisfarne is the Upper Spring, and the Mother House (located inland from Lindisfarne near the village of Hazon) is the Nether Spring, both of which were given by God in the midst of this spiritually dry land ( see Judges 1:14)

Google it and you will see haunting images of the ruined priory, of the castle which stands on an impossibly steep outcrop of rock jutting into the North Sea, and images of the causeway, to this day, still a pilgrim’s path which when covered, transforms the island from a busy tourist village, to serene place of quiet power.

We were able to experience both phases of life on Holy Island: The Ebb and the Flow.

The Ebb: the intimate isolation where one is left, almost alone, to wander the quiet streets, stand on a bluff overlooking the hermitage on tiny Cuthbert’s Island where a cross still marks the place where he spent countless hours in prayer and study, to answer the call of the lonely bell, beckoning one to join with a handful of other pilgrims in St. Mary’s for evening prayer. To listen to the score of different bird calls, unfettered by the sound of traffic or crowds. In the morning, strolling the beach wrapped in the downy cold of a thick, cloying fog ; no sound but the lapping waves.

The Flow: like a flock of birds descending with the parting fog, the first ranks of day visitors round the corner from the parking lot, breaking the silence with laughter and happy chatter, delivery trucks appear magically, madly unloading their wares as their customers arrive right on their heels. A long stream of bright colors can now be seen seen dotting the path to the castle. Where moments ago, there were only muted grays and brown; a canvas of isolation, now there are splashes of red and green and blue umbrellas, yellow rain slickers and dark blues jackets, dropped by a careless painter all the way to the horizon.

This reflects one of the key values of the NC (or any decently balanced Christian life for that matter) : Monestary and Mission, Ebb and Flow, times of work, and times of rest. We don’t balance these well in the west. But God gives us clues in places like Lindisarne . . . If we will see.
As a “last experience” on Holy Island, we arranged to meet some other NC friends at a pub called The Crown and Anchor. We had never met Jo and Emma in person before, but we had shared quite a lot of life together through the NC Internet Forum.

We grabbed a table for six and I stepped back outside to watch for Jo and Emma. Now at this point, I already had a lot reflect on, but I was thinking about how I had failed to find Andy Raine while on the island. 

Andy is one of the original founders of the NC and something of a legendary figure; “Crazy as a box of frogs” as one NC member put it. Andy dances the daily offices rather than just speaking or singing them. Andy is sort of a . . . Mary Poppins crossed with William Wallace meets Willy Wonka and Conann the Barbarian sort of character, and I was told that while on the Island, I should by all means, “knock him up” (which means something ENTIRELY different in the UK . . .so relax.) For those of you familiar with the G.K. Chesterton book, “Manalive”, the character Innocent Smith bears a good likeness.

I was told that he and his family live at the center of the village in a cottage called “settled” (almost all the homes on Lindisfarne have names). On two, sepeate walks around the village I looked for “settled” but could not find it. 

Now, as I  stood outside the Crown and Anchor, beginning to embrace the idea that Andy and I were not meant to meet on this trip, a tall man with 
an explosion of curly dark hair, wearing duck hunter’s garb and carrying a parcel, emerged from behind a garden wall. I recognized him from YouTube videos I had seen of him telling the NC story.

In the split second it took for me to recognize him, and begin evaluating whether I should NOW go introduce myself ( he was clearly in the middle of an errand, and I was waiting for Jo and Emma) he had turned to look right at me, and saw that I was looking at him.

He stopped, and a smiling expression of recognition crossed his face, a look like he was expecting me. Now I HAD to advance and introduce myself.

“Andy?” I asked.

“Yes.” He smiled.

I extended my hand as I stepped toward him, “I’m Dan Hazen, a friend of the NC and I just wanted to say ‘hello’.”

“I knew it when I saw you!” he said, “I was told to watch for a bloke yesterday, and I just thought, ‘oh well we missed each other’ . . .but as soon as I saw  you, I knew you were him.”

I guess we were supposed to meet after all . . . 

….to be continued.