So every year there is a Diocesan Clergy Retreat, now held at Whitchester Retreat House just outside Hawick. It is all very comfy and chintzy with log fire and napkin rings and home cooking and butter knives. Now, we all know that I am not great with silence. I don’t mind a little of it – I call that “peace and quiet to read a book”. But frankly too much of it makes me go a little bit … what can I call it … strange. I start to regress and giggle at the slightest thing. I sigh loudly when really I’d like to share an insight with somebody. I catch people’s eyes and smile forlornly. And yes, one of these days I shall design a retreat for extroverts which is part-silence and lots of creativity.
However, until such times, I shall continue going to the annual clergy retreat because I’m familiar with the place and the people. This year our retreat was led by Bishop Gordon Mursell, retired Bishop of Stafford, now living in Scotland somewhere west and south, I think. And what a hoot he was! Very amusing, self-deprecating, witty, went off on tangents but always came back and the journey was always worthwhile. And that is what’s so annoying about silent retreats – you don’t get to dialogue with the retreat leader and that can be very frustrating because I’d have loved to chat with him at some of the talks. The topics were all about vocation and really worth listening to. I never once noticed how long he spoke (which is always a good sign with me) and I was often left wanting more.
So, apart from the daily offices and talks what did I get up to? Well, reading mostly as the weather was not the best. The second day was nice and sunny and I managed to inveigle someone else into escaping in the afternoon on a jaunt to Melrose for a wander round the shops and a coffee. But the third day was rain all day and cold so there was nothing else to do except read and build fires. As I stood outside on the doorstep having a ciggie or two, it did occur to me that the country was not really terribly silent either. Birds started at about 4am just as the bat flitting was dying down. Opposite we had a field of sheep and little lambs mehing and baaing and there was also what sounded like a turkey, but may have been a grouse or some such meal-in-waiting. What with that and the hot water pump between bedrooms 5 and 6 it was not exactly what I’d call silent either.
First book was Take This Bread by Sara Miles which I had started before I went off and was half way through. It was fabulous and I can thoroughly recommend it. The author, raised an atheist, wanders into a church one day, received communion and found herself transformed. The fact that this church happened to be St Gregory’s in San Francisco might have something to do with it, being a radical Episcopal church which loves to do liturgy. But it is Bread and food which capture her imagination and soon she is running a food pantry from the altar of the church for the city’s homeless and destitute. There are some wonderful characters throughout her story, many of whom we all meet in churches around the world, and it is a book to be read by old and new Christians alike. 5 stars.
The second book was Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson, author of Oranges are Not the only Fruit. I saw Winterson being interviewed by that blonde throaty woman who does the Book Show on Sky Arts, and it really caught my attention. For this is a memoir, partly written about in Oranges, of an adopted child who grows up with the very strange Mrs Winterson and her husband. Religion doesn’t come out particularly well in this book but that is what makes it so fascinating – the way that some people use faith for their own ends. The book is funny, shocking and sad but always very real. Another 5 stars.
Next I read the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy: Mockingjay. Now you might be thinking that this wasn’t very serious theological reading for a retreat but I have to say that there are some great themes in there. I couldn’t put this one down either and was delighted at the way it all ended.
I then started to read How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran but it was so funny and rude that there was a real danger of me exploding so I had to abandon that until a more private time. Instead I spent some time meditating on Woven Words by Mary Fleeson from Lindisfarne. The last three were read on my Kindle so people may have thought that I was reading the Complete Works of Barth, unlikely as that may seem. That’s the beauty of a Kindle. Nobody knows what you’re reading.
I did plan on doing a little blogging and footering around on Facebook and Twitter, but serve me right… I couldn’t get a great signal and there was no wi-fi. Going into Hawick and wandering about holding my phone in different positions only helped me get the urgent emails I needed so I didn’t really get to ‘chat’ with the outside world as I’d have liked. Someone somewhere was having a laugh at my expense, I’ve no doubt.
Finding a comfy chair to do all that reading was no mean feat, let me tell you. In the lounge at Whitchester there is a big comfy squashy sofa but it is of the kind that once you get into it, you may never get out of it elegantly once more. There is a rather delicious pink sort of Chesterfield but it is a little upright for me but the matching armchairs at either side of the fire are not too bad for curling up in with a book. However, through in the conservatory, there are two rather splendid blue chairs of the type found in old folks’ homes. These particular ones have a remote control and you can slowly tilt until your feet are up and your head tilted back – perfect for reading. If you go too far of course you end up either tilted so far back there is nothing else for it but to go to sleep, or the other way you find yourself thrown out of the chair as it tilts up and tosses you out. Great fun though.
And soon I shall take my own little flock and friends back to Whitchester for another silent retreat. However this time, I shall be the one doing the talking. Yay!