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(From Community Notes, Fairacres Chronicle 2022 Winter)

Dear Friends,

This month I am writing these notes having recently returned from a visit to Sr Anne at St Isaac’s Retreat in Aotearoa/New Zealand. St Isaac’s is on North Island, on the opposite side to the Bay of Islands, for those who know their New Zealand geography. It was a long journey, but a very worthwhile visit.

I was at St Isaac’s for the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, and I was reminded about the way in which living in the northern hemisphere colours our understanding of the liturgical seasons; All Saints on a warm, sunny spring day is not what I have grown to expect, rather the potential for fog or drizzle. Of course, that is a good reminder for those of us who live our lives in the northern hemisphere of our world: in a sense we have only half of the picture. Advent and Christmas imagery is often wintry: snow and robins. My recollection from a former visit to New Zealand, of picnickers on the beach in Santa hats, reminds me that not everyone has a wintry Christmas.

The other eye-opener came during the journey itself. I like to watch the in-flight display showing where the plane is in relation to the ground below, and as we flew towards Singapore I noticed well-known places from the news marked on the map; Basra, Kabul and Beirut among them. Places known from our television screens and newspapers passing below the plane. Again, it brought home how easy it is for us to become very parochial in our picture of the world, although in a sense that is not surprising. Our lives are made up of everyday local events and circumstances, but flying over these places I was reminded that, in these days of global travel and electronic communication, we are a lot closer to each other than we might realize. Then there was the sheer scale of our planet: it takes hours to reach Australia from Singapore, and yet more hours to fly over Australia to Auckland. In our small place on the globe, we easily forget the size and magnificence of our world, yet our world is only a pinprick in our universe. There is no light pollution at St Isaac’s and the sight of the stars in the night sky is unforgettable.

However, it is not just the global perspective that is broadened by travelling to St Isaac’s; the retreat is situated along a gorge road between mountains, and its nearest neighbours are some distance away. The silence is broken only by the sounds of wind and water. Early during my stay I walked the bush walk on the property and found my senses reawakened and heightened by the native plants and birds, so different from the birds and plants at home. Returning and walking in our garden at Fairacres, I tried to bring that newly-reawakened perceptiveness to bear, and was struck by the beauty of our new and old buildings and of our surroundings.
New perspectives and experiences can refresh our awareness of the beauty of the world in which we live and that God created. Psalm 95, which we sing daily at Matins, reminds us to praise the God of all creation:
For the Lord is a great God
     and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
     the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
     and the dry land, which his hands have formed. (Ps. 95:3–5)

The opportunity to be taken out of my usual environment into a very different place (albeit not an unfamiliar one, as I had lived at St Isaac’s before) was a wonderful opportunity to see things anew and to be surprised and delighted by the world around me. It was a great gift, as was time spent with Sr Anne, whom many of you will remember from her time as Reverend Mother. She lives in a cottage named for Julian of Norwich, and her years at St Isaac’s have led her to have a deep understanding of the local community.
Sr Anne would soon tell you that there is pain behind the beauty: there are high levels of unemployment, addiction and poor health among the Māori community in the area around St Isaac’s, and the local church is in a frail state. Without the resources to offer online worship during the Covid pandemic the local churches closed and have remained closed; there are no local clergy at present to serve in them. Each Thursday Sr Anne sits in the nearest church of St Luke’s for an hour of silent prayer for the local church and people and for our world, so that St Luke’s at least is used once a week. She sits in solidarity with those around her.

Being able to travel like this was a great privilege, and my prayer was broadened by fresh contact with the particular beauty and needs of Northland, New Zealand. Returning home and beginning to integrate the experience, I found myself turning to the SLG Way of Life section, ‘A Discipline of Place’, in which we reflect on the discipline of Enclosure. Enclosure, we state in the document:

Far from implying any limitation of God’s presence … like the Incarnation itself, is an affirmation that God is in every place and circumstance.

Above I mentioned our tendency towards parochialism. Travel certainly broadens the mind, but it is not something that everyone can do or that any of us do all the time. However, the Incarnation reminds us that God fills all times and places. In one way, the coming of Jesus in a particular time and place is the height of ‘parochialism’. But the very fact of the Incarnation transcends all narrow boundaries of place and culture to hold the whole of our world to the love of God. In our prayers we also can hold the world to the love of God. The SLG Rule Chapter on Enclosure reminds the Community that the purpose of the enclosed life:

is to make possible a more complete offering of the whole self, body, soul and spirit to do God’s will and to be the means of extending his love in the world.

Enclosure should open our eyes, just as travel does, to the beauty of the world around us and to the needs of those sharing our world with us.

Travelling to a very different place has reminded me that God is in all places, and that our world is full of diversity and beauty. Being at home in our place can also broaden the mind and awaken our perceptions to the beauty of the familiar and the local. In both we find that each of us, wherever we are, can hold the world to the love of God in our own place and circumstances.

Back at Fairacres, the Community continues its work of settling back into life together. Earlier in the year we welcomed Nadine Unger as a Postulant; she has now discerned that the religious life at Fairacres is not the place for her and we wish her well in the next stages of her journey. Sarah Miller was admitted as a Postulant on Thursday 17 November, and we welcome her as she explores her vocation here.

We have been glad to welcome visitors once more to our new guest accommodation and to see both new and familiar faces. In place of Fellowship House we now have four guest rooms in the New Wing of the building, as well as three new guest cottages. We were able to welcome a group of nine postulants and novices from six other Communities to spend a study week here exploring sites in Oxford that were important in the development of the religious life in the Anglican church and, as always, it is good to have that contact with others living the religious life.

We are currently nearing the end of the ‘snagging’ period in the building work, so once more we have various builders and painters in the Convent dealing with the issues that have arisen over the past year, since the building was handed back to us. Earlier in the autumn the new wing and cottages gained a certificate in the green section of this year’s Oxford preservation Trust awards, a well-earned reward for our architects.

Now, as we approach the Advent and Christmas season, the Community seeks to deepen its prayer for the needs of our world: for peace and reconciliation, for justice and merc,y and for healing and restoration. We welcome our incarnate Lord, the Prince of Peace, remembering the promise of Malachi 4:2, ‘for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings’. I ask you all to join us as we pray for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On behalf of all the Sisters I wish you a peaceful Christmas and New Year.

With prayers,

Sister Clare-Louise slg