This past month has been enriched beyond measure with the second half of my 30 day retreat. I went to Scotland without a camera, which was a strange feeling. I would like to have included in this blog images of red kites, red-squirrels and red-breasted mergansers, but it wasn’t to be. Just before I left, I went up to Hembury Woods, a favourite place for swimming and walking. As I swam back downstream I noticed the current was stronger and looking across to the bank, I realised Selkie had moved to a higher level. Then to my horror I saw my bag with camera and binoculars in it floating in water. I decided afterwards that it must have been a flash flood that caused the water levels to rise so quickly. Fortunately I reached the bank ok, my clothes were still dry, but the camera damage was terminal.
But as is so often the case, there was a thread that ran much deeper than anything I could have photographed. It was symbolised by the one image I took with my phone – a sea urchin.
This part of the retreat followed through Jesus’ last days and after. It was an intense time and I struggled occasionally as I pondered well known passages. But when it came one day to reflecting on Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, I had a strong sense of the importance of this encounter. Twice he said to Mary “Woman” and I felt strong resonance with that word.
Around this time there was a stunning full moon and an unusually low tide to go with it. So that same morning, I walked down to the shore early wanting to explore the expanded shore line. It was for the most part a mix of mud, broken shells, stones, the odd jelly fish and seaweed. Then suddenly my eye caught sight of a different colour, stranded amongst all the grey, the pinkish hue of a sea urchin.
I can still feel the spine-tingling moment when I saw it. For on a long retreat 10 years ago in Northumberland, at a time of great transition I found a sea-urchin on the sea-shore there, and it came to symbolise for me the feminine. And when I cleared my mum’s house after her death, I found a sea-urchin shell that I’d given her many years before.
Initially I left the sea urchin, not sure whether it was still alive, and ran back for morning meditation. I sat down – and wept, copiously, that sort of nose running, chest heaving sobbing tears that rack your whole body. I had difficulty keeping quiet, and found meditation impossible. What was that all about Joyce asked me afterwards?
As the day went on and I reflected further on Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene, I pieced together a story from my life that had puzzled me for many years. One of those childhood memories that we know have affected our behaviour and choices in life, began to make sense in a way it hadn’t done before. I realised that I was reconnecting with a part of my womanhood that had been shall we say discarded at an early age, and lost to me ever since. The tears were the cathartic release of re-connection.
Concurrently with this during the second part of the retreat a phrase that kept coming into my mind during a labyrinth walk, and in reflection times, was
“This is my daughter, whom I love.”
I wrote previously about the first part of the retreat and that numinous encounter at the baptism of Jesus. It was only towards the end of this retreat that I made the two-fold connection with these words creating a deeper connection to the One who loved me before my birth as a beloved daughter. Finally by the end of the retreat I was able to fully celebrate those words.
On my final day I walked down to the shore at low tide again, and the sea urchin was still in the same place. I knew it couldn’t be alive by then, so I carefully picked it up brought it home with me.
When I wrote about embarking on this 30 day retreat, I mentioned that people I knew who had done it said it was “life changing”. At the time I said I didn’t want my life to change. But deep change has come, at a profound inner level This will inexorably lead to outer change, in order for the inner and outer to become more aligned.
In the full immersion of a retreat these deeper connections can be made and we can experience those “aha” moments that bring us into a greater freedom to follow the call of the Beloved.