whispered love
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September 26th 2006: Launde Abbey

About twenty years ago, as part of my spiritual journey, I spent some time at Launde Abbey - a small Christian community set deep in the Leicestershire countryside. It is peaceful place, where you can get off the busy motorway of life, and be quiet for a while.

I chose to walk the final miles to the Abbey - on a winter's night that was frosty and clear-skied, the stars strung out like necklaces among the bare tree-tops, the woods dark across the fields and, all round, a sense of beauty and stillness.

My stay was helpful, the welcome warm and friendly. I was exploring the possibility of ordained ministry but instead my time at Launde Abbey became a time of encounter, a time to think about priorities in my Christian life.

Two striking things remain in my memory. The first was an encounter at the edge of a field, after a walk through mist up the hill from the abbey. Everything, and I mean everything, seemed to stop. Such a hush, such a stillness, that all I was aware of was just me and God, a robin on a branch, and my breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. The end of other thoughts. Breathe in. Breathe out. You. Breathe in. Breathe out. You. Breathe in. Breathe out. You. Acceptance. Trust. Love.

The other encounter was unexpected and nothing I can really explain. I went to the chapel to pray on my own. Outside a winter wind was buffeting the walls a little. Inside there was a stillness again. And I found my eyes looking at a memorial to a man who'd died, died young, some hundred years before. I found myself praying for this man - even though he was dead - praying for him and those who had loved him. The prayer grew very powerful and real... like some unfinished business... some broken emotion... and I became aware of an immense sadness. It was something I have never understood. No answers. Just encounter and prayer and trust and love.

My stay at Launde Abbey was a very important moment in my spiritual journey. A turning point perhaps. A point I reached at the end of my own self-importance and understanding. I made a decision there not to proceed toward ordination (not that it was just my decision to make). I felt I needed to encounter God more. And I felt I had hardly started at all. And I felt a stillness and peace in my heart about it.

It was not what I had gone there looking for. But God met me and subtly, profoundly changed the course of my life. That probably happens to a lot of us: we go to God with one agenda but he gently shows us another.


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