Yesterday in London we came close to lockdown. In the end the government stopped short of forcing people to stay in their homes, but for much of the day we faced the possibility of 12 weeks of confinement. And essential though social distancing measures are, after the long weeks of winter that feeling of being trapped is difficult to bear.
But there are those who have learned to see solitude as something rich and healing. Just off the windswept coast of Northumbria lies a low and rocky island. These days it is home to an automatic lighthouse, a colony of seals and a multitude of seabirds. But it is famous as the retreat of one of the great British saints. Today is the commemoration of St Cuthbert, born in the 7th Century, he trained as a monk at Melrose Abbey, and was loved for his eloquence and compassion. He traveled amongst the often dangerous tribes of the North East and preached the Gospel. He was present at the Synod of Whitby, and perhaps reluctantly accepted the Romanisation of British Christianity. He was trusted by kings and common people alike, but what is most enduring about him is his commitment to the life of prayer. He was made a bishop and refused it. He chose instead to retreat to pray looking out to sea, surrounded by sea otters, seals and sea birds. Eventually under some duress he became Bishop of Lindesfarne, and returned to preaching, but then with his health failing returned to solitary prayer. I’m struck by his choices. We live these complicated lives, our desire to be useful gets mixed up with a desire to be significant. But “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Who knows how all this will all work out, but for all the anxiety and unknown, we are offered an opportunity to explore the thing which our ordinary live often denies us. And that is the simple privilege of time alone with God. We may not be able to have an island to ourself, but I’ve seen some lovely images of the spaces that people have created for themselves to be alone and pray. A chair, a candle, a Bible, perhaps and Icon or a photograph, or perhaps a warm coat and a sheltered spot outside. God is always with us, and we can pray anywhere, but it is the wisdom of the ages that a place to pray helps in the spiritual discipline of daily time with God.
[Share] Send a picture of your prayer spot
[Listen] Miserere mei, Deus (Psalm 51) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3v9unphfi0
[Pray] Collect for the Third Sunday of Lent
give us insight
to discern your will for us,
to give up what harms us,
and to seek the perfection we are promised
in Jesus Christ our Lord.