Monday, August 07, 2006

A Miscellany

Partially by chance, although on one occasion as a result of the need to research a chapter for my book, I have found myself of late wandering around various monastic ruins. I previously mentioned Mount Grace Priory and, although not a ruin, the ecclesiastical retreat at Parcevall Hall in North Yorkshire (see In Perspective, 31st July 2006). Since then, I have added Byland Abbey in North Yorkshire and, as of yesterday, Thornton Abbey in Lincolnshire.It takes imagination to mentally rebuild these once magnificent edifices. However, with a little research it becomes easier to do, especially as many have a similar floor plan. What requires a greater depth of imagination is to feel what it must have been like to live in one of these places as a monk in the 12th, 13th or 14th Centuries.The one predominant sense for me on each occasion I attempt such a spiritual regression is the overwhelming feeling of peace and contentment. Presumably, this is what the intended purpose of the place was when first built. What is perhaps surprising is that such historic sites can still induce the same emotions albeit some seven hundred years on and in their present traumatised state.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (Vol. 26, Pg. 1017) defines the purpose of monasticism as the ‘discovery of the true self’. It expands the idea by saying ‘all monasticism has its mainstay in theologically based convictions that the present state of things leaves much to be desired’.

Sometimes, life is a kind of madness. It becomes the head-on pursuit of, to a great extent, material possessions. However, they often fail to give the total pleasure and sense of contentment which is so eagerly sought after. As time progresses, many come to realise that it is a much deeper satisfaction which is yearned for. For me, that deeper contentment is found by taking to the hills or, as with the benefit of recent experience, when wandering around monastic ruins. It is then that I start to see a reflection of my true self and can develop a focus which reflects a sense of destiny.


A Handful of Dust

Take a handful of dust from the side of a road. In it you will see many small pebbles. Look closely – each one is a mountain in miniature.

John Ruskin

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I recently purchased a CD entitled A Night in Vienna by Oscar Peterson. This octogenarian jazz pianist has produced many splendid works over his lifetime. However, for me, one of the most moving pieces is his own composition called Requiem; a tribute to all the departed jazz greats. It is the most beautiful, haunting and melancholic pieces of music I have come across for many years.

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