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Monk in the World Guest Post: Polly Burns

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series. This is from Polly Burns, the newest member of our Wisdom Council.

When Christine asked me to introduce myself through this post, it was hard to know where to start. If you are a regular at the Abbey of the Arts, you will have heard the phrase ‘Go to your cell, it will teach you’. It was this phrase that floated into my mind as I tried to decide what to write. Although often taken as a metaphor for the inner cell of the heart, it also speaks to me of the little places of sanctuary I have found along the way. Places of solitude and silence. Ever since I was a child, such places have been important to me. Whether it was the old wooden summer house at the end of an acre of rambling garden, a den hidden in the trees or even the inside of a large built in wardrobe in the 18th Century house I lived in, these places have been threshold places. Places where I could imagine that the other worlds were as close to me as breathing . . .  which of course they were.

And so I went to my cell to listen. These days my cell is a small log cabin. Lovingly called The Lodge –its name a reminder of its former days as a fishing lodge where breakfasts and cups of tea were shared with fishermen-the cabin sits at the head of a lake and is surrounded by trees and rolling fields.  A place of reflection and prayer, of art making and creativity, it is  a place  where I take my clients and where I witness the transforming power of connection to Nature and Creativity.

As I sat and listened, gazing out at the Lake and fields, it was the fields that shimmered for me, much as a phrase would in Lectio Divina. Golden with crops and ready for harvest, I saw how much of what I am harvesting in my life now was planted as seeds along the way.

Thresholds have always captured my imagination. As a little girl brought up in the Catholic Church, I loved the moment when I entered a church. Moving from the busy existence outside on the street, we would enter the church buildings where footsteps and whispers echoed through the air. My fingers would reach out and be dipped in the holy water, I would use them to make a sign of the cross. I wonder now what it meant to a child of seven or eight  years old. I think it was an instinctive knowing that I was encountering Mystery, a Mystery that was not confined to a church building but who also met me when I was out in the woods or gazing into the liquid eyes of a horse.

This Mystery called me by Name. It seemed to see into my soul, see who I really was. Over the years there were times when I lost this sense. Struggling with chronic and sometimes serious illness and addiction to the opiate medications prescribed, caused me to disconnect from my body. Involvement in extreme Evangelical churches deepened this disconnection. It was a confusing time. I lived in a community setting. There was much to love. Our days were framed by communal prayer and worship. Times of silence and study of scriptures was encouraged, as was serving the vulnerable around us. The confusion came because of the interpretation of the scriptures where the Mystery was replaced by a patriarchal male figure who demanded that as a woman, I submit to men, be silent in the church and disown anything to do with my sexuality or sensuality.

My path away from those confusing days was long and winding. It took me to Israel to work amongst Russian immigrants, led me back to my home in the Cotswolds and into training as a therapist. Another spell of community living ended when I sat in a meeting and heard a well known speaker say, “The pedophiles will end up where the homosexuals are now, being normalized and accepted instead of being seen for what they are . . . an abomination before God”. My heart breaking, I sat frozen as people stood to applaud, shouting “praise God and Hallelujah”

The next day I packed my car and left, driving to the home of the woman I loved.

The next twenty years contained many more seeds. We became deeply involved with our local church providing a children’s work that grew out of a community arts programme. Dance, art and mime clowning were an integral part of the worship and I was commissioned as a cell pastor by our Bishop, in recognition of the unique way the church was operating. The church part funded my role as Community Link worker which enabled me to provide therapy in a local family project and in the junior and infant school. In 2002 I was hallowed as a member of the Iona Community, going on to help facilitate their Healing ministry as the Iona Prayer Circle Co-ordinator for eleven years. Part of this role was running a week on Iona every year. Up to fifty guests would gather from all sorts of backgrounds and experience to form community. We shared chores and prayer and explored spirituality, prayer and healing, using the arts and the natural world that surrounded us. I was always deeply moved by how a group of diverse people, often strangers, would come together, open their hearts and be willing to look at things in a different way. Many people came from churches but would say they struggled to pray. So many had been brought up to think that prayer had to involve words and it made my heart sing when I saw people realise that they could pray with their creativity or by connecting to the seasons or the elements. Faces and eyes would shine as if some inner light had been switched on.

As a member of the Iona Community I am committed to living by a Rule of life. This Rule  held me through the difficult years when my partner and I no longer felt able to remain in the institution of the church because of homophobia. I found my spiritual path leading me into Nature based practice and discovered the Celtic Wheel of the Year. At the same time, I discovered the Abbey of the Arts which helped me deepen my prayer life in a way that resonated so deeply.

Looking back at some of those difficult times, when I felt that things were being ripped away, I can see now that seeds were being planted in the earth. The seed loses its form, it disintegrates in the darkness so that the new life can come through it. As I work as a Soul Care Practitioner and therapist, I feel a deep sense of calling to those who have been wounded by the institutional church. As part of my daily office I say the words “With the whole church, I affirm that I am made in God’s image”. Sadly many do not experience that truth and my passion is to help restore the broken image, be that the image they have been given of God or the image they have of themselves.

So: Who am I?

An Artist
A Priestess
A Wild Child
A herbalist
A weaver of cloth and a weaver of dreams
A rebel
A Nun
A pioneering, forest foraging, path-finding mystic with muddy knees and dirty hands
A poet
An activist whose social justice is fuelled by prayer
A Druid Bard
A Visionary who cleans toilets and does barn chores
Dancing horse girl
Raven’s friend
Living on the edge
Passionate about the Wild
Sister of the Moon
Embodied with the Earth.

Who are you?

Polly Burns, MA UKCP has worked for many years as a psychotherapist and trainer in the field of trauma. Most days she can be found in her Lodge by the Lake, creating art and helping clients to connect to the Divine through art and nature.

Polly has travelled widely to train as a facilitator of Equine Facilitated therapy, Expressive  Arts and Eco-therapy. Always been a lover of nature, horses and creativity Polly now integrates all of these into her practice. She is a licenced facilitator of Chakradance,  The Art of Allowing , Creative Awakenings and is a facilitator and Instructor for the HEAL method of Equine Facilitated Therapy.

A member of the Iona Community, Polly was coordinator of their healing ministry for 11 years and when in that role ran regular retreats on the Isle of Iona.  With roots in the contemplative and monastic traditions, Polly also draws wisdom from other spiritual paths such as Druidry and Sufism. She is passionate to help those wounded by the institutional church, to restore their image of God and themselves. She is available for spiritual accompaniment and mentoring in person or by skype.

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