“Take rest once more, O my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.”
Last week I was taken by surprise with an unexpected joy.
I had headed North to Kettlewell for a few days’ quiet retreat at Scargill House – a wonderful little community in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. As I drove up through the traffic of M6, the drizzly rain somewhat reflected how my spirit was feeling. I had been struggling over recent weeks with a sense of heaviness: anger at some of the injustice around us; feeling perplexed by a God who seems to make it unbelievably difficult for people to find; grappling with some of the deep paradoxes of a faith that appears to provide more questions than answers. And then, that morning, I had heard the news that a dear friend, whom I was planning to see that day, had died during the night.
So I wasn’t quite sure what I was letting myself in for by going on retreat. I was steeling myself for three days of wrestling with the hard questions, shedding a few tears, and shouting at God.
As I drove into Wharfedale, however, the rain stopped, and by the time I’d settled into my room and had a cup of tea and my first helping of the wonderful cakes that the community magically produce each day, the sun was shining on the moors above.
So I put on my boots and headed out for a short stroll up through the woods before evening prayer. As I climbed up to the crags, my spirit seemed to lift within me, as a symphony of birds surrounded me. Out on the top, the skies were now clear with a bright sun slowly sinking towards the western side of the valley. I found myself running over the mossy banks, my soul jumping and dancing inside, just like the two little deer that I had startled on my way up. There’s no way I could explain this immense feeling of joy.
Eventually as the dusk started to gather around me, I wandered back down through the woods, and as I approached Scargill House I could see the community gathering for prayer in their amazing Scandinavian-style wood chapel. Running down the last few hundred yards, I left my boots at the door and thought I might just slip quietly into the chapel to join the others for evening prayer.
That was not to be. The chapel at Scargill is set up in such a way that as you enter, you are in full view of everyone who is sitting there in pious contemplation!
So, feeling rather sheepishly like Maria von-Trapp-to-be, I took my place just as the community was settling down to a time of silent contemplation on Psalm 114.
“Why was it, O Sea, that you fled,
O Jordan, that you turned back,
You mountains that you skipped like rams,
You hills, like lambs?”
Psalm 114: 5,6