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Monk in the World Guest Post: Jenny Taylor

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Jenny Taylor’s reflection “Inspiration on the not-so-wild edge of Suffolk.”

Spending nine days on virtual pilgrimage in the company of “dancing monks”, and guided by Christine Valters Paintner’s hypnotic meditations, has stirred something deep in me. As our world yields to the implacable advance of the digital revolution, the real becomes not just more important, but more sacramental. The real is held for ever in the life-giving embrace of the places and stories, the stones and the springs of our spiritual past. And it is to them and to our ancestors that we must I also believe, turn back, if we are to save our souls.

After forty years in London, I returned to Suffolk where I was born, and which was once called “Selig”. The Pilgrimage has caused me to reconnect with what that means. It is Anglo-Saxon for “holy” or blessed.  It became, as is the way of these things, “silly Suffolk”, and I think that’s delightfully playful.  There is a surprising Celtic connection too, but I’ll come to that in a moment.  Suffolk probably got the nickname “selig” because there were so many churches and monasteries in the county. And the reason for that was partly because it was one of the first places in these islands to have a Christian King – Raedwald of Sutton Hoo fame – and was also very rich from the wool trade.  But there may be even more to it than that.

Thanks to the Pilgrimage, I’ve become attentive to these things.  The place I live in was built to benefit from the springs that rise up in the cliffs here.  This is a former spa town on the very edge of Suffolk. But our Edwardian forebears, in their drive to attract London holiday-makers, seem to have ignored the inherent spiritual attraction of these springs.  Imagine my delight then, last week, when my eyes were opened to a well in the grounds, a tiny sacred well, formed from one of the springs, created quietly by our gardener! It is set about with duckweed – a magical herb of great value to animals.  And it is edged by driftwood found on the shore below, and stone statues. 

One of the three friends who joined me during that unforgettable nine days, who is drawn to “wild edges”, joined me in going to the well each day after the retreats.  We sprinkled our hurting places – our heads and hearts – with its water.  I realized that the elements are everywhere, speaking to me of the enduring reality of God’s love and the life force all around.  I am never alone when I have wind, and water, the sea’s constant yearning for the shore, and the creatures that speak to me of my kinship with all that is. I need never feel disconnected or oppressed. All these things are sacraments of hope and presence.

And now, thanks to the Abbey of the Arts, I’m more fed by that than ever. So much so that friends and I are planning a pilgrim way-station ourselves, near the new King Charles Coastal Path that will run near here. Someone wants to bequeath their home for this. Others have long dreamed of serving the new housing estates with “spiritual wells”. Walking in the elements, in the way of the ancestors, connecting with each other and with the past, may lead many back to the selig in their lives.

And the other Celtic connection? St Fursey, one of the “Four Comely Saints”, who was baptised by Brendan, was the first recorded Irish missionary to East Anglia. He arrived in the 630s, and was given land by the king to establish an abbey here.  

Dr Jenny M Taylor has had a career as a writer, and journalist.  Her forthcoming book Saving Journalism: The Rise, Demise and Survival of the News will be published by Pippa Rann Books this autumn. Her previous book A Wild Constraint is available from Bloomsbury Publishing.

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