In these times of coronavirus induced 'social isolation', it is salutary to reflect on those who have been leaders in practicing what we might call 'sacred isolation'. Indeed, I was happy recently to meet a request to write about St. Cuthbert, whose feast day falls this week. As a child of Northumbria, and the haliwerfolc (people of the saint) of Durham, it was a labour of love (there are certainly reasons his famous cross hangs, as in the photo above, in the window of my living room). My piece for Anglican Focus is entitled 'St Cuthbert - opening the door to the heart of heaven' (with homage to Malcolm Guite's fine sonnet), and can be found here. Sadly, in the Australian Anglican Lectionary, Cuthbert is remembered primarily as 'bishop and missionary'. His true significance however is much more than that: above all, as monk and hermit, in exploring life and God in silence, solitude, and intimate relationship with the 'word' of God in people, places, scripture and the 'book' of all Creation. Perhaps his commitment to 'sacred isolation' at the heart of his being is a particular gift to us today - not cutting us off from others, but enabling us to find deeper meaning, healing and solidarity in the midst of whatever life's circumstances throw our way?
Occasionally I have a palpable sense of the communion of saints. This week it began in a second-hand bookshop in Sydney's Newtown. Looking up, a book seemed to spring out at me like a blessed shaft of light opening from above. It bore the author's name of Alan Webster, a beloved but sadly departed mentor on my life's journey. Reaching for Reality was a book written late in Alan's life and one of which I was not aware. Sketching people and events which have broken free from deadening routine and oppression, it speaks of vision and change, of the critical need and cost of risk-taking, and of the best of the Anglican spirit Alan embodied - warm, inviting, large hearted, open, culturally and intellectually intelligent, responsive and creative, down-to-earth, intimately concerned with every person and aspect of life, grounded in Julian of Norwich-like 'prayer in struggle', and discovering the transcendent in our earthly dust. As I and my immediate family make many transitions at this time, it is as though Alan again speaks directly to me - be encouraged; don't be afraid to be, bring and suffer change; the mystery of God calls us on...
At the end of this year a very fine west Durham voluntary and community sector body closes. Yesterday a party was held to celebrate its achievements. Those involved kindly remembered my early contribution (as its first Chair) and asked me for a few words of my own. I was only too glad to respond. For I am immensely grateful to have been part of the 2D journey in the early days. Indeed it was the very best thing I ever did in my native county Durham, not least because of so many truly canny people who were involved. So, though it is sad to talk about closure, I know that the spirit behind 2D will never fail. It reminds me of a local story. For, back in the 18th century, a Queen of England once asked what had happened to a particular clergyman. ‘Is he dead?” she asked. ‘No’, came back the answer, ‘he is just the Rector of Stanhope – he is not dead, just buried.’ ‘Not dead, just buried’: those might also be appropriate words for 2D at this time. For 2D’s secret has always been the love and life which have been poured into the people and places of the Durham Dales – so many seeds of encouragement, commitment and inspiration, which have borne such great fruit, accompanied by so many typical moments of humour and solidarity against the odds. Such things won’t just be memories but will continue to blossom. For they are buried in the hearts and lives of all of us who have had the joy and privilege of walking together with 2D: whether for a short while, or for all, or most, of its existence. I am thrilled by what 2D has gone on to achieve. May God continue to bless everyone in the next steps of new life.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian and justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice and sustainable creation.