In which Ruth goes on a silent retreat but is not completely silent

Yes, it is that time again. This week was the Diocesan Retreat at Whitchester led by Barbara Glasson, Methodist minister why_botherand author. I first came across Barbara when I read her books I am Somewhere Else and Mixed-up Blessing and loved them. Barbara set up the ‘Bread Church’ in Liverpool which was a perfect example of what seems to be called Fresh Expressions – an alternative way of doing church. The title of the Retreat was ‘Why Bother?

Now, dear reader, you will know that I find these retreats a mix of agony and ecstasy. Agony because of the enforced silence and the struggle which extroverts find without an audience and unable to get to know the other retreatants better. And ecstasy because I get peace and quiet to read and knit and watch people.

Many years ago I was convinced of the notion that diocesan clergy should retreat together. You get to know a lot about people in silence. And when the bishop comes too it shows that our leaders take it seriously too. I’m told in years gone by all the clergy came – all. Those days are long gone. Each year the numbers fall as more and more clergy find their own place to retreat – some abroad, some in convents/monasteries, and some who just don’t. The venue was blamed so it was changed and that made no difference to numbers. This year there were 2 stipendiary clergy and 2 retired NSMs signed up (and one had to cancel because of ill health) and the lay retreat at the weekend was not much better, so both clergy and lay were combined with a total of eight of us.

Next year I take over as Retreat organiser so any suggestions for encouraging folk back would be most welcome.

But back to ‘Why Bother’ and Barbara Glasson… On arrival we had a discussion about how we wanted the retreat to be. In the past we have had two addresses each day along with the Daily Offices and Eucharist. The rest of the time, including meals, have been in silence. This year we were asked if we wanted the same or something different. I really had to hold back on this one. Let others speak first, Ruth (I said to myself). Don’t bully them into what you want. Someone even said that it was the complete silence which put some folk off coming – especially people who live on their own. So it was agreed by the majority that we would have a discussion straight after the address on that topic, and that we could talk at the evening meal. If you wanted silence you could avoid the discussion and sit at a separate table and I think that worked okay. Well it worked beautifully for me. What glory, what joy. Often I’ve found something in the addresses that merited a good blether after and have been left to go and journal about it instead. Not always satisfying. This worked so much better for me. And as someone who eats alone it is such a joy to have company during the evening meal and the chance to chat. (And yes, I can hear my introvert friends silently screaming at their screens.)

Barbara based her addresses on being ‘bothered’:

  • Who/what do we bother about?
  • Who/what should we bother about?
  • About clergy living with being bothered.
  • About bothering being part of the Christian vocation.
  • About bothering being caring and soothing but also unsettling and provoking.
  • About being partners in bothering.
  • Why bother to be/stay Christian?
  • How do we resource ourselves to bother?
  • How to be-other.
  • About being God-botherers and Gospel-botherers.
  • Is Mission bothering?
  • About finding confidence to bother.

There was a lot of bothering going on and it was all good. In fact, I know I will never hear the word ‘bother’ again without some of the retreat coming back to me.

I read a bit too – about Dying Well and about murder in a monastery. Perfect retreat reading. And I knitted.

book-chairI also dreamt about my dream retreat house which would have double beds, working en-suite toilets, meals on time, good decaff coffee and tea, beautiful chapel with gorgeous, cared-for things, lots of candles, decent showers and hairdriers, large fluffy towels, reclining or rocking chairs everywhere and an up-to-date library. For starters.

How to do Holy Week

Kelvin over on his blog has given a good explanation of Holy Week and how to keep it. We have some variations here in Christ Church Falkirk so let’s share them with you.

You’ve heard me say it before, but my first Holy Week at St Michael & All Saints was something I shall never forget. As the drama unfolded each day it was like the best of dramas where you can’t wait to find out what happens next. It built and built, with colour and symbol and sounds and actions, until I thought I couldn’t take it any more. Does that sound over the top? Yes, but it was. Then finally it was Easter Day and I was ecstatic with the joy of it all. But that would never have happened without the sorrow of Holy Week. I have told my little flocks that ever since. You cannot experience the real joy of Easter, if you haven’t gone through some of the agony of Holy Week. I’ve even threatened not to let people in on Easter Day if I’ve not seen them during the week!

Palm Sunday

entry to jerusalemIt all begins today. Palm Sunday. The day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (or a donkey and a young colt according to our reading this morning, although how he quite rode astride them both, I’m not sure). I’ve never managed a donkey although we did once think about a pantomime horse costume one silly night. Nor have we ever quite managed to get the feeling of a joyful crowd shouting Hosannas as we process round the church waving palms while clutching hymn books and trying to sing All Glory Laud and Honour. It is not easy to sing joyfully, whooping Hosannas, while navigating the rough terrain and the mossy path round Christ Church. The timing never seems to work either. The ones at the front seem to always be singing a different verse from the one at the back and by the time we get back to church we are nowhere near the organist. Passers-by on Kerse Lane en-route to the Bingo look askance. There is no other word for it. Askance.

Today it was raining and we have an elderly congregation so one is ever mindful of pneumonia, broken hips and suchlike. We also had a photographer in church taking pictures for our new website and I’m afraid this vain rector didn’t want a pile of photos with flat or frizzy hair, so the procession was called off. I suspect my little flock were mightily relieved but the deal was that we sang All Glory etc with gusto and smiley faces. I’ll let you know how the photos look…

There is no sermon on Palm Sunday but instead we read the Passion Narrative (this year from Matthew). In the past we have done it with 3 or more voices but this year we used the version where the people, the Body of Christ, read the words of Christ. It didn’t work so well at the 9am service with 5 voices (one with a cough, one too shy to speak, one fast talker, one moved by it all into silence, and one valiantly trying at the front) but with a full church it was beautiful and very emotional. (Even the photographer thought so!)

Palm crosses have been taken home as bookmarks, wall decorations, or propped behind pictures or crosses. They will come back again next year just before Ash Wednesday when they will be burned to make the ash we use. Judging by the amount we gave out, many took extras for friends and family too. I don’t have a problem with that.

Monday of Holy Weekmysteries

On Monday at 7pm we will watch Yiimimangaliso The Mysteries, a South African theatre production filmed at the Heritage Theatre. Ive shown it before in church and it never fails to move people greatly. Based on the Chester medieval mystery plays, it starts with Adam and Eve and builds to the life of Christ. The actors speak in English, Zulu, Africaans, Xhosa (the clicking one) and even Latin. You might think you won’t understand but somehow you do, the stories being so familiar. Some of it is very funny, some of it joyful and then harrowing. Perfect for Holy Week.

Tuesday of Holy Week

This evening at 7.30pm we will gather in the hall for Stations of the Cross with a difference. This time people will get a chance to really meditate on each station and even write down what they are thinking. I’ve never done this before and hope it works.

Wednesday of Holy Week

This evening we will begin with coffee and cake before setting down for some Breathing Space. We will have an hour of shared silence in church away from all the busyness of week. If, like me, you struggle with silence then you are free to bring your knitting, your book, or your journal if you want to write down your feelings. Our themes of course, are the woman who washed Jesus’ feet and Judas who thought she was too extravagant, and then his betrayal. We will finish with Jewish Night Prayer.

Maundy Thursday

wash feet blueAnd so the Triduum begins. And tonight’s service is packed full of action. The gospel is long so we intersperse it throughout the service. We begin with the footwashing when I wait at the steps to the sanctuary and wonder if someone will come and bare their foot for washing. Nobody wants to do it. It is such a vulnerable thing, showing your feet in such an intimate way. But such an honour for me to do it. That’s what I’m here for, after all – to wash my little flock’s feet, to serve, to kneel before them. And yes, I do tell them every year that I have the ugliest feet in the world so they mustn’t feel bad about showing me their’s.

Then we share the Last Supper. What do I remember from my first Holy Week? The words “On this night, this very night” for this is the night we remember every week, every eucharist. Those words really brought it home to me and make it very special. (*Shivers* just thinking about it!) As ever, all the bread and wine is consumed – from the tabernacle too – all but one wafer which is the body of Christ.

The first time I watched the altar being stripped it blew my mind. Just as the story tells us Christ is stripped of his clothes, so the altar and all adornments from the sanctuary are removed. I’ve done it in churches myself, or with my servers while the congregation watch. But at St Mark’s Portobello they had a tradition of the whole congregation coming to take each item away to a wee room. Last year we tried that here and it worked well. Instead of everything being piled into the Sacristy, it was all taken down the aisle to the choir vestry where there is more room.  This is done in silence while Psalm 22 is read. The lights are put out one by one until all is gone and I am left with the last consecrated host, representing Christ, which is taken to the Garden of Repose which has been set up in the Lady Chapel at the Requiem Altar.

We then move into the Garden to watch and wait. The last year before I was ordained I spent Holy Week in Mirfield at the Community of the Resurrection. On Maundy Thursday the Garden of Repose was below the main church in a crypt. As we walked into the chapel in the darkness there was an altar in the middle of the room bedecked in white cloths with white flowers and candles everywhere. It was breathtaking in its simplicity and I may have gasped aloud. Over the years I’ve tried to recreate that altar, that garden of repose. The problem is that on Maundy Thursday I always have a eucharist in the morning and then have to dash into Edinburgh to our cathedral for the Chrism Mass. This is a really important service for me, not only because we collect the oils we will use for baptism and healing throughout the year, but also because at this service all the clergy of the diocese renew their ordination vows. For reasons I won’t go in to here, this is a service I don’t want to miss and it is always goodAltarRepose092 to catch up with other clergy and share news and stories which we do over lunch. So by the time I get back to my place and then create the Garden of Repose, which can take hours, I’m left ready for a night on, not the very physical service that is about to happen. This year I’m going to try something more simple for my own health’s sake!

In my old church we sat through the night keeping vigil with Jesus in the garden. Like the disciples we may have fallen asleep from time to time, but we tried to stay awake. Then in time my home church kept vigil until midnight. Somehow I’ve never managed to encourage my little flock to stay for longer than a few minutes, and at most an hour. But you know, that’s how it is. We stay and pray and we leave in silence, our footsteps echoing in the empty church.

Good Friday

Velazquez crucifixionMy tradition is to keep the three hours between 12noon and 3pm when Jesus hung on the cross in some form of meditation. We usually begin with Stations of the Cross in church singing some of those beautiful Passiontide hymns as we move from Station to Station. Then for two hours we listen to a series of sermon/meditations on the Passion interspersed with hymns or music to listen to. Our organist Margaret is not able to sit and play for three hours so this year we will use recorded music. (See my other blog for the kind of music we use.) In the past I have preached on the Sounds around the Passion, or what the people might be thinking. I’ve also used the Seven Last Words as a basis for meditations. This year I will be thinking about the Cross itself.

People come and go throughout the three hours. Some stay for the whole thing but some SAMSUNGwill come for half an hour or more. This year I’m hoping folk will at least do one complete hour because each hour will have its own theme and it would be good to see it through at least. We then gather in the hall for our very special local baker’s Hot Cross Buns which if you have been fasting on Good Friday is the nectar of the gods. Oliphants the Bakers only produce these delicacies in Holy Week, I think, so they are extra special.

In the past I have usually done something in the evening of Good Friday like the Veneration of the Cross or a Service of Nails but they don’t have a tradition of doing that here. I think because most people in the congregation are retired and prefer not to come out at night again.

Holy Saturday

This is the day when we gather for Morning Prayer and then the big clean up and decoration begins. The church is empty and ready. My job is to clean the altar. Everyone else is bustling about banishing cobwebs, polishing candlesticks, removing wax from candle sticks, creating an Easter Garden and displaying flowers everywhere, all in white and yellow. Stamens are removed from lilies because there is nothing worse than pollen on white vestments. (Yes, we know to remove it with sellotape!) And it doesn’t make me so wheezy and asthmatic around them – a sacrifice I’m prepared to make for lovely lilies.  I love the smell of church on Holy Saturday. Of furniture polish, of starchy fresh linens, and earth from plants, and flowers. Everything smells of newness and growth. Delicious!

Sometimes we keep the Vigil in the evening but it has never been well attended here. Now we wait and rest.

Easter Day

Paschal candle 2011We begin at 7am with the Vigil Fire outside by the Memorial Garden and light the Paschal Candle and carry it into the dark church. The Light of Christ! is sung three times and then we gather round the candle to sing the Exsultet. We listen to the story and say some prayers and then the aroma of bacon rolls calls us to the hall.

After a short feeding frenzy it all kicks off with two Easter extravaganzas. Last year we had a baptism and we renewed our baptismal vows. That usually involves sprinkling a bit of water about so as we had a bunch of kids in church I got an enormous pump-action water pistol to make sure the ones at the back got some of that holy water. It was fabulous. Well, not everyone thought so. Might give it a miss this year. Some day we will fundraise for a holy bucket and aspergillum where I can really splash it about. Or maybe I’ll hunt out a bunch of … what is it you use? Rosemary? Hyssop? Where do you get hyssop in Falkirk?

In which Ruth finishes her favourite journal

20140208_131328Did I mention how much I love stationery? Oh how I do! Lovely journals with beautiful covers thrill me more than I can say. (I’m a huge fan of PaperBlanks.) I love beautiful pens with vivid violet ink (CultPens are a great source of the unusual) and lovely puffin tins and purple staples and wooden pencils and … You get the picture.

Whenever I go off on retreat or holiday or to a course I take a notebook/journal. In it I jot down little notes and reminders. Sometimes when I come home I transfer bits to my bigger Quotes Journals or blog about the events which happened. This week I’ve been on the Clergy Silent Retreat at Whitchester and finally finished my lovely purple bejewelled journal. Who gave me it? I can’t remember but I’m sure it was a gift. I’m quite sad it has come to an end, this purple beauty, for it contains many truths and many memories. It still looks beautiful and I shall find a space where it can lie face-front in all its glory.

Do you want to know what’s in it? OK, here are just a few snippets:

  • On visiting a church famous for pilgrims, wonder why the people who take the service aren’t more friendly. Indeed, seem positively snooty. Would it hurt to ask where we’re from?
  • Retired clergy who take Clergy Retreats should not talk at length about their holiday memoirs, or insist that we all love poetry.
  • Meet clergy who are bullied, clergy who are gay but frightened to tell, clergy who are deeply unhappy. Praying seems so inadequate. Why is nobody caring for the carers?
  • Note: buy Icon to St Cuthbert by Tavener. (I never did.)
  • “Some gates only open if you work at them.” David Adam
  • “Too often church worship is weak because we have not been faithful in our own daily prayers. Its like trying to be friendly on a Sunday to someone you have ignored all week.” David Adam

O island my lovePuffin2
my windswept and craggy one
with rain and snow and sleet and wind
to batter down my defences
with sun and moon and stars
to remind me of your awesome power
with quiet and rest and stillness
to revive my spirits.

  • At Bishop’s House, Iona I did some manicures for my little flock. Someone said it was like Maundy Thursday!
  • Staffa and the water was like a millpond. Puffins are God’s comedians. Tobit should be in the lectionary more often.
  • Gilmore-Fraleigh style = Achieving/Directing
  • Saw God in the windows of St Chapelle. Adored spiral pillars and fan vaulting at St Severin.
  • “An atheist is someone who wakes up on a beautiful morning feeling thankful, and then remembers there is no one to thank.” G K Chesterton
  • Is there anything so sexual as St Theresa in Ecstasy at Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria?
  • Find it hard to find God in a chantry chapel until I spotted the unicorn.
  • Thomas Traherne is lovely and all that, but he’s really just not me!
  • Every cathedral should have geese in the courtyard.
  • DSCF0227Oh Gaudi how I love thee. How I love your fluid lines, your nature-in-stone, your colour and symbols.
  • Cool light of the cloisters are places to rest and ponder.
  • Everyone should have a Black Madonna in a snowstorm.
  • Pudding stones from 1026 in a church looked like clootie dumplings.
  • Relics Exhibition at The British Museum and adored some stunning reliquaries.
  • In the bible hardly anyone goes back home – you can only go forward home.
  • Who is holy? Someone who earths God in the ordinary things of life.
  • Today, what is it that priests need to become?  Enabler, listener, risk taker, perseverer, being a bit weird, shared episcope.
  • “How can I find God’s will? God’s will, if it exists, is probably locked up in a file in the Bishop’s filing cabinet!”  Margaret Silf
  • Stop reading and start watching and noticing. Everything is a gift.
  • Taking a group on pilgrimage is like herding cats. And I never did have much of a maternal instinct. Why can’t grown-ups catch a bus/ferry/train when they’ve known the time for months?
  • Feral Goats for 2 miles.
  • Shortbread and lemon curd. Yum.
  • An Art Studio on Skye is really someone’s front room.
  • “I have often repented of speaking but never repented of silence.”
  • Rest is not what we do – it is the gift of God.
  • The gift of rest is a gift to others.
  • Accept the discomfort of not being as we would like to be. Accept others are they are.
  • Stillness enables the work of God within us. It is not about what we do, but what God does. God works in the inner heart. That’s why the Kingdom of God takes so long to come – God takes time.
  • We are so concerned with the world right we haven’t put ourselves right.
  • Humility. As soon as you think you have it, you’ve lost it!
  • Vainglory – seeking attention for ourselves, that we are better than others, taking what is due to God to ourselves. This is a big danger for the Church and clergy.
  • God covers our sins, puts his hands over them.
  • Perhaps today’s reduction in numbers in the Church is God’s plan to take away some of our power.
  • “The utterly magnetic God.” Mother Jane  God draws us to himself whether we know it or not.

DSCF0725

In which Ruth falls silent but two weeks too soon

silenceThe virus came upon me. The no-voice virus came upon me hard. For ten days now I have had no voice. Actually that is not strictly true – the voice has varied from Minnie Mouse on helium to Eartha Kitt (you have to be of a certain age to get these) after a pack of Gitanes to nothing but a squeak or a dry husk. Every morning I have woken and tried it out hopefully to the cats. “Good morning Lucy Pussy!” I scratch. “How’s my lovely Rita Kitten?” I mouth. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Of course there is a certain irony here. Over a year ago I had suffered several asthma attacks all winter long for which I was referred for a CT scan which showed up something on my lungs. Scarring, fibrosis, I was told. This meant a referral to the Respiratory Clinic. Now if you are a reader in the UK you will know that referrals on the NHS should happen within 12 weeks. Ha! I laugh at the thought of it. 11 months later I got my appointment with Forth Valley hospital and it was just a few days before the Lost Voice. So as I sat in the Consultant’s office I was able to say that I’ve hardly had any asthma, any colds or coughs, no lung or breathing problems at all, thank you very much. “Jolly good,” said he. “Some COPD, a bit of Fibrosis, some thick bronchi-whatnots so a wee bit of physio and we’ll keep an eye on you every year, dear.” And I was shown the door.

That was merely a week before the voice went. the lungs wearied, my temperature went up, my asthma-cough came back to haunt me at night. Oh pooh. Bloody typical. And the double irony is that I’m due to go on a silent retreat next week! That will be when my voice returns, I bet you!

This enforced silence has made me think, of course. Made me think about how noisy I am. How often I take for granted that I can pick up the phone for a blether, to ask a question, to have a moan. So that has been a salutary lesson for me and I’ve felt oh so lonely at times. What would I have done without Facebook, Twitter, Messaging, texting etc? Drama queen, eh? I wish I could say that I have used this enforced silence for good, of course. For some meditation or holy listening and mindfulness. (The subject of next week’s retreat, ironically.) But no, I have worked on using the time to get lots of computer and office things done. Can you hear my introvert friends scream now, can you?  But let me tell you it was not easy being an extrovert trapped in an introvert’s body. Oh no!

Of course I have much for which to be thankful. My little team who have rallied around and stepped in to say liturgies, preach my sermon, make phone calls on my behalf. Bless them. And yes it is very good for a control freak such as I to have it all taken away from me from time to time. But you know, the timing could have been better, eh?

keep-calm-and-enjoy-the-silence-50

Silence and noise

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!

A Book of Silence

A Book of Silence Finally, I have finished A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland. Why did I ever think that this book would appeal to me? I only read it because it seemed that a million other folk have done so and raved about it and I kept coming across quotes from it in other books and journals. Perhaps it was envy? Perhaps it was to see if I was missing some vital ingredient in this quest for silence that so many people find attractive. And those are the people who will enjoy this book much more than I did. I liked the personal bits – the bits of her story, of the 6 weeks she spent on Skye in complete silence and her finding a house where she could live permanently in a kind of semi-silence.  But the other bits felt too much like a dissertation to me and I got a bit lost and bored.

Did she keep quiet then?

Did she heck as like!

Back from retreat having put on at least half a stone. The food was sooo good but way too much for a sylph-like creature like myself who has been on a diet. But when you’re in silence you can’t ask for smaller portions and my mother always said you should clean your plate.

Found a fellow extrovert and we skipped off during free time in the afternoons and did some galavanting round the Border countryside which was jolly nice. But sshhh… nobody knows.

I’m not sure that the content of the Retreat was exactly up my street but I did enjoy reading John Pritchard’s The Life and Work of a Priest. Much pencil marking went on. In fact, let’s just say that as retreat material goes it was excellent. I also managed to get up to date on my Church Times reading which has suffered off late due to too much desk work. (What did our Bishop look like in the fiddle-back?!)

My only complaint is that the house was freezing cold and I hadn’t taken enough in the woolly department. Not that I was scampering about in my summer gear, you understand, but a polo-neck fleece, fleece gilet and cashmere wrap still wasn’t enough to allow me to relax. And my room, whilst on the ground floor, was tiny and should really have been named the Ann Frank suite. (Everyone else had huge rooms.)  I spent most time huddled under the bedclothes on the single bed – I HATE SINGLE BEDS! – burning a gorgeous Space NK candle to keep me warm.  There was a log fire in the sitting room but they didn’t lay it until tea-time. I was fire monitor and kept it going thereafter which was a feat in itself.

And the chapel could do with some decoration. As we sat there for hours on end I had time to imagine how I would have done it. (One of my favourite pastimes that – redesigning worship spaces.)

But all in all it was a grand time really. I got away from the phone and the pile of papers on my desk, which are still here sadly. Not sure that I’ll sign up for the next one though. When will someone do a Retreat for Extroverts?

In need of silence

I am about to go off on the Clergy Retreat to Whitchester, near Hawick. Our retreat leader is Canon Michael Kitchener and I am looking forward to getting away from it all. We will be in silence and those who know me well will know that I am not always great with silence. It’s an ENFP thing, don’t you know? But even if I do listen quietly to my IPod in my room it will still be a huge sacrifice for me not being able to chat to people.

Had to make a quick dash to the dentist this morning because I had the most awful toothache last night. And there’s nothing worse than being away from home with toothache – and in silence too!  So I’ve had less than a millimetre shaved off a tooth which should now make my new crown – my new very expensive crown – fit better and not give me pain. Let’s hope that’s all it was. I’m taking lots of drugs with me just in case.

See you in 5 days refreshed and renewed.

Traditional or modern?

I only ask because I was visiting another church this morning and they used a combination of the two. It was rather weird and easy to get the responses mixed up. I suppose it is to please everyone. Hmm.

Beautiful censing of a nave altar in slow motion though. Clouds of incense building up in the gloom which was very atmospheric.

Long periods of silence too which I found rather unsettling. I am well aware of the fact that we don’t have enough silence in our liturgy but I do feel that the Eucharist is not the place for it. (Except after the sermon, during the intercessions and post communion.) No, this kind of silence left you wondering if someone had forgotten to get up to read or do something, and if the organist had lost his place (he was new). Silence should be led and given boundaries, I think.

However, it was nice to see so many clergy in the pews. Obviously this is the place where they all go when on holiday, along with an ex-Primus.

Off on retreat tomorrow so no more blogging for a while. Any comments posted after tomorrow morning may take a week to appear.

Holy Island beckons. Will I go tide crazy? How much fun can you have on a very small island with no TV (thus no Big Brother)? What am I thinking of? I’m not going for fun – I am going for R&R (Rest and Reading).

Burglars, take note. Son #2 is still in the house! So unless you feel like giving it a tidy before I come home, forget it.