Over the last decade I have been making a local pilgrimage to a wonderful location in the West Sussex South Downs called St Michael’s and All Angels in Up Marden. There are many reasons why I migrate weekly to visit Michael but the principle one has been the ‘quality of the conversation’.
As an aspirant of the Rule of Columba, the primary requirement is;
‘To be alone in a separate place’
This old Celtic rule, so rooted in the pastoral and rural life of 6th century Iona, recognises the primacy of solitude before activity. This aloneness with Christ before the busyness of the day, or the business of God, requires a location that can embody, nurture and externally express the deepest yearning of the disciple to ‘abide in Christ’.
St Micheal’s and All Angels is such a location. It has over the years become the cradle and the wide embrace of the invitation to encounter the Divine. It is what I have come to know as a ‘thin place‘. Here the air is very thin and the veil that clouds my perception of the work of the Spirit is drawn back to enable heaven and earth to truly become friends again.
The stillness is alive, Heaven’s presence punctures the worlds pugnacious self and the logic to make myself present in the early morning kiss of the sun of the Son, is to be washed by the Holy Spirit in meaning and fulfillment.
This stillness is fullness, the fullness of friends. Over the years I have found the voice of John the Baptist, the light and truth of The Apostle John and the courage and strength of Michael himself. I have found my voice joining their voices in worship of Christ the Creator ‘through whom all things were made’ (John 1v3).
‘All of life is a season of prayer’
St Michael’s has become a harbour where the life of prayer is amplified and magnified beyond chit-chat. The deep silence becomes deafening as the random voices in my head reluctantly retreat to the scrap heap of irrelevancy and the song birds become the chorus of heaven. The chill of winter breath, the incense of life.
These moments of divine conversation are a reminder to me of the purpose of life. The quality of the encounter is the core, the heat, the fire of my soul. Perhaps it is this very act of being ‘alone with Christ’, that we in the western tradition have forgotten, yet our world so desperately craves we rediscover. And perhaps it in this rediscovery that such locations as St Michael’s fulfill their true purpose. They capture the centuries of prayer and enfold them in the moment of our openness to God.
St Michael’s is a portal to the Company of the Saints where true conversation can take place. It is not a forgotten place, it is alive with the hospitality of Heaven.