Each year, over the May bank holiday, I go off with some friends to a wild place for a few days to make what we call a ‘wilderness retreat’. Our favourite locations are usually small uninhabited Hebridean islands- we are fortunate to be in reach of many.
Last year, after many years of our community (Aoradh) running these for ourselves and invited guests, a few of us made an attempt to offer them on a more ‘commercial’ basis to people looking to escape into the wild places for contemplation, meditation and companionship. We had some interest, but not enough to make a trip viable- mainly because of the charter cost of a boat to get us out to the islands.
In the end, we invited these folk to join our ‘comminity retreat’ which be going to Eileach an Naoimh, a tiny island that is part of the Garvellachs in the Ross of Mull. It is the site of a monastery founded by St Brendan- the nautical adventurer thought to have visited the Americas hundreds of years before Columbus.
One of the guys who is coming, I discovered, was from Nottinghamshire- my home county. I inquired further, and found out he lives very close to where I grew up, and where some of my family still live.
I then found out that he is the current minister of the church that I grew up in- St Thomas, Kirkby-in-Ashfield.
I have many mixed memories of this time- complicated by the fact that childhood was a rather difficult for reasons I will not go into here. Also, back in the 70s and 80s St Thomas’s was part of a Charismatic revival movement sweeping through the Anglican church in the UK, led by people like David Watson, Colin Urquart, David Pawson. I look back with complex mixed emotions- in many ways I long for the simplicity of the faith I had then but I also remember some rather difficult and damaging experiences.
I have lots of very good memories too however- a lot of it about music, and good people. It was the place my spiritual journey began, and for this I am very grateful.
The connection back to these times has been a surprise however. I am suddenly small again.
It feels like a cricling back- in a good way- to something that has been adrift on the waters for a while…
To emphasise the point- here I am, in a picture from the website archive. The blond haired boy in the middle with the great big smile;