A couple of weeks ago, we went to the zoo. It’s only ten minutes away from where we live and Jane and I first went there some 35 years ago. Among our favourite animals besides the orangutan, big cats and giraffes (alas, no more elephants or bison) is a much smaller creature.

make the most of itTucked away at the very top of a very bushy, very high tree, sit the usually unseen Red Pandas. Once or twice over the years, we have caught a glimpse of their ‘red’ fur in amongst the green foliage but nothing more. Until… this last visit. For there they were, having lunch out in the open. And what a beautiful animal it is. We stood and watched for ages and I for one didn’t want to leave. I wanted to make the most of it.

Such ‘stay here’ moments are relatively rare, it seems to me. Although, again recently, I had another experience of one such time. Sat on the sea front at Sidmouth in Devon – another favourite haunt for the last few decades. I’d just been with my spiritual director – although the need to be able to talk about the events of the last few weeks turned it in to a pseudo-counselling session (for which I was immensely grateful).

Sat in one of the seafront shelters, the wooden structure provided a cocoon from the world around. And Peace sat next to me in it. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to make the most of it.

And then, even more recently, just in this last week, I have been on retreat at what has become my new spiritual home: Mucknell Abbey in Worcestershire. A Benedictine Monastic Community, it is what St Benedict calls an example of ‘a school for the Lord’s service’.

I first went to this type of school at Alton Abbey in Hampshire. There I was ‘educated’ to begin to become an Oblate (someone who tries to live according to the spirit of the Rule of St Benedict in their ordinary, non-monastic life but also has a clearly defined link with a specific Community). Sadly, Alton Abbey has now closed and I was delighted that after visiting twice last year and having various discussions then and since, Mucknell were willing accept me as an Oblate in their Community. In many ways, it feels like I have progressed from ‘primary’ to ‘secondary’ school. And just like the secular parallel, this new ‘school’ is a bigger one.

make the most of itTimes of retreat are very precious. Of cherishing the silence as well as the conversation. Of participating in and being absorbed by the worship, those seven times each day when the community gathers in the oratory, the chapel.

There are also elements of not wanting to leave this ‘stay here’ place. And of wanting to make the most of it.

Each time I go on retreat I do so with a sense of ‘expectation’ – what God might do, say or show. And each time I can try too hard to make that happen. I can end up doing what St Benedict warns against: ‘Do not aspire to be called holy before you really are.’ Such ‘expectations’ then sit in tension with the knowledge that the time is limited (and the folly of trying to dictate what God should do!) Times of retreat are uncomfortable and unsettling.

So imagine my surprise when this time I had no sooner sat down in the oratory for the first office of the first afternoon when God planted one word: ‘Receive’.

Receive? It reminded me of a previous retreat. What, don’t do all those things I’d planned to think about or do? All those things I thought would make the most of it…

But receive I did. The solace of silence. The love, hospitality and kind words of the community members and other oblates to the beauty of the surrounding land and views of the Malvern Hills to the comforting words of liturgy and the bread and wine of communion.

The unexpected blessings from God.


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 In this season of Lent, do take a look at some short films and other resources which may be helpful.

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