A print of this icon sits above my desk in our study – St John the beloved disciple, Mary the God bearer and St Benedict founder of the Rule. It’s been in my study in different houses for most of my ministry. I have got used to seeing it there, and would miss it if it wasn’t.
Sitting at my desk this morning I gazed again at the icon and thought back to where it had come from. The parishioners of my training parish had generously given this to me as a leaving present. They knew that I appreciated icons, but why this particular one?
This icon is to be found in Alton Abbey, a Benedictine Abbey in Hampshire, which, though I haven’t visited in many years, still holds a special place in my heart. Before I started my training for the ministry and was exploring my faith journey, my parish priest was the Reverend Stuart Foster, a Benedictine Oblate. Oblates are either laypersons or clergy, normally living in general society, who, while not professed monks or nuns, have individually affiliated themselves with a monastic community of their choice and follow their Rule of Life.
Stuart encouraged members of our congregation to take day retreats at the Abbey. It is set in the pleasant Hampshire countryside with attractive grounds. It has a guest wing which is a comfortable and social space and is ideal for contemplation. The chapel where this icon was on display, is a wonderful place for contemplation and prayer. Visitors were encouraged to join the resident monks for their offices; the services of prayer were incanted by the monks – something which I found particularly moving and uplifting.
Looking at the print of this icon takes me back to those spiritual days spent at the Abbey. I was fortunate to be able to continue to visit regularly during my training. And I found that the peace and tranquilly of that special place was nourishment of the soul.
It is important at any stage of our spiritual journey to find a space where we can truly feel in God’s presence, and just dwell there. In our busy lives it can be difficult to find the time and space to do so, but it is important.
As I gaze at the print of this magnificent icon, my mind drifts back to those days of peace and contemplation that inspired and fired me on my walk of faith. Looking at the icon reminds me that each one of us needs to take time to be at peace and to enjoy being in God’s presence. Whether it is within the walls of our beautiful Cathedral, walking in our wonderful countryside or just sitting quietly at home, it is important that we find time to be at peace and bask in God’s presence.