Back home

The retreat at La Ferme was every bit as good, and as challenging, as I had anticipated, and much could be said about it…and will, eventually. At the moment we are in the process of moving, which means not a lot of desk time. Tomorrow I think my desk will go into storage, so no desk time at all for several weeks.
 
To begin at the end of the retreat weekend, though: I discovered, during my stopover at Minster Abbey on Monday, a gem of a book. Written by someone identified only as ‘a monk’ (a Cistercian, if you want to know), it is entitled, The Hermitage Within. Pushed well back between two books on the shelf, its title was hardly visible, but it caught my attention anyway. When I opened it, I found an invitation: ‘[God] is calling you to live on friendly terms with him: to nothing else.’ In light of the message of the retreat, which focused on Jesus’ care for the poor and humble, and his own poverty and humility, this struck me as the logical follow-up. (There is more to it than that, of course–on which more later.) The invitation came with a caveat, though: ‘You must be content to lose yourself entirely. If you secretly desire to be or to become “somebody”, you are doomed to failure. The desert is pitiless; it infallibly rejects all self-seekers’ (p 10).
A hard word in an age of self-promotion. A hard word for a person who has always struggled with the desire to be ‘somebody’–both in the struggle for recognition and coping with obscurity, and the struggle to overcome the desire itself. What amazes me about Jean Vanier is his ability to be somebody without desiring to be somebody. He holds it so lightly, and always looks in the same direction: away from himself, and constantly toward Jesus. One of my very favourite moments in the retreat was Jean concluding one of his talks by saying, almost offhandedly, ‘He’s quite extraordinary, Jesus. It’s important that we get to know him.’ Indeed so, Jean, indeed so. Thanks for helping us with that.
 
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The Short Day Dying

It has been many years since I read a book in a day. It is not my usual practice, as I read slowly and with distracted thoughts. Never has my attention been focused on a book in quite this way: I returned to it again and again throughout the day not because I wanted to know what happened next, but because I wanted to listen to the voice of the narrator. I did wonder whether the narrator's own death would be the end of the story, yet I wasn't just reading to find out. (I won't spoil the ending for those yet to discover it.)
 
Peter Hobbs, the author of this beautiful novel, has a rare and amazing gift, I think. The endorsements compare him to Faulkner and Hardy. I see the resemblance to both, but was never drawn in by their prose the way I was by his. Perhaps he lacks their genius, which I failed to grasp, and that is why I was so captivated by his story and the way he tells it. So be it: I delighted in it and was moved by it all the same. You will have to judge for yourself.