Celebrating a 25th with Constraints

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During the lockdown Holy Hill has been tidying the gardens, planting, weeding, laying out gravel, and preparing a summary presentation of those years.  This weekend, July 3-5th, we will be celebrating in a very scaled down way in order to preserve social distancing and precautions.

We plan to keep celebrating the jubilee throughout the year in small ways trying to include as many as possible who have brought life to this place, to thank them and to spread the word about what God has done at Holy Hill.

This week we received a reflection from Gillian Coxhead of Preston, U.K. who has come here on retreat for about 15 years.  Gillian is our co-moderator of Friends of Carmel at Holy Hill.  Here is what she says.



There we shall enter…

Let us rejoice, Beloved

And let us go forth to behold ourselves in your beauty

To the mountain and to the hill,

To where pure waters flow

And further deep into the thicket.

And then we will go on

To the high caverns in the rock

Which are so well concealed

There we shall enter

And taste the fresh juice of the pomegranates.

(The Spiritual Canticle stanza’s 36 and 37)

I would have loved to have been with you to celebrate but be assured my heart is rejoicing as I give thanks for you all and the live you live at Holy Hill. My gratitude extends to all the Monks and fellow retreatants whose prayer and presence have made Holy Hill the place it is.

Over the years I have come to associate stanza 36 of the canticle with Holy Hill, this was prompted by Fr. Matt Blake who named it the Holy Hill stanza. At so many levels this rings true…a place of rejoicing, of beauty, a place where we see ourselves reflected in the beauty of God. The Ox mountains, the hill and the pure waters flowing from the waterfall. You might almost imagine John of the Cross had written the poem in one of the hermitages! Not to forget the thicket–all that life brings– and of course Holy Hill is no stranger to the thicket of the cross, which is what makes it so real and authentic.

As we move into stanza 37 there is a sense of arriving at a new threshold. For me Holy Hill has become a point of entry, but not just where I enter but ‘we’. When he comments on this stanza John is eager to point out that the ‘we’ is very important, this is not something we do on our own but with the beloved, the one as he beautifully puts it, who ‘we deeply love’. I also imagine that this ‘we’ includes all those I love, those I have yet to love and indeed the whole of humanity, the whole of creation.

It seems I was brought to Holy Hill in the first place through a series of encounters, for certain I did not arrive by myself! This is not a place I enter alone but in the company of Christ. But do not get me wrong. This is not  necessarily a felt experience at a conscious level, but rather something I just ‘know’,,, trust to be true; what other explanation could there be?

As I enter my hermitage there is a sense of coming home. The surroundings are familiar, it is warm, cosy, the little touches– a vase of freshly picked flowers, a folded tea towel and dish cloth, butter, milk, cheese bread, an apple… Here is a place I will be held, the stone walls create a safe space where I can be myself, a place I can allow myself to be seen and known. I wonder what each retreat will have in store, what will be revealed, where will it take me? Always it seems in some way I am drawn deeper into the mystery of who I am and who God is. I am drawn deeper into the thicket, which for me has come to represent life. So, I am actually drawn deeper into the reality of life, of my life, of all life with its great joy and inevitable pain. There will be times of unmitigated pleasure and contentment and times of anguish when I cannot settle to anything.

It seems that to enter Holy Hill, to live with the community, to enter the silence and solitude is to enter into the possibility of transformation. Transformation in Christ or as John puts it to be; ‘sublimely and intimately transformed in the love of God.’

Now gloriously in this state the soul and Christ taste together the wine of the pomegranates. What is tasted is the fruition, the fullness and delight of the love of God. This love overflows from the knowledge of the attributes, the characteristics of God, listed by John as; ‘justice, mercy, power, wisdom and charity.’ The sharing of the wine is a completely mutual experience;

‘the drink she offers is the wine of love…tasting it himself, He gives it to her to taste; and she in tasting it turns and offers it to Him and they both taste it together.’

Dare we imagine that this is the invitation when we enter the gates at Holy Hill, enter deep into the thicket, that we may taste together the wine of love.

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