Just after Christmas I went on a Soul Space Retreat – my first. About thirty ladies gathered at Drumalis in Larne – a beautiful oasis run by the Sisters of the Cross and Passion. It was organised by Roz Stirling of Cleopas. The initiative is founded on a desire to see women find wholeness in a spiritual walk and the name comes from the story of the man who walked along the road to Emmaus with the risen Jesus without even knowing it!
That story formed the basis of a scriptural meditation, or Lecto Divina. This requires listening, really listening, being attentive and fully engaged with the passage until its meaning soaks into our very bones and we are yielded, renewed, challenged and changed. This is one of the spiritual disciplines practised by the ancients, which is finding favour again in a world of clash and crash and noise and doing. It means taking time out and away and apart, amidst the busyness and stress.
On the Saturday morning we were meditating on Psalm 23 and I took a wander through the beautiful grounds. I was thinking about how the Bible is awash with metaphor. Jesus is at once the light, the gate, the way and of course, the shepherd. Down a lane and round a corner I came unexpectedly upon a flock of sheep. Sheep are really stupid – they stare gormless into the middle distance waiting for something to happen or someone to tell them what to do. However, they do apparently have an acute sense of hearing and the ability to recognise the farmer’s voice. I wasn’t the farmer or the shepherd, so they ignored me.
The moment left me wondering whose voice I am hearing. Jesus made the amazing statement that he knows his sheep by name.
He knows my name?
In the beautiful, still (and chilly) chapel where we had our early morning reflection, there was a painting which intrigued me. In the centre Mary holds out her newborn son in adoration and delight. She rests him against the wooden side of a crib. I looked more closely and realised that the wood was not a crib but a cross, shouldered at the bottom of the painting by Joseph of Arimathea. The baby on a cross is a shocking image but one which reminds me of a poem by Steve Turner called Christmas is Really for the Children which says that people who are offended by ‘whips, blood, nails, a spear and allegations of body snatching’ would do better...
‘to wait for a re-run of Christmas without asking
too many questions about
what Jesus did when he grew up
or whether there’s any connection.’
I too feel caught between birth and death. A close friend is chronically ill. We’re in the waiting. My grandchild is also waiting to be born as we all wait with barely suppressed excitement to welcome him/her. Is it possible to walk through the valley of the shadow of death at the same time as rejoicing in the gift of new life? How does the heart cope with the pain and the pleasure when suspended between Christmas and Easter?
In her blog a friend recently wrote that she’s learned to recognise the difference between life and God. Stuff happens but God is always there – in the walking and the waiting.