If this is too honest for a public blog post then please forgive me and bear with me, but it is true to say that I arrived on Bardsey Island with a fair degree of heaviness in my heart. I wondered what impact my stay on the thin place that is this beautiful island would have on that. Would the isolation be just what I needed or would the lack of contact with my close and supportive friends be too much for me to bear?
In my last post I commented on the strange effect that island life seems to have on time. The second area that it has provoked me to reflect on is pain.
In one of my favourite books, For the Beauty of the Earth, Steven Bouma-Prediger comments on God’s words to Job in chapters 38/39 saying, ‘God’s whirlwind speeches forcibly remind Job not only of God’s power but also of the expanse and mystery of the created world – a world not of human making’.
He goes on to say, ‘such a world, beyond human control or knowledge, is able somehow to absorb the weight of human sorrow. In times of grief and pain there is great solace in fierce landscapes. When God is at the centre, and the human thereby displaced, there is a world wide and wild enough to absorb the pain of human suffering’.
I’d guess I’m not alone in resonating with what Bouma-Prediger writes about. I expect many of us reading this will have known something of the mysterious ability of nature to take on our hearts’ longings and pains and apply a soothing balm to them.
Such was my experience in the landscapes of Bardsey. I spent time sitting on the mountain: Snowdonia and Cardigan bay stretching for miles in one direction, the Wicklow Mountains just visible across the horizon in the other; choughs and gulls calling and wheeling above and below me; sheep grazing around me; bees busy in the heather at my feet. One afternoon I walked along the craggy coastline and scrambled down the rocks and over the rockpools to sit at the edge of the sea, gazing across the open water. The kelp was clear in the water and the sun, dazzling as it set across the sea in front of me, shone its warmth on my face. Another evening we all together sat on the wall at the front of our house and watched the sun set, sinking through the ruins of the Augustinian monastery, illuminating the stone cross.
Is everything sorted now then? Of course not – it’ll take more than a week for that to happen, if it ever does. But for a time at least I have experienced solace. And as I return to life on the mainland now, I wait to see whether the healing and restoration I knew as an island dweller remains rooted in me or not.