How place shapes prayer
Clare Bryden explores the spirituality of place in a Benedictine community in Worcestershire
Mucknell Abbey in Worcestershire has been the home of an Anglican Benedictine community of monks and nuns since 2010. Derelict farm buildings set in 40 acres of former agricultural land low in biodiversity have been transformed into an eco-monastery with evolving habitats for plant and animal life.
The theologian Walter Brueggemann wrote about space as “an arena of freedom, without coercion or accountability, free of pressure and void of authority”; and place as “space which has historical meanings, where some things have happened which are now remembered and which provide continuity and identity across generations”. Mucknell had been a place to generations of farmers back beyond the Domesday Book, but was starting again as a space, and it was exciting to be faced with a blank sheet of paper.
I began living alongside the community just before the move into the new monastery, pondering a possible vocation to join them. I started writing a daily blog, partly as a scrapbook of things that interested me as we moved and settled in, and partly as a prompt to become more observant of nature. Being a product of suburbia with more of an intuitive approach to my surroundings, I tend to see the big picture of a landscape or the patterns in rocks and clouds, rather than to notice the details of a plant, bird or insect, if I see it at all.
My need for daily subject matter gave me a useful discipline. But I found that other things were happening. Other people were reading the blog, and for a short time it became one of the ways the identity of the place started to develop. Also, in observing and writing about the environment, I was putting down some tentative roots, and enacting a ritual of entry into Mucknell as a place. It became apparent to me that this practice of attentiveness was prayer. And that it was hard work. …
Clare Bryden is an honorary research fellow of the University of Exeter
This is an extract from the November 2013 edition of Reform.