S T   C U T H B E R T ’ S  H O U S E Hermitage of the Diocese of Nottingham               

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October 2013

Well. What a year!

Following my diagnosis of Myasthenia Gravis in the springtime, in the late summer I was given a FOLLOW-UP diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis.  To be served concurrently.  Apparently once you have one auto-immune condition, you are liable to take the fall for a whole raft  of them.  I rather like the Rheumatology department at Lincoln County.  They are situated in a ground floor hut separate from the rest of the hospital, and are rather less “grave” (pun intended) than up in Neurology.  They also have a line in jokes which are just unfunny enough to not hurt anyone by too much laughing!

Best of all, on hearing that I was about to set off on my holidays, the consultant left the office, and returned with a massive syringe full of steroids which he said would “sort me out” for the duration.  And they did …

So the highlight of my year was a mini-break up to Northumberland in early September, which my family gave to me to celebrate my fiftieth birthday.  I had been corresponding with Jeff & Jill Sutheran of St Cuthbert’s House B&B in Seahouses since I came across them several years ago in search of my own website identity.  The descriptions of their renovation work on an old chapel, and the before/after photos had long been enticing me northwards.  My fiftieth celebrations seemed the ideal opportunity to venture back to my spiritual homeland.  I had a glorious time!  I dined out on crabs and fish, and sampled the delights of afternoon tea at Alnwick and Howick Hall (home of Earl Grey);  I chatted with the prehistoric cattle at Chillingham, and sojourned with the seals of the Farne Islands off Seahouses;  I revisited old haunts on Lindesfarne and scaled the heather moors just behind Wooler;  but the highlight of my holiday was a trip out in a catamaran to the Inner Farne where St Cuthbert settled as a hermit and returned to die.  A very small chapel has been built there in his honour, but it was gloomy and damp inside, and not how I imagined him at all.  Emerging into the bright sunlight feeling ever so slightly deflated, I had a sudden vision of a young man throwing himself back onto the warm scrubby grassland which covers most of the island and kicking his feet in the air, “Howay God, just thee and me now!” That was better.

Craster, on the Northumberland coast, is renowned for its haddock.  Heading back to SCH B&B one very fine evening, too lovely to spend indoors, I chanced my arm by asking at the local fish restaurant if they would consider selling me a take-away.  They would, but there were strings attached: two Brazilian women working in the kitchen were (in the words of the manager) “very Catholic”, and had spotted me approaching in full hermit garb.  Could I possibly bless them?  I forget sometimes the impact that my very simple habit can have on folks.  Of course it was a privilege to be able to pray briefly with these two women.  And the fish, eaten out of paper on the harbour walls under the glow of a setting sun, tasted all the better for it.

Passing on my way back through Durham, to pay my respects on the feast day of the Saint himself, I popped into the mobility office in the downtown car park to find out about buses up the hill to the Cathedral.  And emerged ten minutes later on my own shopmobility scooter!  This was a first for me.  Never was such fun had in a Cathedral, whizzing around the monuments and pillars.  It was providential that the cathedral was in full flower festival decorative order, so I was obliged to temper my speed a little up and down the aisles. I am not sure I am quite ready to invest in one full time, but as a temporary aid about town I would heartily recommend the facility to anyone a bit wobbly on their feet.  Just ask at your local shopmobility office.

And then, as a final huzzah, I was invited on my return, to contribute to the BBC Radio 2  “Faith in the World” week (starting October 20) which this year has taken the theme of “Living alone well”.  There is to be a radio broadcast with a more long-term feature on the R2 educational website .  As ever, the BBC team relaxed me into the process and made the experience a delight.  And as recompense for the interruption, I was given a wonderful treat of scrambled eggs & chilli bacon, served up in my own kitchen by the very distinctive hand of Hardeep Singh Kohli.  Delicious.  If you don’t like scrambled eggs, then I would suggest staying away from here until my new-found enthusiasm for the art of advanced-level-scrambling has waned a little.

Now then, Christmas cards … In September 2013, Pope Francis made a prophetic statement:"With regards to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says “No” … that door is closed." A door is not a door of course, unless it has the potential to be re-opened.  I am aware that the particular door of women’s ordination is unlikely to be opened again in my lifetime; not within the earth-bound limitations of this microcosmos of here and now.But in the eternal present of the eschatological church, Christ’s priesthood always has been, and always will be shared universally and without prejudice.  My new Christmas designs look forward with hope and confidence to the day when the Church fully reflects once more, with wonder and gratitude, this fullness of Christ and of Christ’s self-offering, even within the pilgrim band of Christ’s Church on earth.

And so, as we look forward to his festival at the turning

of the year, I gratefully wish you all the gifts of Christ,

and the fullness of his life and joy.  May you be very blessed.


Rachel

(Hermit of the Diocese of Nottingham).