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Monk in the World Guest Post: Kate Kennington Steer

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to our Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kate Kennington Steer’s reflection Heart of Stone.

I arrived at February 2023 in a post-viral fatigue fug, feeling beset by depression, with my ‘tank’ utterly depleted.  Thanks to the Abbey of the Arts scholarship scheme, I was able to join a group of monks making a Lent pilgrimage online, exploring what it might mean to make ‘A Different Kind of Fast’, led by our Abbess and a wonderful, multi-disciplinary team  Each week ended with an invitation to practice a creative act of integration and reflection. At the end of week two, Christine’s ‘creative ritual’ encouraged us to make an earth mandala.  I live with chronic illness so although I wasn’t well enough to go for a contemplative walk/wheel, I could make a semi-circle of seven steps from my studio door.  I had moved to a new house in the summer of 2022, and I was still very much dreaming about what my frost-bound English garden might become, but I was staggered to collect the (previously unseen) objects which form this mandala.  To find so many expressions of ‘here’, ’home’, and ‘gift’, which previous inhabitants or visitors had left for me to find, and within such a small area, was (literally) eye-opening.  During the course of Holy Week, as I sat in turn with different elements from the mandala, I was drawn to the stones repeatedly, and in particular, to the painted stone which had been half-buried, dropped down the side of a raised bed.   As I sat touching and looking at its’ curves, edges and facets I found a vision which led to a painting; and as I sat on, words and phrases for a poem arrived.  In this stone, already such a vivid symbol of ‘enough’, (one of the recurring themes of the retreat, and synchronistically, my word for this year), time and space, past and future, met in order to become embodied, enfleshed in me: in me being here in this place, at this time, to host, as well as hold in trust for, whoever will come to my door, old and young, strangers and angels alike.  From being depleted and depressed, the ‘simple’ act of holding a stone allowed Spirit to open a universe to me: a universe full of abundant Grace; a universe where resurrection is happening all around me but also – crucially – within me; where the soil itself is my waiting and willing partner in the acts of radical hospitality and co-creation I hope are to come.

5/6.4.23    – ‘hold’

a child played here - when?
in geologic time just now,

before I arrived

other, smaller, hands made crayon or paints
scrawl marks on a large pebble,
an unlikely native inhabitant of this Surrey soil,
probably an outcast displaced from a distant shore,
a migrant adorned with outlandish colours
not easily found in late English Winter grey,
nor yet even in early Spring, just past the equinox,
where mud prevails and soggèd, bogged lawns
defy the dandelions’ wild bloomings;

a gift left behind

causing me to wonder who,
(why?), planted this stone
for me discover in this earth, raised and
barricaded by scarred scaffolding planks,
then submerged, now resurrected
as tactile prayer
where thumbs fit to shadowed hollows
and an angel’s wing emerges from the scaling
caused by uneven erosion,
(both destruction and purification),
as it gently snags a finger’s pad
passing over and under,

and - as if just like that -
by friction
eons pour benediction
into this grief-swelled hand,

cupped,
waiting.

Kate Kennington Steer is a writer, photographer and visual artist.  Visit imageintoikon.com , ‘acts of daily seeing’ on Facebook, or @katekenningtonsteer on Instagram and YouTube.

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