Another Howton Grove Priory Update

A few of the 'smaller' leylandii
A few of the ‘smaller’ leylandii

We shall soon have been here three months. Visitors remark how much we’ve done in that time, but for us the days pass in something of a blur. We moved during the height of the grass-growing season so have been constantly dodging rainstorms of almost tropical intensity in order to keep the lawns mown. Friends from Wantage came and worked terrifically hard in the garden to clear many of the ‘smaller’ leylandii and some rather intrusive yuccas before starting on the proposed vegetable plot.

Hidden treasures
Hidden treasures

In the process some lovely bits of agricultural archaeology were unearthed. Now all we need are half a dozen strong men or women to help us move them to more suitable places! (The photo above shows an agricultural sink unearthed in the prospective vegetable plot. It will join our cider mill, cider press, stone horse trough and cartwheels to remind us of the barn’s origins.)

Our friend Damien Young at work in the garden
Getting stuck in!
Vegetable plot before clearing
Vegetable plot before clearing

Vegetable plot after clearing
Vegetable plot after clearing: laurel and silver fir still to go

Alas, we failed to keep a rampant clematis in check and had to call out an emergency gutter-clearing service since we don’t, as yet, have a ladder high enough to enable us to deal with such problems ourselves. The frustration! We are also having to call in a professional hedge-cutter to deal with the hornbeam hedge which seems to have set its sights on the moon, so lush has been its growth this year, and to remove some of the larger confers and laurels to allow planting of more fruit trees (we already have apple, pear and plum — although the pear has no fruit this year and the plum looks as though it is ailing — plus a flowering cherry which needs more breathing-space, and a magnificent hazel laden with nuts.)

Inside the house we have replaced some windows which needed attention. Tomorrow a builder comes to begin some plasterwork renovation the Bank requires, and soon after that, we hope to have the first of our bookshelves installed. Then, finally, we can begin to unpack our books which are piled up in boxes in the calefactory and garages — and maybe begin to think about those areas we’d like to redecorate before our postulant-to-be takes up residence. (She was relieved to hear we had bought her a bed, but please pray that all visa issues are resolved quickly and positively)

In the meantime, the prayer and ordinary work of the house continue, the latter often in the early hours or late in the evening. Doing so has enabled us to appreciate ever more in what a beautiful part of the country we have found our ‘local habitation and a name’.

Just one problem: what shall we do with ‘Bro Duncan’s guest-house’? It would make some child a lovely play-house, having been beautifully made; but whoever would like it must dismantle/collect it themselves. It is listed for sale on ebay (and Bro Duncan has never actually been in it!): http://bit.ly/NlDOgO (link opens in new window).

'Bro Duncan's Guesthouse': the play-house in the garden
‘Bro Duncan’s Guesthouse’: the play-house in the garden
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Grandparents

The feast of SS Joachim and Anne, names traditionally assigned to the parents of Mary, mother of our Lord, reminds us that Jesus was a member of a family. His looks, his traits, his temperament, all were influenced by his genetic inheritance and the experience of belonging to that particular Jewish family. As with all families, his inheritance must have been a mixture of good and bad.

That means that Jesus was not necessarily ‘perfect’ by human standards: he was not necessarily the most handsome man who ever lived (could we even agree on what constitutes handsome?), the most intelligent, the most eloquent, the most gifted. His smile might have been crooked, his nose bent; he might have had difficulty learning Hebrew, an irritating way of clearing his throat before speaking, a thousand and one little habits we might think of as imperfections. And yet, as Son of God, he was perfect, perfect in all the ways that matter to God: in love, fidelity and obedience. These too he must have learned from his family, for he did not come into the world fully-formed, so to say. He came as a baby, with all a baby’s fragility and vulnerability. He had to learn how to be a man, and his first teachers were his family.

The man who showed such courage and determination in the face of opposition, such compassion and wisdom in his teaching; who was easy in the presence of women and small children and all those on the margins of society; who possessed in abundance the gift of friendship, was a grandson as well as son. What precisely he owed to Joachim and Anne we cannot say for certain, but today we should pray with gratitude for all grandparents, for they pass on to their grandchildren more than they know.

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Exhaustion Point

Yesterday we finally admitted what had been staring us in the face for the past few weeks: we had reached, not exhaustion point exactly, but somewhere on the road to exhaustion where the warning signs were plain to see. So, instead of doing all the things we thought we should (unpacking, answering correspondence, getting the monastery accounts up to date, scything down the savannah that has sprung up overnight in the garden, sorting out the 1001 things that have to be sorted), still less all the things other people thought we should do (complete as appropriate), we decided to do very little.

The monastic version of very little takes quite a lot of time: prayer and reading, Mass at Belmont, which was beautifully celebrated, with some fine singing from the boys and girls of St Richard’s School, and a community meal (the first properly cooked one for a few days), but it was not taxing in the way that working against the clock is taxing; nor was the tiredness beyond our control. We had not, in fact, reached exhaustion point.

There are many people who have reached, or even gone beyond, exhaustion point. Work, the pressure of caring for others — children, elderly parents, perhaps a husband or wife with severe disabilities — trying to struggle by on too little money or in the face of hostility and bullying: all these can bring people to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. For us, the solution to our temporary exhaustion was easy: we just switched off for the day. For others, it is not so easy; and sadly, it is often the people who most need help who are least able to ask for it or least likely to receive help if they do.

One of the most sobering statistics I have read for a long while concerns the number of children in the U.K. who are the principal carers for their parents. At an age when most of us were probably leaving our bedrooms in a mess and flouncing out of the house ‘at all hours’, these young people are cooking, cleaning, tending to their parents in ways that properly belong to adults. There are systems in place that are supposed to pinpoint children at risk, but we all know that much goes on behind the walls of our houses that is hidden from view. And in countries not so blessed with security and material wealth as our own, children face even worse problems.

Perhaps today, if we are beginning the working week feeling a little tired and jaded, we could spare a thought and a prayer for those who are truly exhausted; for the children coping with adult challenges; for all who are weary and see no hope of an end to their weariness.

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