Environment, Spirituality

Life On a Thin Place (Part II: Pain)

August 14, 2013

bardsey sunset1If this is too honest for a public blog post then please forgive me and bear with me, but it is true to say that I arrived on Bardsey Island with a fair degree of heaviness in my heart. I wondered what impact my stay on the thin place that is this beautiful island would have on that. Would the isolation be just what I needed or would the lack of contact with my close and supportive friends be too much for me to bear?

In my last post I commented on the strange effect that island life seems to have on time. The second area that it has provoked me to reflect on is pain.

In one of my favourite books, For the Beauty of the Earth, Steven Bouma-Prediger comments on God’s words to Job in chapters 38/39 saying, ‘God’s whirlwind speeches forcibly remind Job not only of God’s power but also of the expanse and mystery of the created world – a world not of human making’.

He goes on to say, ‘such a world, beyond human control or knowledge, is able somehow to absorb the weight of human sorrow. In times of grief and pain there is great solace in fierce landscapes. When God is at the centre, and the human thereby displaced, there is a world wide and wild enough to absorb the pain of human suffering’.

I’d guess I’m not alone in resonating with what Bouma-Prediger writes about. I expect many of us reading this will have known something of the mysterious ability of nature to take on our hearts’ longings and pains and apply a soothing balm to them.

Such was my experience in the landscapes of Bardsey. I spent time sitting on the mountain: Snowdonia and Cardigan bay stretching for miles in one direction, the Wicklow Mountains just visible across the horizon in the other; choughs and gulls calling and wheeling above and below me; sheep grazing around me; bees busy in the heather at my feet. One afternoon I walked along the craggy coastline and scrambled down the rocks and over the rockpools to sit at the edge of the sea, gazing across the open water. The kelp was clear in the water and the sun, dazzling as it set across the sea in front of me, shone its warmth on my face. Another evening we all together sat on the wall at the front of our house and watched the sun set, sinking through the ruins of the Augustinian monastery, illuminating the stone cross.

bardsey sunset2I did nothing. Said nothing. Prayed nothing. Just sat and allowed the beauty of my surroundings to take my thoughts and do with them what they would.

Is everything sorted now then? Of course not – it’ll take more than a week for that to happen, if it ever does. But for a time at least I have experienced solace. And as I return to life on the mainland now, I wait to see whether the healing and restoration I knew as an island dweller remains rooted in me or not.

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  • Reply Jenny Flannagan August 14, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks for this post, Ruth, I appreciated your honesty. It made me remember Gareth Davies-Jones’ song which I love, Borderland. I’d recommend it if you haven’t heard it…

    • Reply ruthvalerio August 14, 2013 at 3:41 pm

      no I don’t know that one Jenny, I’ll take a look…..

  • Reply Tamsin August 14, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    ah, and ow. This is is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Loved the last post on time too.

  • Reply Wendy Bray August 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Ruth-I wrote on this in my blog ( the second part of it) of the 25th November last year, which went a bit viral after my tutor flagged it up to hi zillions of contacts. In my case it was strong, gale force winds which gave me a vehicle to express pain…



    • Reply ruthvalerio August 14, 2013 at 9:51 pm

      thanks Wendy. There’s so much to reflect on in life isn’t there? All the best to you.

  • Reply greatgrandewi August 14, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    My first visit to Bardsey was six years ago. I went as part of my decision to visit as many of the places I had shared with my dear late wife Barbara. Ramsay Island, where I had spent the last day of a week holiday with her was only six weeks before she died of a brain tumour. I had tried to go there several times but this proved impossible, so when a week on Bardsey with A Rocha was proposed I thought at least it was a Welsh island. During that week I found that sharing with folks from A Rocha (never met them before) appreciating the solitude there is on the island, taking in the beauty of God’s creation, were all contributors to a time of healing for me. In every aspect of my personality, physical, emotional, and spiritual I experienced God’s touch that week

    • Reply ruthvalerio August 14, 2013 at 9:40 pm

      That’s wonderful, David, thanks for sharing that.

  • Reply Paul Davies August 14, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    The thin places are always found in strange places. The Cross of Jesus Christ, the pain of grief, the sanctuary, the Bible, etc. it doesn’t need to be in the countryside, the city has thin places.

    • Reply ruthvalerio August 14, 2013 at 9:43 pm

      yes, that’s true, thanks for the reminder Paul. I do think there’s something in nature’s expanse though that takes on our pains in a particular way.

  • Reply Life On a Thin Place (Part III: Limits) | Ruth Valerio August 16, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    […] ← Previous […]

  • Reply Pain and Solace: Further Reflections | Ruth Valerio September 2, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    […] natural world has a mysterious capacity, somehow, to absorb our pain and longings and bring solace. I wrote a post about it here. I wasn’t able to explain in any way though why that should […]

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