Walls

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Dear Friends

The last few weeks I have been on Malta in my capacity of “locum” at St Andrew’s Scots church which means I am, until the first week of December, the minister of this very ecumenical congregation.

As locums are only part time I have a day or two a week to visit and blend in with the tourists. But there is no need to go sightseeing to realise that Malta  is one big building site. On my way back from Valletta to the flat I call home while I am here, I wondered if I would be able to photograph a different crane for every day of my stay, well that was quickly answered, within 5 minutes I had spotted more than 10!  And later I discovered that from the balcony of my flat I can actually spot 7 of them!!!IMG_0400

Wherever you go here people are building, either flats for the residents and “swallows” (expats who come when the weather appeals to them) or hotels for the tourists.

But of course it is not just new buildings that are constructed.  Over the past years old fortresses, towers and other medieval buildings have been beautifully restored too.

Fort St Angelo

As I look at both the old and the new buildings I can’t help but think of those knights of St John and especially of   Jean de (la) Valette grandmaster of the order of Hospitaliers  (who coincidently was born not far from where we are in France) and I think of all the building work they did: the “auberges”  which are houses where the knights lived, socialised and offered hospitality to pilgrims,  the churches, the hospitals but  also the fortresses, the amazingly solid walls built to protect but on the one hand but also to keep the enemy, in their case the pirates and the armies of the Ottoman empire, out on the other.IMG_0419

With possibly, the exception of the nomadic people,  being human means building walls of one kind or another  and yet as I look at these enormous  defence structures I realise that sometimes we create walls for the wrong reasons; we create walls not because we are in danger  but because we do not want to share.

I once read somewhere that a society that builds walls to keep others out is a society on its last legs. I guess such walls could be described as walls without gates.

Bighi Sally Port the gate through which the wounded people were brought in to be looked after in the Sacra Infermeria in Birgu (Vittoriosa)

A healthy society on the other hand will keep its gates wide open and there is a coming and going of people, of knowledge, of trade etc…

The ancient city of Jerusalem is said to have had 12 gates.

Such gates were busy places, places where people met;  people from the town but also outsiders who came for business or on pilgrimage ; people  from different cultures, speaking different languages,   in and near those gates deals were made, decisions taken.

As for Jesus, though he healed and ministered at city gates it is maybe more significant that his journey to Calvary started  with  him entering the  Holy city  through the Eastern gate  sitting on a donkey  while men, women and children welcomed him with palms, shouting “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…”

May we never build walls to protect ourselves without including gates to let the other in; especially the sick, the poor, the lost and the refugees. For by welcoming others we welcome Jesus himself

Porte de Provence, Birgu

 

Blessings to you all

Joanne

 

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”(Matthew 25:40)

 

 

O when the saints

St Stephen’s cathedral, Cahors

Dear friends

2019 has been an important year for Cahors, the capital of the Lot department, as it celebrated the 900th anniversary of its Cathedral dedicated to St Stephen.

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The “Sainte coiffe” or holy headdress

The pinnacle of the celebrations was the display of the cathedral’s relic: The “sainte coiffe” (or holy headdress). For those of you who have no idea what a holy headdress might look like; the relic is allegedly the cap Jesus wore when he was buried. It looks like a papal zucchetto or a Jewish kippah but is made of  simple white cloth at least as far as I could make out when I had a closer look at it.

Indeed the visual was extremely important in the Middle Ages when it came to sharing the Christian faith. For at a time when very few could read, pictures and objects helped people to imagine and remember  stories. And so all over the Christian world church walls were  decorated with Biblical scenes, amazing stained glass windows  retelling the stories of Old and New Testament were created and objects claimed to be related to Jesus or the  saints were purchased and displayed.

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Cloister of Cahors cathedral

Like most relics this skullcap found its way to Cahors Cathedral  in the Middle Ages; a time when many pilgrims made their way to the Holy Land in an attempt to get closer to Jesus.Now whatever we may think of this cap and of relics in general, they were, I think, a way of making Jesus and some of his  special followers more “visible” to people.

Now whether such objects should have been revered in themselves or whether they truly were what they claimed to be is not the point here, the point is that in their earthiness,  they helped people understand and live the story of salvation. They  brought Christ and God’s love closer to the ordinary man or woman.

IMG_20190814_140121As such, I think those relics may not have been very different from the stone we are today asked to hold in our hand during a meditation about pain and grief. A stone that we may later put at the foot of a cross because we want to leave our suffering in Christ’s safe hands trusting that he can take our brokenness and make us whole again.

So maybe that skullcap, that rather unusual relic from Cahors cathedral , helped  thousands and thousands of ordinary men and women  understand  that Christ had truly died for them . Maybe it helped them see salvation and know true Love.

As for the relics of saints:  I met a devout Catholic a few days ago and asked him what according to him was the meaning of them today. His response was: “To me relics remind us that the person whose bones we see is only human just like us”; not therefore an object of veneration but an object to encourage imitation.  In short: if a saint is just a human being, then every human being is potentially a saint. Now there is a thought!

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Cahors’ medieval Pont Valentre

To get back to the famous “sainte coiffe”  together with the beautiful pont Valentré, it turned Cahors into an essential  stopover, a “high place”, on the pilgrimage route to Compostela. And this year, as the  holy cap has been back on display for the first time since WWII,  pilgrims from all over the world have come once more to admire it. Let’s hope that they too were able  to “see” how much  Christ loves us all!

As for the different denominations present in Cahors and surroundings, we will celebrate the anniversary in a way that we feel is appropriate for us: by getting together in the cathedral for a joint service of hymns and prayers celebrating Christ and all his saints known and unknown.

Blessings to all God’s beloved who are called to be saints

Joanne

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Alpha and Omega cross by Ian Evans-Boiten

 

 

 

For everything there is a season

 

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Dear Friends

Any late visitors who have come to this part of France hoping  to enjoy  a last flush of sunflower  radiance and joy will be  disappointed, for I am sorry to say as the end of summer approaches, the sunflowers have lost all their happy and hope-giving beauty.

In fact looking at the same fields I photographed only six or so weeks ago and seeing all those dried up dead flowers it is difficult not to feel sad. Sad and maybe even a little disappointed. Does beauty, does life, does happiness for that matter only last such a short time?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy answer to that question is NO, of course not.

For it is the drying up and dying of the flower that is necessary for the seeds to form, the seeds that bring new life, not just in the form of one new flower, but potentially  of a whole field of flowers.

Our eldest daughter loves sunflowers with a great passion, so when she got married a few years ago she wanted her favourite flowers for her wedding bouquet and for all the other flower arrangements in church and party venue.  Rather than buying so many flowers she decided to grow them herself . To be certain however that there would be flowers ready to be picked in time for the wedding she had to sow the  seeds  with a week interval for a month or so .

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Which meant that in the end  there were a lot of sunflowers, not just on the day of the wedding but weeks before and after… Flowers which in due course withered and dried out. But rather than look at these “had been” flowers  thinking that the party was over, our daughter and son in law picked the heads and collected the seeds in order to send some  to each of their guests  with their thank you note.

The seeds were to be a reminder of a glorious and happy day celebrating their love for each other,  but they were also meant to be a sign of hope , hope that new joy-bringing flowers would grow wherever they were planted.

 

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Earlier this year we, at Colomba le Roc, sowed some of these wedding seeds and as we were a bit later in doing so than the farmers around here, we are lucky enough to still enjoy the radiance and beauty of our sunflowers. However we are also looking forward to the end of the season when from the dried out flowers we can harvest the seeds that will bring us hope and joy next year.

 

In a book I read recently  a “wise man” tells a bereaved person that rather than let himself be overwhelmed with grief he should  on the contrary let the death of his loved one make him  live more fully . The “wise man” tells him that death only has a meaning  if it makes us live a better life.

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photograph Willem Wilstra

 

That is of course easier said than done, and it may even seem wrong in some way; disrespectful of the person we have lost,  yet Jesus died because he wanted us to live life to the full.

And so I wonder what that means for each one of us: to live a better life, to live it to the full, to our full  potential…

Blessings to you all

Joanne

The wedding

 

IMG_20190727_190256~2Dear Friends

In my experience there are, roughly speaking, two types of wedding. There is the wedding planner type which includes the latest trend in flowers, music and food;  all very chic and tasteful .  And there is the  do it yourself type; when family and friends help as best they can and if things don’t go exactly to plan, no one really cares. On the contrary, for  all are there to rejoice in the couple’s love.

It is this second kind of wedding we experienced here a couple of weeks ago. And what a special occasion it was!

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And as bride, groom and their guests were staying in the Lot for the week, there was plenty time to prepare for the celebration together. And so it was decided that the day preceding the wedding the whole party would go to a nearby chateau to do some wine tasting and decide which wine, and how much of it, should be purchased for the wedding.

PHOTO-2019-08-17-12-10-00 (1)The next day, while the bride was having her first experience of Reiki treatment, the men were sent out to gather flowers for chapel, table and of course the bride’s bouquet.

Amazing flower arrangements were then created by other family members.

Soon stunning bouquets were  decorating the chapel  and the dining table was beautifully set for the festive meal.  By six o’clock everything was truly ready and the wedding could begin!

Looking at the anticipation and joy on everyone’s face what struck me was that through all these preparations  family and friends were not just offering their love and support to the couple they were also rejoicing and looking forward to truly celebrating their marriage, their union as man and wife.

PHOTO-2019-08-17-12-21-00And as I realised that  it struck me how appropriate it was that  God’s welcome to us is described as the welcome of a king who organises a banquet, a banquet with enough food and drink for everyone, a banquet where everything has been prepared with love and with each one of us, individually, in mind. A banquet to celebrate who we are; his beloved unique children.

God  says to us “come then for everything is ready” come and celebrate my love for you!

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All we need to do is put our party clothes on! And this the bride and groom and guests at our wedding at Colomba le Roc certainly did as each of them was wearing beautiful  wedding outfits traditional for the country they represented as they entered the chapel to celebrate  the marriage blessing of such a special couple.

 

 

 

Blessings to you all

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If you are interested in a couple of Bible stories about banquets and weddings then may I suggest:

John 2:1-12; the wedding at Cana

Matthew 22: 1-14: The wedding banquet

 

I also love the mosaics of the wedding at Cana from the basilica of our Lady of the rosary in Lourdes

What a gift!

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“Colomba le Roc” designed by Sue and Martyn Camburn

 

Dear Friends

 

When my three little daughters lost their father 25 years ago, I looked everywhere for books that could help them with their grief. One book I found was entitled “Badger’s parting gifts”. Badger knows he has not got long to live, and so he gently prepares his friends for his departure. But though the friends seem to accept that Badger is gone, they are concerned about life without him, until they remember the special things Badger did with each one of them. For Badger taught Mole how to make paper chains and held … by the hand when he learnt to skate. He showed fox how to knot his tie and gave Mrs Bunny, who is now a super cook, his recipe for ginger bread…PHOTO-2019-07-16-15-48-04

 

And as they each share their memories, Badger’s friends realise he gave them a “parting” gift, something he taught them , something lasting that reminds them of his friendship and love. A “parting gift” they can share with others.

 

Parting gifts come in many different forms. It can be a specific object which has a special meaning to the recipient. But more often than not it is something less concrete something more emotional.  It may be love, it may be courage, it may be faith.

 

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choosing the glass during a trip to Bordeaux

Our new stained glassed window which was designed at a time of “parting” is such a gift to us. It reminds us of a very special person whose faith, love and courage was a gift to all who knew her.

But that is not all for in the design itself we receive the gift of comfort and that of new life. Because the cross with the dove reminds us of the words Jesus spoke to his disciples when he was preparing them for his own death:

 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:25-27 (NRSV)PHOTO-2019-07-17-23-16-27

What a gift!

A gift of love,

A gift of hope,

A gift of faith.

 

Today I  want to leave you with the  Gaelic blessing  which inspired John Rutter to compose such beautiful music:

Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the gentle night to you
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you
Deep peace of Christ the light of the world to you
Deep peace of Christ to you

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Joanne

It’s a miracle!

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photo Willem Wilstra

 

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St Columba of Iona

Dear friends

When Motel, the tailor in Fiddler on the roof, realises he can marry his sweetheart Tzeitel he starts singing (this being a musical) of all the miracles God performed in the Old Testament, to conclude:

« But of all God’s miracles large and small,
The most miraculous one of all
Is the one I thought could never be:
God has given you to me.”

Those words, to me, express more than just the young man’s love for Tevje’s oldest daughter, they also give us an insight into the meaning of the word “miracle”:  for indeed, in some way,  a miracle is something  we thought “Could (or would) never be”. Something amazing , something that  makes our hearts jump with joy, something awe inspiring, something that reflects God’s glory.

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photo Willem wilstra

How often do we pray for miracles, and complain that God no longer performs them? But miracles are all around us; in the delicate beauty of a poppy, in the perfection of a newly born baby, in undeserved forgiveness, in love given “no matter what”… Miracles happen; all we need to do is open our eyes and our hearts to see them.

In many ways our celebration for the blessing and dedication of Colomba le Roc on Pentecost Sunday was a miracle. First of all because this year Pentecost and the feast of St Columba fell on the same day; which meant that the coming of the Spirit and our  Celtic Christian heritage could be celebrated together.

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United in Christ: Seven different denominations led worship together to celebrate the blessing of Colomba le Roc and the dedication of our chapel to the peacemaker, St Hild of Whitby (Photo Gilles Chevriau)

Yet to me what made this celebration a true miracle was the fact that all denominations present in our corner of France had agreed to take part in the service, not just by reading a passage given to them, but by each doing something which belonged to their tradition. The Roman Catholic priest dedicated the chapel to St Hild(a), the Orthodox priest blessed her icon, the Protestant minister preached the sermon on the stilling of the storm, the moderator of the International Presbytery blessed our retreat place etc…

Without the presence of the Holy Spirit I realise it could just have been a patchwork service made up of bits of this and bits of that, but the Spirit was there to unify it, and us,  despite the different traditions and languages. And so our hearts were filled with joy  amazement and  awe  before God who made what we thought impossible, possible.

Today like in the times of Moses and Daniel, Jesus and the disciples,  God performs miracles. Maybe not always the miracles we hope for, but miracles that are there to remind us that he is God and he loves us.

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St Hild of Whitby

 

 

All we need is to open our eyes and our hearts.

 

 

 

 

In the last year, we have worked at preparing our home so that we could welcome guests who want to spend some “time out” to reflect on their journey with God or who just need inner peace and refreshment. The fact that we are now officially open, is in its own way a miracle, but to mark that this section of our journey is at and end, we now say goodbye to Bunny our fellow pilgrim  and I think it is only appropriate to finish today with some words of  John Bunyan’s famous hymns:

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Bunny says goodbye

 

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

 

 

May God bless you all

Joanne

Pictures and Icons

 

IMG_20190519_100041Dear Friends

A couple of weeks ago we had  photographer Willem and his wife  Tjitske staying with us here at Colomba le Roc. Willem came to get a feel for the place and take pictures we plan to use for a flyer and possibly also for our website.  Photographs therefore meant to give potential guests an impression of our retreat house.

And so Willem and I walked around the buildings , the garden and the woods,  choosing places and items we liked. After a week Willem managed to create a big file full of beautiful pictures, but as I now have to choose suitable ones for our flyer I realise that it is not just about beautiful photographs it is about what they are saying; the message behind them.

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Photograph Willem Wilstra

What does each picture chosen say about Colomba le Roc about what we’re about, about the message we want to share. What message are we “writing” with our pictures?

As I reflected on this I thought of icons….

Nowadays the word icon will be familiar to most people who speak  English   as it is such an essential part of our computer and internet –led world. But recently I  wondered if many people had thought about the reason for which an otherwise religious word  came to play such a big role in everybody’s daily life.

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Photograph Willem Wilstra

Why did the people who created this new language not just use the term picture or image?

And the more I thought about the more I realised that the word icon was very aptly chosen. For an icon is not really about the image you can see it points towards something bigger. So for example if you see an icon of a little white bird on a blue background you click it not to see a bird but to receive or write messages. If you drag the white telephone receiver on a green background you do that not because you’re fond of old fashioned telephones but because you intend to speak to someone. Click on two musical notes and you’ll be able to listen not just to one song but to a complete concert!

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Photograph Willem Wilstra

One icon can open a whole world to us. So our modern icons have indeed much in common with the religious icons we know so well from the Eastern Orthodox church. For religious  icons are not meaningful in themselves, it is not about the picture you see, or the saint it represents, an Christian icon  is a window (another  link with the computer world!) a window to something much bigger much more complete; a window to God.

IMG_20190519_100446Not surprising therefore that icons are not “painted” after all they are not pictures. Icons are “written” because they are a message. They have meaning, they are even beautiful  because of what or rather who they lead us to.

And so I hope that after much reflection we will manage to choose  photographs which in a very small way will are that very thing: a message telling us that retreats are first and foremost about experiencing God’s love and (re)discovering his presence in our lives.

May God bless you all

Joanne

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Photograph Willem Wilstra