It is hard to say what first drew me to contemplative practices – it has always been with me, like a gentle tug. Perhaps it comes of growing up in the bush, free ranging through creation, talking to God as I went. What I can say is my spiritual life is ever deepened and my being nourished through contemplative ways. I love all things still and self-emptying. Self-emptying, or the “kenotic way”, is me. Contemplation for me is creating a space for rich conversations with the Divine, silently listening while being held in transformational love.
My experience of contemplative practices is the discipline of returning again and again without expectations – intentionally turning up and paying attention. Above all it is relational. I find that the plethora of contemplative practices all provide ways of sinking into the loving arms of God. However, I am especially drawn to practices of silence. Meditation is at the heart of my practice.
Initially, I experienced meditation in the Buddhist way of chanting, but once I was introduced to Christian meditation it became my way. I first met in person with a beautiful group of people; however, I have discovered that time and space are no barriers to gathering with others for meditation. Meditating together can happen over Zoom, via a phone teleconference and in any other digital spaces where people can gather. Meditation may, for example, begin with music, poetry or prayer, and then at the invitation of the “gong” move into silence for 20 minutes.
Benedictine Monk John Main described meditation as providing “glimpses” of God. Each time is anew, and so we are encouraged to come with a beginner’s mind. Meditation is not a skill to master by getting better and better. It is the fidelity of showing up to the unknowing, as the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing described it in the 14th century, and of opening to the Holy Spirit. The suggestion is to begin and end the day with meditation. I must admit to not always making it, but even a little meditation is beneficial.
Pilgrimage is another favourite contemplative way for me. A pilgrimage is walked one step at a time. This is what faced me several years ago in 2019 when I walked the Caminho Português da Costa (Portuguese Coastal Way) and the Variante Espiritual (Spiritual Way) to Santiago de Compostela in Spain’s Galicia region. The final leg of the Spiritual Way is an exhilarating boat ride up an ocean inlet to Padrón. As legend has it, this was the path taken when the relics of Saint James the Apostle were brought in a stone boat to his final resting place in Santiago de Compostela.
However, before making that boat ride I had a long way to go. So facing north, I headed into the late autumn of the Northern Hemisphere. I walked up the west coast of Portugal into Spain, the Atlantic Ocean at my left shoulder, sometimes wild and crashing, other times gentle and inviting. Little did I know it would take much more than one step at a time to complete. It was only with a fortitude of God’s grace that I reached my destination.
As usual nothing went to my plan. Self-emptying took on a literal meaning as the traveller’s scourge gripped my gut. Yet so many profound moments. The walk became a continual conversation with God. A little like the Russian pilgrim praying the Jesus prayer, I found every breath was a prayer. An especially meaningful experience was receiving a personal blessing at the Blessing of the Peregringos (pilgrims) during Vespers (Evening Prayer) under the cloisters of Monasterio de Santa Maria de Armenteira, a Cistercian monastery situated high in the mountains. It was built in 1168 and is now run by a small group of nuns dedicated to providing hospitality to the passing pilgrims. I stayed for several days – the ancient stone walls steeped in prayer held me tenderly in loving silence. In humility and faith, I continued.
Always a seeker and a pilgrim, about 18 months ago my curiosity drew me to Holy Hermits Online (HHO). I knew HHO priest The Rev’d Jamee Callard from when she was an ordinand and had previously enjoyed her deep spiritual wisdom. HHO offers an alternative to in-person Sunday services, including online contemplative service.
Being part of an online Zoom environment is personal and fun. “Fur babies” are an integral part of the Holy Hermits Online family. My kitten often joins in online to greet other HHO pets, such as fun-loving pooch Wiggles and his moggy pals, Jasmine and Angel.
Another special highlight is sharing an Agape meal (communal meal) during different seasons of the liturgical year. Often using the liturgical colour as the food colour theme, we eat together online. HHO’s two-year birthday celebration is approaching and so we are looking forward to an online 70s themed faith-music party, featuring food, music and attire. So we will be digging out the psychedelic flares and the fondue sets. Deviled eggs anyone?
Since joining the HHO community, I have experienced beautiful moments and a deepening relationship with God, as well as experiencing the challenges of my “shadow self”. Deepening into the Holy Spirit’s love brought me face to face with my ego self, with my long-standing tactics of self-protection emerging. I found myself pulling back and withdrawing as a result. Sensing something was amiss, The Rev’d Jamee gently reached out to me. Her gentle pastoral care guided me toward seeing my whole self as being created by God.
On reflection, the past 18 months with HHO have left me feeling grounded and refreshed in my relationship with God. Spending time with God is at the heart of my being. And with this in mind, I am especially looking forward to our next online retreat, as we listen and reflect on scripture and the writings of mystic Hildegard of Bingen. Through music, poetry and stillness, the retreat will be a contemplative morning of spending time with God. What’s not to like?
Editor’s note: Join the Holy Hermits Online community on Saturday 27 August for an online retreat morning, facilitated by spiritual director Dilys, with creative exercises guided by spiritual direction formation student Susan. The retreat will focus on the Season of Creation and the theme “Listen to the Voice of Creation”. Register or find out more from the Holy Hermits Online website.Jump to next article