Tomorrow, I will have been living with the Order of the Holy Paraclete for 3 weeks. Far too much has happened in that time for me to write in detail about it all, but to summarise:
- The community is simply amazing. I have felt so welcomed and welcome every single day that I’ve been here.
- Silence is really, really hard. The first time I tried an hour of silent prayer, I gave up after 20 minutes, and it took me a few days to come to terms with the fact that that was okay, that I was allowed to find it more or less impossible for the time being.
- Despite living in community, I spend a lot of time alone, and have a lot of free time. I had, until yesterday, someone else living on my corridor; now they’re gone, and I find myself having to spend a large proportion of each day alone. Having all this time has made me realise how busy my life used to be: even when I was relaxing, I’d be reading a book and texting and listening to the radio all at once. At first, I wanted to fill this space with knitting, study, conversation, music, anything to stop me having to be with myself. I’m still finding this a struggle.
- Community is very different once the novelty wears off. The offices are based about the psalms, which is great, but can be frankly a little boring at 7.30am. This is by no means a bad reflection on the community, but it makes me realise that prayer isn’t always (and indeed, doesn’t always have to be) an epiphany. Once I got past the initial boredom, I started to learn to appreciate the simple, steady rhythm of words echoing around the beautiful Romanesque chapel, to latch onto phrases which struck me as having something particular to say to me. I moved from trying to do a practical criticism of the psalms in order to stay occupied into genuinely feeling them. This is not least thanks to a brilliant book I read by Tom Wright, Finding God in the Psalms. They are not, as some feel, a part of a boring precursory Old Testament, written before people knew the Truth embodied in Jesus. Nor are they simply a collection of writings to point people towards Christ. They are, quite simply, the most profound and timeless poetry ever written. The psalms say something to me now, comfortably living in modern western society, despite having been written by an ancient people in exile in the Middle East. I look forward to cycling through them every 4 or so week through the coming year, allowing them to wash over me and allowing my relationship with them to grow and deepen.
To avoid having to summarise in bullet points again, this blog is now a weekly proposition. It’s as much for me as for any readers I have: writing is so cathartic, and helps me to process what’s happening to me, that I really can’t afford to do it less than once a week on here (and daily in my private journal).