Reflections from Mirfield
Judith Moizer tells her story of the St Faith's retreat to the Community of the Resurrection in Yorkshire. Follow the links below to see the photos of the weekend (mostly Judith's)
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from my weekend at Mirfield. I know I felt quite nervous and anxious, not knowing what would be expected of me, and a whole new environment I had never experienced before. After a smooth journey with Rev Sue and Margaret Davies, we arrived around 3.30pm on Friday 26th September. After finding our rooms we awaited the arrival of the rest of our group, and enjoyed afternoon tea and bread and jam. The brethren were in a period of silence, so the atmosphere was very calming and serene.
At 4pm we met Fr Dennis (not our Fr D!) and we embarked on a tour of the buildings.. By this time I had started to relax and “tune in” with the vibe of the house. It was difficult not to! Brother Dennis (as I will refer to him to differentiate between the two!) was so welcoming, he made me feel at ease very quickly.
The original house was a Woollen Mill owner’s house, and over time the various other sections have been very sympathetically added. The Chapel is the most awe-inspiring place. It is so beautiful in its simplicity, without feeling sparse.
We gathered for Evensong in the Chapel at 6pm, the brethren taking their places on the inner chairs, surrounded by the students of the Community of the Resurrection College.
The service was beautiful, I just sat and took in the beautiful singing of the psalms and the readings, joining in with the prayers. Until you get used to it, the singing can be difficult to follow, so rather than mess up, I was happy to just listen. Psalm 13 was sung, and immediately struck a chord with me, i was suggested I was given a text, and I should embrace it …. which I did.
Silence was still being observed at this time, we gathered in the main hall to wait for the bell and the Superior to lead us in to supper. We took our places in the Rectory, ensuring we all spread out on different tables to integrate with the Brethren, even during the silence. We stood behind our chairs, and grace was said, and we enjoyed a supper of soup, and bread. At the end of the meal, when the Superior was happy everyone had finished, we followed his lead and stood, and gave thanks for the food.
I have to say, at first the thought of silence worried me. With all the hustle and bustle of everyday life, there is never really true silence. Even when I am home alone, the telly or the radio is on, the washing machine, or even just the buzzing of the fridge freezer! How would I cope with this? But it was a “different” kind of silence… at the risk of sounding like a ‘fruitcake’, it was as if the silence embraced you, comfortable, serene, thought provoking.
We gathered as a group in our common room which was reserved for us for the duration of our stay. Rev Sue then delivered her first talk of the retreat, ‘Entertaining Angels Unawares,’ about Abraham and Sarah’s encounter with angelic visitors that leads, eventually to the birth of something (someone!) new – Isaac. After a period of individual contemplation of Rev Sue’s lesson and quiet time, we then gathered again in the chapel in silence for Compline, another truly moving service.
5.20am! Who knew there were two 5.20’s in a day? A slight shock to the system, but up, showered, dressed, ready for Mattins at 6.30am, still observing the Great Silence. Again, following the routine of the day, we gathered in the Main Hall to await the breakfast bell. This meal is slightly less formal than the others, being served “buffet style”. There were various cereals, bread for toast, porridge, fresh coffee, tea, all kinds of fruit, and on the tables various jars of marmalade in different flavours, homemade. I even managed not to deviate from Slimming world Plan, although I easily could have!
The Great Silence ended at 9.30am. I was amazed at how much I had appreciated being silent, and how I had used the time effectively, reading, thinking, and dare I say it, praying.! I know it sounds daft, and I am not proud of it, but I realised, I don’t really pray, in the true sense of the word very much. Being in a one to one situation with God is very different than being on the altar each Sunday.
We gathered again in our common room, where (our!) Fr. Dennis shared with us the reason he didn’t get to Mattins. During the night, his alarm clock had fallen off the chair next to his bed, and consequently had managed to set itself an hour and a half slow. To which Fred added “and the dog ate your homework!” Funny!
Rev Sue continued with the second in her series of addresses, this time about a journey of healing in the company of an archangel (and a little dog!) in the Book of Tobit.
I took the opportunity during the period of quiet time and reflection to explore the grounds on my own. I enjoyed finding little hidden away places, sitting taking in the atmosphere, contemplating, oh, and talking to the fish! They would literally pop their heads out, and it looked like they were saying hello! Before you all think I have lost the plot, I’m not daft - I know they were hoping I had some grub on me, which I didn’t because I am being good. Unlike Fr D who had a variety bag of Walkers crisps in his room in case of the midnight munchies – but to be fair, they went home unopened!
12noon was Midday Prayer followed by lunch, which is the main meal of the day, and we gathered in the main hall again as before and distributed ourselves around the Refectory, and said grace, we would now have the chance to chat to some of the brethren over lunch. Over a meal of homemade meat and potato pie, peas and chips, followed by pudding, we introduced ourselves and chatted away, enjoying getting to know our hosts. Again following the Superior’s lead, at the end of the meal, the chatting ceased, prayers of thanksgiving said, and we left the brothers to the clearing and washing up.
It was now time for number 3 in our series of addresses, this time, on wrestling with angels – the story of Jacob at the Jabbok wrestling an angel – when he was on the way to what was likely to be a difficult reunion with his brother!
At this juncture we had three hours of our “own time”. I decided I would walk into the village, which was downhill all the way! Whilst walking, I was thinking about what we had discussed, the lessons of the day, and how they related to my own life. I have never been very good at being on my own, even on a day off from work, I always feel I should be doing something - I will phone mum and see if she needs shopping or wants to go anywhere, or a friend if they want to do something, or go shopping for something I don’t really need, rather than take the time for myself, and ultimately time with God… but I felt different. I enjoyed it. I felt at ease with myself, I was constantly ove- analysing stupid insignificant stuff, or worrying about things I can do nothing about…
On my return to the retreat house, (I got the bus back, it is all uphill!), I still had time to spare and went off into the grounds again, why wasn’t I bored? Why wasn’t I craving contact with another human being? Before heading in to prepare for Evensong, I went to talk to the fish again…
I took the opportunity to speak to Rev Sue about how I was feeling, and how I felt the urge to look at my spirituality more deeply, and to understand God’s love and how it can make me feel, and I asked her about the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession). I was very aware of all these negative feelings I had been carrying around, probably for years really, anger, bitterness, resentment, frustration, guilt, to name a few! And these were suffocating me. I felt I wasn’t really me.
Evensong was followed by a salad and cooked meat supper, and fresh strawberries and cream, and chatting with the brothers, following the traditional routine.
At 7.30pm we gathered in reception for the pilgrimage to the Airedale Heifer a few hundred yards down the road. Fr Dennis was to lead the way, as written on our programme for the weekend, however, the fact that there was a Fr Dennis at Mirfield also meant he had thought it was him and was teased by the other brethren! But good for him, he joined us anyway and a pleasant hour was spent with two vodka and diet cokes chatting with the group.
We headed back for Compline, a lovely way to end the day. Brother Dennis had arranged for me to make my first confession with him the following morning.
6.30am - a lie in! Up showered, dressed ready for Mattins at 7.30am…. we all made it this time. Mattins led into the Solemn Mass of the day at 8am. All the students from the college in situ, and a crucifer, 2 acolytes and thurifer looking resplendent in their white albs. It was a wonderful, uplifting service with the traditional Eucharist, again, the beautiful voices of the brethren joined with the students, and we got a chance to join in with hymns and the organ was played for this service.
We all filed in for breakfast after Mass, and the anticipation of my first confession later that morning was palpable within me. I don’t think I was scared, I think I was looking forward to getting rid of the barriers that stopped my linking with God, and from being my own true self, and accepting things as they are.
Rev Sue’s 4th lesson was again held in the common room, this time on perhaps the most familiar angelic encounter in the Bible, the Annunciation.
The time had come, I went with Brother Dennis, and made my first confession, after which, he took the time to counsel me in some issues. To hear someone who doesn’t actually know you, believe in you and appreciate you as a human being, as well as a fellow Christian is certainly something I will never forget. I was able to make more sense of all these feelings inside me, and get a better understanding of my own true self. It was a hugely emotional experience, I cried buckets, but I wasn’t sad, it was more like a release
You all probably think I am barking mad, but I can only tell you how it was for me…. Don’t get me wrong, I am not about to take the veil! But I know now what I have been missing not being connected with God and my spirituality as I should be. Each Sunday I have a job to do, to serve God and my church, something I love doing, but this can detract from the matter at hand, and you are preoccupied with ensuring things run as they should. So this time on retreat was a revelation to me.
Midday Service was followed by a lovely lunch of a turkey roast followed by damson crumble and custard.
It was time to head home. My worries about the routine, the silence, the solitude were all totally unfounded. I found comfort in the routine, what was going to happen, when and how, it made me feel secure, the silence and the solitude was a warm enveloping silence, giving you the opportunity to explore your own thoughts more deeply and to pray.
The group were all lovely to be with. If you needed someone they would be there, the group sessions were enjoyable and a giggle or two was had. It was lovely to actually get to know people a little more than just seeing them on a Sunday morning.
I travelled back with Rev. Sue and Margaret, arriving home around 4pm, and to a huge cuddle from Emily.
HERE is the first page of photos from Mirfield (taken by Judith)
HERE is the second page of photos (likewise)
HERE is the third page (these were taken by Kathy Zimak)