I The Monastery
In the heart of rural England, where winding roads weave their way through silent coppices and gentle meadows, and industrious farmers nurture their fields through the annual cycle of ploughing, tilling, sowing and reaping, an adventurous pilgrim, lately set out from a certain bustling town, might chance to find himself rounding a bend and pausing in wonder at the scene of goodness and beauty laid out before him.
An ancient monastery was there – solid as the hills themselves, and as much a part of the landscape to lead our pilgrim to question whether God himself had not planted it there, crafting its rough-hewn stones, and laying out its cloisters, gardens and fields so that they truly became the very landscape in which they sat.
The monastery had stood there for generations: a bastion of the traditions of faith and culture. Within her cloistered walls, the monks went about their daily rhythms of rest and work, celebration and prayer, as they had done – day in and day out – for centuries untold. And yet, though her hours might be as dependable as the stones with which she was built, this monastery was far from being a silent relic, consigned forever to dwell in the past. She was, rather, a flourishing community of life and joy – an integral part, not just of the landscape, but of the social fabric of that region.
Her monks were known and loved throughout the area. Every Saturday their produce sat, along with others’, on the market stalls: fruit from their orchards; fine herbs and vegetables from their walled garden; sweet honey from their bees. Each May, when youngsters wove their ribbons round the Maypole in the village, the Abbott himself would be there, serving wines and ales to boost the celebrations. At harvest time, when the farmers went out to gather their crops, the monks would be there, alongside them, bending their backs in fulsome labour. If any in the neighbourhood were ill, the Brother Healer would go out – day or night – to work his charms. Throughout the seasons of life – birth and marriage, sickness and death – the community would look to the monastery for both mystery and meaning, comfort and celebration.
Our solitary pilgrim, knowing nothing of this, but weary from the road, wandered down to the monastery gate. He was not a religious man, but something about the place seemed to draw him in – a welcoming presence, silent and hidden within those walls. The great oak door, iron-studded and darkened with the years did not seem cold or unwelcoming. Its rustic beams seemed rather to be inviting him in – to knock and enter, to enjoy the hospitality of heart and hearth.