Christmas from Tymawr, 2011

HAPPY  Twyamr 2011 Tymawr Convent
Gwent NP25 4RN

Dear Friends,

I was asked “What does it feel like to be a nun?”  “Sleepy,”  I replied.  I am sitting in my sister’s kitchen, with Mair at their computer.  We have come here together for a few days in late October.  Mair is going to have coffee with someone today and startlingly it is someone who is on my prayer list!

Catrin did my photo sheet at the week-end.  This time next year she and Pete will be in Canberra, they leave in February.  Coincidentally Mair is house-sitting in Bradford on Avon for a Cathy who is in Canberra at the moment.  So Cathy is gathering useful information for Catrin, including a job!  One of several coincidences.  As instructed Mair opened Cathy’s mail, which included five copies of the Journal of the Families In British India Society.  Puzzled, she looked to see if Cathy, who has been in India recently, had written an article.  The first article however said Peter Hubert, my brother, her uncle!  (Cathy had written an article too.)  That was just in time to bring down to my sister.  Mair and Cathy did Greenbelt together.  And now in Bradford Mair has met up with June whom I met in Indonesia in the 1970s!

Mair has reappeared from around the world and written the most beautiful letter –      –  So much to express and to share.  We are spending a few days together now, blessed gift, if not always relaxed – that’s largely me I expect!

So, in photo you have, at the top, Quakers in Zimbabwe, Mair’s loaded bike when she arrived in Bradford on Avon, Mair in New Zealand, mountains and ‘wwoofing’ (World wide organization of organic farms) and Shep.  We had today an email from Jan, back in Zimbabwe, saying how happy Shep is to have her back, and how happy his teacher is too!

Me, I started the year in a silent retreat, making my Profession on 4th January.  Those pictures are rather scattered.  The larger one of the group at buffet lunch in the Refectory is how we celebrated, and it is the same after funerals, Professions, Clothings etc.  In the top corner of that are Robert Teare and Sister Meg.  On the left I am talking to Wendy Robinson, who is part of our, and others’, support system.  She visits regularly, meets with us all as a group and then with individuals.  (She goes to several other communities too.)  Knee surgery has curtailed some of her activities this year – and I have learned the way to Exeter.  There are several people who support us in various ways; we are very lucky.  At the bottom in the middle are Sisters Veronica Ann and Rosalind Mary.  (Rosalind is also in the group photo, taken at a conference we went to, as did Sr Jane ASSP, like me once a CSMV Novice, also visible in the group profession photo, talking to Sr Meg.)

In June I had a lovely visit from Sr Bernadette OSB, formally Novice Sr Helena CSMV.  (photo, lounging on a buggy.) She came for almost a week and it was a rich week for me (which included a trip to Tintern Abbey, where we sing Vespers once a year, very beautiful, full of martins and ate a ‘real’ choc ice!)  As we talked, also with former N. Sr Carolyn, also CSMV, who came to see us both, I realized that my whole life is really about the internal journey, (expressed outwardly of course,) so for me it matters little whether I am scrubbing floors or potatoes – that was very freeing.  (Though I much appreciate that Tanja has introduced some new uses for fruit; I’m not inspired.  I especially recommend whole cooking pears cooked slowly in syrup and cloves, eaten with whipping cream.  Yum.)   It was also such fun to sing in choir, the three of us together, once more.  I became much more aware than before of how different communities are right for different people.  I needed that two years of intense and rich formation in Wantage, but Tymawr is the place for me, and the kind of growth that is going on there now, in me, is very hard to describe and probably rather boring.  The group of people like Wendy who support us is essential for me.  Sr Rosemary SLG comes over three times a year to help form us, in particular us newer ones, two priests come alongside us, an American friend, Bonnie Thurston ….

There are several enquirers going round communities, and it seems all communities are picky, not so much looking for ‘good’ people; (that would count me out for a start, anyway saints are hard to live with (that’s my excuse!)) but for those who would be in the right place, would ‘fit’ somehow, would flourish.  Each community accepts very very few even to explore.  (We have one, and another on the way, to explore a couple of communities a bit further.)  Extra hands are provided not by would-be nuns so much as by people wanting to live with us for a while for a dozen different reasons, to prepare to set up a retreat house, to put a marriage together, to see what the life might be like, to have time to do the jobs they have in mind: endless reasons and therefore different needs.  (Which mean we have to adapt!)  At the conference for First Professed we found that most communities are struggling with similar issues.  And when I stayed in the little retreat place in Lincolnshire they also had what I would now call an Alongsider.  Someone living there and helping, between jobs.

I AM very busy though, which is why I no longer communicate the way I used to.  I no longer have to do six things at once the way I used, and you probably still do, but the demands of the Religious Life itself and the fact that hospitality is part of our charism, and our income, means there are very few free minutes in the day.  It’s not that I run all day, but keeping going day after day, all day, and focussing on what I am doing, means living at a slower pace.  Which is why I have to write this when on holiday – a working holiday as it turns out, but different work.  But also, at my sister’s,  touches such as a banana tree in the kitchen, a history museum in a phone box in the village, and a walk in glorious countryside that is actually inside the M25.  And the smell of hot bread timed to be ready for 9.0 am.  But I will appreciate a couple of days in a little retreat place with a Quaker friend next week.  I didn’t bring jeans, I brought paints.  My paintings have changed dramatically since I decided to keep them to myself and those I work with on them.    More explicit.  This Quaker friend is spending a month in a Quaker centre next year … near Canberra!  That’s a good thought.  She will bring back the sort of news of Catrin I am interested in.

Pip, where I stayed the rest of the time, is a zillion times busier than I could be, but I do manage to do lots of nothing when there.  She asked me if there was anything I wanted when I came.  ‘Chocolate and sleep’, I said.  I think I must have diabetes in reverse:  I need sugar, and felt much better for having had it!  (And, a week later, she is in London where she has a new grandson ….)

I did actually go back to Wantage for the inside of a week, for the conference of the First Professed, the group photo was taken just by the orchard there.  This photo was taken by Sr Liz CSF whom Lincolnshire friends may have met as she is in the new house at Metheringham.  (We do all have habits but some communities wear them more than others.)  That was an interesting experience.  Good conference, lovely group, excellent facilities.  It was lovely, really lovely, to see friends in the CSMV but rather a bizarre situation, given where they are now, and that no one was talking about it.

Joan Vickers is in two of the pictures, she came to my Profession, and I went to her ordination – two very happy people.  (Joan bounces, literally, when she is excited.  Fun.)  Also at the ordination were the rest of our Mothers’ Union (two plus a red-headed daughter in photo.)  What a wonderful organization that is.  The group is still going.

The front field at the convent, and in a corner, Miri the cat.  Charming, clever, manipulative and naughty – and a very good hunter.  A rabbit very well hidden under my bed was not popular when I eventually found it.  Phew!  Nor was her eating my friend Hazel’s sandwich.  The ginger cat loves the autumn, she sits in the leaves and waits for dinner to walk past.  However, life for the cats, and sometimes for us, has been made rather more difficult by FIRE DOORS; most institutions face this, or close.  Huge expense, great nuisance, heavy, noisy, hard for people who are frail, injured or ill, and impossible for cats.  They are also impossible to slam satisfyingly (in a silent place) if you happen to be mad!  Dearie me.

I should have put in a photo of our main ‘Song Room’ – the laundry, which is in the stable block.  I do have a keyboard in our lovely place for day guests/groups but it is so often in use I keep one on an ironing table in the laundry.  Nippy in Winter, we dress up to sing there!  If the machines are spinning, I turn up the volume!!  (Not very like the BBC film of ‘Young Nuns’, the ones who weren’t so ‘proper’ were American!  I think the English are generally happy more quietly, but I loved their teaching schoolchildren about the ‘habit’ using ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes! Veil, habit …)

That leaves the shot of Catrin dancing, and it is ‘real’ – it was taken out of doors – and newspaper cutting of Pete, also real, but there is less of him: he has lost three stones already.  And one of them together, taken when they popped across to France for the week-end.  They have had an exciting year with up ups and down downs and have surfaced in good fettle, ready to emigrate to Canberra.  They will be very much missed.

Next year they will have a HOT Christmas.  It is anybody’s guess where Mair will be, in fact beyond any guessing!  My journey is internal, warm inside (the boiler was down for 8 months, so outside was a different matter – we lost our drying room, and we have guests  -…).    So …

Warmest wishes to you all, love from Lizzie/Elizabeth