I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kate Kennington Steer’s reflection on belonging as a Monk in the World:
A Song of Belonging
As I join with the earth’s slow turning towards Spring, I begin reflecting on the extraordinary time I’ve been enjoying with the Abbey this winter. I signed up to join in with two retreats Birthing the Holy and Illuminating the Way, which when joined back to back gave me a concentrated ten week immersion into discovering new expressions of my faith and into connecting with fellow pilgrims. Many things became a little clearer for me, and it will take me the rest of 2015 to unpack the treasures offered to me in greater depth, but a single thread bound all ten weeks for me: the importance of connectedness and community.
Like many others at the Abbey, I live alone, and I live with chronic illness. It is not currently possible for me to ‘join in’ by attending a local church. I realise that I am in danger of spending too much time alone, and spending far, far too much time thinking. I have come to realise my dear beloved head hampers my prayer life hugely: I am a noisy thinker! Creating internal silence and becoming present to the reality of God in this moment are two critical spiritual practices for me.
As I take baby steps in becoming present I hear myself affirm over and over that God is in and of all things: in the sky outside my window, in the bulbs forcing their way up through dark damp earth, in my resting or rushing heartbeat, in those who sit lost and alone in my town, in the people living off rubbish dumps in Asia or South America, in those dying of Aids and Ebola, in the person with ‘special’ needs I used to avoid at coffee after church, in the person who mutters out loud as they shamble along the street in their destitution. I am connected to them.
Just as I am connected to the wonderful members of this community. There is welcome here, and such a free-flowing exchange of deep wisdom, an affirmation of all expressions of intention and attention, and appreciation for all the diverse outpourings of creativity in any form, at every stage of development. All this is on offer to me at the touch of a button. I am hugely grateful to each one of you.
Through the ‘Holy Disorder’ Facebook page, and the retreat discussion boards, I have been reminded of the old adage: ‘you get out what you put in’. What has humbled me has been the Grace on offer in response to my decision to make myself vulnerable online to complete strangers. In the world’s eyes, such actions are complete folly. Here, such ‘holy foolishness’ has made me see the more vulnerable I am, the more connections I can make, the more I can discover healing in the words, actions and practice of others, the more my own words can proffer healing for others in turn. This is the place where the pain of my depression can sit easily alongside the joy of the birth of a new baby in someone else’s family; where the day that we can celebrate when one of us wants to dance for joy ‘just because’ is the same day that we can sit beside the one of us who seeks our prayers as they weep in grief. Truly, here there is a space created where there is always time, and the rhythm of our community crosses the world’s time zones, ensuring that, as the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is always
… A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance …
This community reflects the fact that our God delights in paradox. All these ‘times’ are happening simultaneously. It is not just possible to weep at the same time as sing for joy, but it is the truth of God’s reality, and the model we are asked to follow. Too many of my responses arise from an either/or culture; God’s Way is the path of both/and. In this Mystery I can glimpse, just glimpse, the possibility that God is in every situation, every emotion. There is no possible event that God cannot be found in, if – if – I am prepared to be present long enough to listen.
There is such Grace to be found. Such stability. There is such an Invitation on offer here, at this moment. We can be assured: All things belong in God. Just as I am finding, I belong here.
Kate Kennington Steer is a writer and photographer with a deep abiding passion for contemplative photography and spirituality. She writes about these things on her shot at ten paces blog.
Kate, it is good to hear from you again, and thank you for your post. There is so much hard earned wisdom in what you say, and grace in acknowledging the limitations of living it out in the reality of your daily life. It would be good to have your email address to answer more fully.
Thank you as ever for your encouragement. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do drop me a line if you want to. (It may take me a while to answer so please don’t be offended!)
What a wonderful painting! One of yours? Thank you.
Words as beautiful as your pictures, Kate. Good to hear from you again. J.
Bless you James. I was praying for you this morning, before I checked here for comments, so a lovely piece of God’s synchronicity again. I do hope you’re well? (I apologise if the answer to that question is on Facebook, I haven’t been able to be there in a while due to illness…)
I hear you. Beautiful post ?
Thank you so much Genora. It means so much to be ‘recognised’ by you.
All blessings to you this day and all days.