An Anchorite

The signature line on my emails has long been a quote from Julian of Norwich: All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

Julian, as her grammar might suggest, was a medieval nun and mystic. In fact she was an anchorite who was actually walled into a small room on the side of the church in Norwich. From there she had two windows: one on the church, the other open to the world. Through one, she could hear sermons and receive food. Through the other, people could come to her for counsel or prayer.

I’ve always been a bit of a wannabe anchorite, despite my life looking nothing like it. I had three children within three-and-a-half years. “You must be busy,” was what people invariably said. It was not so much a badge of honour as the plain truth.

Which was why I found my own little (temporary) retreat from the world. When my youngest was one, I packed my bags and came to Crieff for a night. I was not walled in at the Hermitage but I was certainly secure and solitary behind its thick fieldstone walls.

I have repeated that retreat many times in the seventeen years since. Whether I stay in the Hermitage or more recently in The Pines, I like the simplicity and the ritual of being away on my own, even for a single night, carrying only what I absolutely need with me. (And since Crieff began stocking the Common Room at the Pines with delicious frozen meals for purchase, I bring less than before.)

Sometimes, now that my kids are older and my house is quieter, I wonder why I keep returning to Crieff; I don’t need the escape I once did. But being in a quiet place away from my daily space, routine and people, I can engage with more intention, whether that’s in being more aware and grateful as I eat a bowl of oatmeal, listening to God, walking the labyrinth at different seasons, or writing.  (It was on that first retreat that I began writing my first novel. A year ago, I was at Crieff when I realized the novel I was writing wasn’t working. Most recently, I spent a quiet Saturday in The Pines writing an essay.)

Evelyn Underhill who studied Christian mysticism once wrote, “I do hope your Christmas has had a touch of Eternity in among the rush and pitter patter and all. It always seems such a mixing of this world and the next—but that, after all, is the idea.” In essence that’s what my retreats at Crieff are always like – a touch of Eternity, a mixing of this world and the next. Like Julian’s doors on the church and the world, my temporary retreat gives me that space from which I can then re-engage with the rush and pitter patter and all. 

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