I’ve not blogged for the last couple of weeks because I’ve been busy getting things ready so I could go away on my annual retreat with a clear desk and conscience. I managed it and so I’ve been on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumberland for the last four days. This retreat has become part of my annual pattern and has been enormously helpful for the three times I’ve been on it.
This year we were invited at the beginning of the time to reflect on the story of St. Brendan, who would put to sea in a very small boat called a coracle, and then allow the Holy Spirit to take him wherever he wanted. We were encouraged to put our retreat time into God’s hands and follow where he led. Since I went with no sense of an agenda this was a helpful start.
One of the significant activities of this retreat is to walk across the sands to the island at low tide, following the route the ancient pilgrims would have taken. This route is marked by tall wooden poles, and punctuated by two towers topped with shelters, for those who get caught by the incoming tide. We were encouraged to reflect on what the marker posts are for us; the things in our lives by which we steer, the things that occur that provide a route and mark our movement. Spiritual disciplines and a rhythm of life might be examples of these. And then we thought about the shelters; the places we go to when life might overtake us, and we all need to identify people or places that might be this to us.
However, my reflection on the towers is that they also allow perspective. They are raised up above the route and enabled me to look back at how far I have come in the last year, where I wandered off the path, when the journey was going well. They helped me to get a wider sense of the lie of the land and see how far I’ve still got to go, both personally and in my work, and what the direction of the future journey might be.
The problem then is that I then have to climb down the ladder from the shelter and set off walking towards the next pole in the line, through some rather sticky mud! And I can’t see the rest of the poles from down at ground level, or the point where the pilgrim’s route reaches the island. Never mind though, I’ve seen that the poles go all the way to the end, and that there’s another shelter not too far ahead. And I’m surrounded by friends as I travel.