I miss you my Love this desolate night. My face turned to the cold wall, sickening silence. Hours and days of it. The only hint of You is that question You have asked these forty years and more - "Can you drink the cup that I must drink?" (Matthew 20:22). The answer is always yes, though I often kick against the way in which the cup is given.
Recently it dawned on me that, unusually, I had come through the winter without getting depressed and I was moving towards Lent full of purpose and confidence. I knew what I had to give up and take on, fully aware that the practises of Lent should lead me closer to God, make a better person of me.
Lent had hardly begun when I was hit by a nasty cold that soon turned into a viral infection but I still went ahead with plans to spend a few days in Worth Abbey, feeling the need of a monastic experience - the first since my arrival in England eight months ago.
It was wonderful to walk into the silence of the place. The great circular church looked and felt like a tranquil desert, the perimeter of pure quiet.
Seeing Canon Tom Treherne there was an added blessing. He was my neighbouring parish priest in the first few months of my time here and he did a lot to help me settle in to this new life. He was leaving that evening but it gave us a chance to catch up.
Things started to fall apart for me that night. The pain in my throat and chest became intense and I was finding it hard to breathe so I couldn’t sleep. Next day I knew I had to come back home to Hastings and my own bed despite the efforts of the guest master to persuade me otherwise. Went to the doctor who told me it was viral and just had to be endured. It would take at least a week she said. My voice sounded like something alien, like it came from the bowls of the earth! It's a virus that has hit many people this winter and lasts longer than one would like.
Thankfully Fr. Tony was here to fill in for me for the week so it gave me the freedom to stay in bed as long as I needed, though I dislike having to stay in bed. A week later, when Fr. Tony had to leave, my sister Evelyn came over to mind me. Having family near at such a time makes things more bearable.
I’ve never felt as ill in my whole life. All my confidence left me, my enthusiasm for Lent evaporated and the feeling of God’s presence disappeared. I knew by faith that He was there but I felt nothing only misery.
Like Hezekiah in Isaiah 38 I turned my face to the wall and, though I felt sorry for myself, I found myself thinking of the people being bombed out in the suburbs of Damascus. I also thought of my friend who has been sick in bed for 30 years. And the family of Autumn, the girl who died in January at the age of one year and two months. Others here and at home who are struggling with serious illness. I prayed for them and reminded myself that their plight is infinitely worse than mine.
I was housebound for two weeks and it was a great relief to be able to celebrate public Mass again, a reminder to me that this is truly my vocation, the altar is the place where I belong. The concern of the people of the parish and the neighbouring priests was a real blessing, expressed in messages, in daffodils, biscuits, chocolate and other gifts that came to my door; expressed beautifully in the messages that the little children brought to the altar on my first Sunday back; expressed in the prayers that were offered on my behalf. When I couldn’t pray myself, I was sustained by the prayer of the people.
My energy levels are still low, as are my spirits and I know that Lent has been taken out of my hands by God. It’s as if I have become the desert, the nothingness, the silence. And when the song ‘Breath of Heaven’ sings these words in me - “I offer all I am for the Mercy of your plan” - I know that all I am is nothing and nothing is everything in the hands of God.
Like Moses I have sought to see the face of God, wanting my life to be hidden in Him especially in the Eucharist, a tender hiding. Like Moses God has hidden me in the crevice of a rock, a hard place. He has shadowed me with His hand and permitted me to see the back of Him. (Exodus 33:18-23)
It may not be the kind of spiritual experience I would choose but whether it is shadow or light, hidden or revealed - He is always here wherever we are. And perhaps it is a lesson for all who are drawn by Him into the cloud, that strangely it is in cloud and darkness we discover the radiance we aspire to.
This is Lent
40 Years of days
Not one bit of
For the child
Of the bombed out
For my friend
Confined to bed
For the mother
Of the little girl
Who died too soon
It would drive you
The numbing kind
But it is the Cup
Brimful of sorrow
That seems to
Have no meaning