Over Sunday night the storm hit, I awoke to hear something which sounded like a very large bird sledging down the roof and rattling my window in a desperate effort to get in. At breakfast one of our fellow pilgrims was anxiously looking at the weather, she was due to leave the island that day and needed to get home because of work and family commitments. Cabin fever had well and truly set in and the prospect of any boats either to or from Tenby seemed extremely unlikely, we were also aware that rations were running low in the kitchen and our hosts were in need of a delivery of food from the mainland. With no television, internet or radio and no possibility of a walk there was little on hand to ease the tension apart from taking refuge in a book. Before we left home on our adventures, knowing the sabbatical was going to have an island related theme, various friends and colleagues had made suggestions regarding helpful reading material. At my final service as Rural Dean my Deanery colleagues, bless them, had even put together a small bundle of books, all tied up in a sea green coloured scarf, reminding me of the Dick Whittington bundle which he carried on his back as he set out on his travels.
The book I currently had on the go was Sea Room by Adam Nicholson and it was such a fascinating read that I became totally absorbed. Regardless of what was going on in the outside world, tempest, fire or even flood I became lost in my own happy little ‘book haven’ and was not that much use for either conversation or consolation to anyone, much to one or two folk’s annoyance.
By mid-day the wind had abated just enough for us to venture out and battle our way round to the Abbey for Sext. Over lunch we heard the news that the boat would hopefully arrive sometime during the afternoon, though not quite sure exactly what time. We therefore arranged an impromptu send off to see our fellow companion on her way. Brother Titus was also due to set out on his visit to Hay on Way in search of new treasures for the monastery library.
Having seen Kim and Titus both safely off on the boat under really leaden skies, Alan and I decided to do a final pilgrimage round the island hovering constantly close to shelter in case of a further downpour.
This provided a great opportunity to look more closely at the Stations of the Cross in St Illtud’s and the beautiful and unusual stained glass in St David’s.
The windows are the work of Dom Theodore Bailey 1898-1966. In his book Artist and Monk Aidan Nichols O.P writes of how when he was only sixteen Dom Theodore Baily joined the English Benedictines of Downside Abbey, but occasional summer vacations spent at the picturesque island monastery of Caldey drew him to a more exclusively contemplative form of monastic life. In 1920 he transferred to this original Caldey community. Blessed with brilliant gifts, he sought to use them in the service of God and the Church.
Against the grey of a stormy sky we found the vibrancy of Dom Theodore’s windows truly stunning. The fish in the fish window leaping out from its background and the beautiful tree of life reflecting light and colour on everything beneath its branches. I found myself wondering is there something about life on an island that nurtures creative gifts? It seems to me that away from the hustle and bustle of what we mainlanders call civilization, living in a small community with a slower pace of life provides an opportunity to get back to basics, to treasure the small things, to observe the different times and seasons and sense the presence of the Creator, the heartbeat of the universe.
I know that I could never live in a religious community. It’s not my calling I love my own space, my family, friends, social life and home comforts just a little bit too much. Life in any community would be as much of a hell for me as it would be for them. However there are times when even I long for a little solitude, space to escape, to reflect and withdraw from the world, to ponder the deeper mysteries beyond the issues of the day but still to remain connected.
On our way back from St David’s we popped into the Post Office, we bought some chocolate to lift our spirits [and very good it was too] we also bought a copy of On the Seventh Wave by David Hodges.
One poem in it especially caught my eye. If we ever imagine that those in monastic communities are out of touch with the ‘real’ world this gives that myth the lie. As I drifted off to sleep I thought about the kind of mind that can draw together Avatar with the Eucharist. I didn’t sadly meet Brother David but at least I can share his poem with you.
On Adoration of the Eucharist after Watching the Film ‘Avatar’
and a tree of souls,
and unity of all life;
how powerful a symbol,
pagan but beautiful,
on Pandora, an alien planet.
How much we take
the Eucharist for granted!
Christ the Son of God,
meaning and unity of all life,
communicating with us,
union among us.
God beyond all imagining
of all possible worlds,
beyond and above all
that can be conceived,
choosing to relate
so intimately to us.
From On the Seventh Wave
Published by the Abbey,
Tenby, Pembs SA70 7UH.