Spring 2021 brought challenges to my husband Andrei and me. In March my 92 year old mother was told that the care home she loved was being closed by its new owner and all residents would have to leave. She became depressed and ill in her temporary accommodation while we struggled to find her a better home.
A company in which we had invested went bust, meaning we stood to lose thousands.
In late March we got the news that all the monks at Chevetogne Abbey in Belgium, where we are novice oblates, were ill with Covid. Two died.
On his birthday in May, Andrei learned that his father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
And yet as my anxiety surged, I became conscious of another force at work. At Pentecost I was received into the Catholic Church at Minster Abbey. This heralded an inner change, impossible to put into words but tangible, something akin to a current of very fine energy flowing through and around me.
The illness of the Chevetogne monks taught me what it means to be an oblate. The monks’ daily office webcasts stopped, so at eight each evening we oblates would recite their names in prayer and sing the Slavonic Hymn to Mary (the monastery holds offices in both the Latin and Byzantine rites). Andrei and I sang and prayed in London, in the knowledge that dozens of people around Europe and beyond were doing the same. We watched broadcasts of the two funerals on Facebook; we sent each other and the monks messages of love and support.
Two Dutch oblates in particular showed Andrei and me an extraordinary amount of love during our personal trials.
Love also came from another source.
My father-in-law died at the end of July. By then we badly needed a holiday. We had booked our annual two week pilgrimage to the Channel Island of Sark (see July 2020 monthly address). On the instructions of an angel, Saint Magloire founded a monastery there in 565. I was longing to reach the island, to sit again on Port du Moulin, a wild rocky cove beneath the site of the Saint’s monastery, and gaze at the Altar sea stacks, praying where the saint prayed, amid a landscape barely changed since his day.
Sark had been spared Covid, which I believe was thanks to the intercession of the Saint. But a few weeks before we were due to travel we learned that the island did not want visitors from the mainland as two recent arrivals had tested positive. With leaden hearts, we cancelled.
I missed my annual pilgrimage; we ached for the sea. I scoured the Air BnB site. At this late hour prices were sky high. The one exception was a flat on St Bride’s Bay, part of the Pembrokeshire coast.
On our first day we set off along a cliff path. After a few miles we came to a little bay that wasn’t mentioned in the guides. We immediately accepted its invitation and plunged into the sea. Apart from an inquisitive seal, we were alone. As I surrendered to the crisp water, my headful of worries receded. The fine inner current of energy was now a torrent, sweeping my consciousness up and out into the waves and sky.
After drying myself I pulled out our OS map. This magical bay was called Mill Haven. A direct translation from the French ‘Port du Moulin.’
Of course… St Magloire came from South Wales; he was a contemporary of St David, patron saint of Wales. They both studied at St Illtud’s theological college, founded in 508. They both set sail for Brittany, possibly together (Magloire became Archbishop of Dol before going to Sark). Perhaps they embarked at Mill Haven.
I felt the Saint’s hand had guided us to St Bride’s Bay and led us along the cliff path to Mill Haven, showing me that I don’t need to sit at his feet geographically in order to be close to him.
While swimming in Mill Haven I had to remain vigilant – for currents, for underwater rocks, for curious seals. It was a reminder to me to keep vigilance and not be pulled under by anxieties. To let go of my desire to ‘sort things out’ and remember who is in charge.
Thank you, blessed Saint Magloire.
Novice oblate Chevetogne Monastery, Belgium.