Once upon a time this was my boat of anxiety with the light of mindfulness (and of God) shining on it. In fact the boat was me.
The boat was swamped with anxiety, beached with worry. The hull of my boat, which is as strong and as fragile as wood was collapsing, barely holding its shape.
I had no rudder, no sail, even if the wind was blowing and the currents flowing.
Anxious thoughts, like crows pecked at the rotting frame, as shame like worms ate away at the wood. Anxious feelings soaked into the hull, and weighed it down, stealing its strength.
Those of you who have experienced anxiety will recognise this, it doesn’t always help to have the condition explained in cold, logical, propositional language.
But in the corner of the boat I built a mindful nest, my breath, a prayer word, the practice of awareness. And then the swallows came, swooping in, and stayed making new thoughts that could fly free.
And then there came a desire for spring-cleaning, for restoration, for changing the structure and activity of the boat for better, as it was created to be. And one day the boat was drained, restored, painted, floating, able to catch the wind and the currents.
I did not just want to move from anxiety to inner freedom, although that is a good intention, a necessary intention. I wanted to become mindful of God, waiting for the wind and the currents of God’s Holy Spirit, that I do not control, but as a graced response I can be receptive and open too.
I know mindfulness doesn’t work for everyone. I’m grateful it worked for me. It might be for you – a boat yard of restoration.
I am writing this on the Camino Ingles, in Pontedeume, by the estuary of the river Eume. There are little rivulets, and wide open spaces, we can inhabit both. But first I had to step from the edge of hope, just one step into hope.
I have just spent a few days leading a retreat on mindfulness of God at Scargill House. Based in the Yorkshire Dales it is a Christian community that leads holidays, conferences and retreats with hospitality at its heart.
It reminds me at a spiritual level of the Bishop’s Garden in Wells Cathedral where springs bubble up, a metaphor for the welling up of the Holy Spirit. The wells here are community, creation, hospitality, silence and solitude.
It has been a joy working with the community on the retreat as they lead worship, provide a rhythm of prayer, a pastoral care and prayer team as well as a hospitality team. They also offer walks, and workshops and conversation as well as of course lots of food!
There are gardens to sit in, including a beautiful walled garden and 90 acres of estates. As you sit in a lounge area you overlook the dales.
And pheasants, and woodpeckers come to the bird feeders in front of the window, along with many other birds.
At communion in the chapel on the last night there were deer outside feeding as we took the bread and the wine. The estate is run with a deep ecological understanding and desire to care for creation. The community is all ages, different nationalities and with many young people.
Community and contemplation is at the heart of the gospel and the kingdom and the leading edge of mission if only we had the courage to grasp it. My prayer is that many other intentional communities will spring up.
Of course community is not easy. At the Warden’s suggestion I have been reading some Jean Vanier, a famous founder of communities. I was particularly struck with a phrase of his: ‘Many want community and a feeling of being together, but they refuse the demands of community life.’ This is true in the local church as well.
I was also struck by another simple truth of Vanier’s: ‘People enter community to be happy. They stay when they find happiness comes in making others happy.’
My prayer is that there will be a renewal of Christian community life in the UK, for I believe it is the right (kairos) moment for it.
Do check out the Scargill website:
I walked down to Lee Bay this morning as the sun shone, part of the Lee Abbey Estate where I am running a retreat on mindfulness of God. To be mindful of God I need to inhabit my body, my emotions, my mind and my soul.
The stream became symbolic for me, and I thought about the streams of awareness in us, in me, our senses. Not just the traditional five, wonderful though they are but also the sense of our own body, sensing our thoughts and feelings, other people’s feelings (see Daniel Siegel, an interpersonal neurobiologist for his 8 senses). But also the ability to sense the presence of God with all our senses.
I then thought what if I allow these streams of awareness in me to become living water, inhabited by God’s Holy Spirit – able to see and sense through God’s eyes.
Coming here to Lee Abbey gives me a taste of what that might be like and also the desire to seek it first above my other desires.