Here is a lovely posting from Deacon Jonathan Munn who wrote St Benedict’s Priory Salisbury 2013: Incarnation about his retreat reflections at a moment when he is preparing to receive the gift of the priesthood. It is a beautiful meditation on the smallest and humblest things mattering to God.
My own summer holiday plans have had to change by necessity, and my needs this year revolve around a time of solitude and exploration of nature. In a few days, after the Assumption, I will be going to spend some time on the banks of the Rance on the North Brittany coast. The Rance is a long estuary that extends inland from the Port of Saint-Malo all the way in to Dinan.
It is navigable practically all the way, even with deep-drawing long keel yachts. Also, though it is tidal, the Rance is very safe and one can avoid heavy sea swells and currents. Though I love the sea and it moods, sometimes inland sailing can do much good.
There are villages where I will be able to beach my boat, take dry clothes out of my waterproof plastic drum – and visit the church where in the old days anguished wives prayed for their husbands in peril on the sea during their long voyages to the Grand Banks to bring back tons of salt cod.
It is one of those magic places that attracts sailors in all kinds of sailing boats who want to explore, spend quiet days on islands and away from the world. Others compete in regattas, pitting their sailing skills together with a boat built for speed and efficiency. All the bridges are high enough to sail under without taking down the mast. This will be my monastic cloister this year between my van, my tent and my little ten-foot dinghy – my little life of Swallows and Amazons, innocence and childhood regained.
I greatly appreciate Deacon Jonathan’s quote from William Blake:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
(William Blake 1757-1827, from Auguries of Innocence)
Naturally, I will be taking my breviary and travelling Mass kit. Indeed my life will be as little as future Father Jonathan’s – ora et labora. I would add the verb navigare, to navigate or sail.
I would also add Kenneth Grahame’s famous quote for The Wind in the Willows:
There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
There are two more postings from Deacon Jonathan, which are profound and searching. Are all priests corrupt? – Secularisation, sentiment and small things and the earlier All priests are corrupt – The damaging implications of sweeping statements. Powerful stuff to read in these Dog Days, Dies Canicularis or La Canicule! These are truly dog days for me as I had to have my Rex “put to sleep” and my other dog Sally got a paw badly bitten by another dog (she’s on the mend)! The cats are fine. Back to the subject: –
I live in a country where secularism (laïcité) proved necessary after the self-righteous bourgeois Catholicism of the nineteenth century. The fact that religion has a spiritual rather than a political role can only be positive. Naturally, he, like myself, is liable to get shot down for “unorthodox” ideas. We need to agree on our use of words and get to concepts and reasons, and not just superficial feelings caused by a “buzz”.
Another thing about Catholic France is that you’re either a traditionalist and practically “Fascist” in your political ideology or tolerant and going along with the Novus Ordo “mush”. And then there is the “left” ideology, as intolerant as the “right”. We have to learn to be individual persons and think outside the box – that is how genius and inspiration come about.
Our urban and rural societies are post-Christian. Perhaps if I lived in town and rented a former workshop, I might attract people who are not satisfied with what is in the religious supermarket. Here in the country, no one is interested, and very few go to the parish church. Perhaps the country folk are even more alienated than the cosmopolitan city folk in Rouen and Paris.
Like Deacon Jonathan, I feel the need to participate in society, even if it means being discreet about being a priest. I am highly privileged to belong to a diocesan clergy with men of the calibre and inspired vision of Bishop Damien Mead and soon to be Father Jonathan Munn. We are only ordinary men, not saints, but we have learned to be individuals, persons and with free minds.
Indeed, respect for laïcité and the separation of churches and secular politics is not a betrayal of our faith or spiritual commitment, or our belief in objective truth. I too have been inspired by the monastic way, but I am a secular priest, called to be a part of society in the real world, in which increasing numbers of people are atheists or aspire to a non-Christian spiritual world view.
He would probably not admit it, but I find Deacon Jonathan very close to my own anarchist views – in that every human system can become corrupt and has no absolute value. Authority is a necessary expedient, for the bene esse of society, as with law, but the ideal is for the human soul to transcend both authority and law. This ideal is easier to approach to some extent for individual persons and small groups than whole societies like nations.
Many of us regret that our lives “do not make any difference”, that we are crushed by the determinism of the “machine”. I certainly get that impression as a blogger. But in Christian terms, the smallest movement of atoms or energy moves the whole world. Everything is connected and nothing is isolated. This is one of the discoveries of quantum physics. Everything is an all, and that all is God.
Let’s see how dinghy sailing and saying the Office mix…