Sunday, May 07, 2006

Quest for Sanctuary


Lifestyle Learning

A few years ago when I was researching the Peace Parks concept, looking what's in and around the UK, one of the most moving things I came across was the Quiet Garden and the work of Fr. Patrick.

Later, when I was then researching architecture, looking for spherical and circular structures for spiritual practice to help assist specific brain-wave states and help devotional practice which work in non-controlling, non-hierarchical ways . . . . Worth Abbey comes up again!

Taking a close look, it seemed to me the Monks are not stooped in past doctrines of the Benedictines, but serve in living and meaningful ways which are very current and vital today. It made me think that in the UK, many seekers have, in recent decades enjoyed the introduction and the renaissance of various Buddhist and other eastern traditions - all very important in pluralism and universality - and by-passed some immediate things on the doorstep which quietly speak a similar, equally profound message of awesome personal potential. I wanted to do a retreat at Worth Abbey.

Early last year (2005), whilst walking the 120km of the High Weald Landscape Trail from Sussex to Kent, I came across Worth Abbey again to my great delight. Why does the heart 'soar' so?
  • Is it the landscape and the nature environment?
  • Is it the modern circular architecture for worship within a community setting?
  • Is it the devotional lifestyle of something which I've got difficulty hanging on to?
Later in 2005, I was thrilled and most uplifted by the BBC series 'The Monastery' not only to find this was Worth Abbey (again) but, more importantly, the work they were doing with the people who'd agreed to be the subject of the series. This was a similar client-group I worked with in prisons, and the rehabs. (Had I had access to this series, or to Worth Abbey, or to be able to refer people to the Abbey???) I am so thrilled this TV series is to be repeated again this year in June. It's an education and experience to all! If you missed it first time, then tune-in!!

And, it doesn't stop there. Earlier this week, early one morning whilst still in half-sleep and half-listening to the radio I heard a debate about a new book release and this person (the author) seemed to be explaining so beautifully, lot of things I'd like to be able to. So eloquently! I later discovered this was The Abbot from the TV series, Fr. Christopher Jamison. Do take time to read his new book Finding Sanctuary.

Does it matter whether the origins are in sandskrit or Latin or any other ancient text? The five tips to meditate are really the same, the principles of devotional living are the same, in or out of a monastic setting, whichever part of the planet we are on.

"Monks pray. A monk is in a constant state of prayer, expressed in whatever he's doing. Whether he's sleeping, eating, working or in church, monks never stop worshiping God, because God is in absolutely everything they do.

"Monks also pray through meditation, an inwardly-focused state of stillness primarily done on one's own. When Monks aren't in church, praying or meditating, they have a monastery to run. A community of men, religious or otherwise, can't run itself.

"So there is work to be done in the gardens, in the kitchen, washing clothes, maintaining the church and the monastery, as well as the pastoral work of the parish, the school and looking after visitors. It's very hard work, and requires a tremendous amount of discipline to make sure everything is done."

Whilst most of us don't want to become nuns or monks of any religion, don't see it as a life purpose and yet still aspire . . . . there's so, so much we can learn (which most of us tend to ignore or disregard) which is not just about value-structures and moral code, but also about personal discipline, adopting a way of life which is otherwise so hard to maintain by oneself.