In an hour or so I am going to be driving down to Burnham Abbey It's more or less a monthly visit to celebrate the Eucharist with the sisters there, and has become a very special time for me. The sisters enjoy the services of local clergy, the Bishop and I who come each day to preside at their 9.30am service. It is also an offering of their generosity to me as, understanding that I do not have a regular 'altar', and they have given me theirs.
However, the madness of this regular visit, for a service that lasts half an hour, is the journey which takes at least two hours! It could, on a good day, take 45 minutes, however to get there for 9.30am I need to allow for traffic jams in Gt Missenden, Beaconsfield and Burnham and leave home by 8am. If I go straight back home I get in at about 11am. Looking at it rashly it seems a ridiculous use of my time ....
Yet, somehow this monthly trip has become sacred space, whether I go off to something else afterwards, or drive back home. Allowing time to get to the Abbey makes the journey far less stressful, it's like I am driving towards something. If the traffic is not so bad I have a good 15 minutes to prepare, as I sit in the vestry, the oldest part of the Abbey and ponder and pray. Then there is the service itself - it tunes me in to the liturgical year, sometimes it will be a Feast Day with incense and singing, sometimes there are guests and at other times it is just the sisters and me. The slow rhythmical pace of the liturgy slows me down, centres me with God, and helps me focus on my role as a priest. For me too, it is an enormously humbling experience and an absolute privilege - and in that particular setting, many of the words of the liturgy come alive in a new way. I was struck only the other month by the meaning, in that context of the phase 'God's holy gifts, for God's holy people.' for example.
Then there is the journey back - I get to hear many radio programmes driving around, but somehow driving back home listening to Woman's Hour has become something of a treat. It's a bit of 'me' time before getting into the post, the emails and the work of the day. So in a paradoxical way, what may look like time wasted, has become precious time.
I am so grateful to the sisters for their hospitality, and for their ongoing ministry of prayer and service. I know much of their prayer is for the work of the local church, the archdeaconry and the diocese and value knowing too that my work is their concern also.
How often, do we look rationally at something and dismiss it, without really noticing or acknowledging its true worth ?