Tales of the Wellspring part 2 ~ the origins
I’ve always struggled with community, with being among people constantly. It’s always made me feel as if there is something horribly wrong with me that after a couple of days I start to feel irritable, angry and then finally desperate. The first time I began to get to grips with dealing with this and understanding both myself and the feelings was when I was seventeen.
During my teens I belonged to a church youth fellowship group that became quite central to my life. I had a few friends from school but really I didn’t have a social life as such because I hated the usual disco/pop/clothes/boys conversations that dominated most groups of girls my age. The fellowship group tended to delve rather deeper into things that did interest me, though I’ve never been fussed about Bible study!
Easter 1983 meant a week’s trip away as a group, and we headed from the East Anglian town where I grew up all the way across England and into Wales via Snowdonia before finally reaching our destination in the hills of the isle of Anglesey. Two mini bus loads of us, packed with people and provisions arrived at the entrance to a narrow muddy lane that had ditches either side of it and took very careful driving to negotiate to reach the cottage. It was a tiny cottage, with only two bedrooms, one bathroom (without toilet) and an outside loo. There were seventeen of us. Each bedroom had a double bed and a single bed; we also had a trailer tent, another tent and the cottage had a caravan to the side as well. The living room had a double bed that folded away. By the time tents had been put up and people had claimed beds, I discovered there was nowhere for me to sleep.
The only place left was a chaise longue in the central area that acted as hall and dining room. So that’s where I dumped my rucksack and unrolled my sleeping bag. Chaise longues are ridiculously uncomfortable things to try and spend a night on, specially as I ended up with my feet up a wall. It’s also impossible to sleep in a passageway. Kitchen, bathroom, stairs and front door all opened onto this space. I had no privacy whatsoever.
Well, I coped for a few days. Then I started to get grumpy and unhappy. Everyone else seemed to be having a wonderful time; I felt excluded from much of the conversations because people were forming close bonds with those they were sharing their sleeping space with and I was sharing my sleeping space with the hearthrug by this point. Mid week and I was going mad. I hated everyone. I wanted to kill people for being inconsiderate. I hated the fact that even the bathroom had no lock on the door and washing was nerve-racking. With only one outside toilet, you couldn’t even go and hide in there without someone banging on the door and yelling at you to hurry up.
I began plotting escape. Or mass murder. I’m not sure which now. Thankfully for everyone, I ended up breaking down in tears and after some discussion and more support than I’d expected, the girls in the bedroom upstairs shifted their belongings so that I could claim a bit of floor space there so at least I could sleep without feeling as though I was sleeping in a motorway service station. It also meant that during the day, I could find a room where I had a small chance of being alone.
The weather had been wet and muddy till this point too and it suddenly changed and became sunny and mild. We were encouraged each day to take some “quiet time” after the morning session of Bible study, and up to this point, it had been a nightmare to find a place to do so. Now the weather was cooperating I decided to find somewhere outside.
That’s when I found the spring.
It was there all the time. I’d seen it but I hadn’t really seen it. The cottage was supplied by a well that was fed by the spring, but the spring itself was at the bottom of the garden by the beginning of the muddy lane. A rock formation that you had to climb down formed a sort of tiny amphitheatre round a stone bowl where water welled up from the ground and spilled over and was the very source of the stream that then ran all the way down the mountain we were half way up. I’ve never seen anything like it since but at seventeen I never realised just how special it was.
It took many years for that place to be distilled into the Wellspring of Strangers and Pilgrims:
“Look,” she said and pointed ahead.
As the mist swirled and twined like steam from a cooking pot around the rocks ahead of them, Gareth heard the chuckle of water cascading over stone, quite different from the sound of the stream in its earth bed. The heavily weathered rocks, probably left by a retreating glacier, formed a series of pools and basins spilling one into another and as he got closer to the waterfall he saw that the source was a pool the size of a small garden pond. The rim was worn and slippery where the water endlessly spilled over into the lower pools and then down into the stream. Beyond it, there was nothing but barren rock, damp with rain and mist but nothing more.
“I think we’ve found it,” he said and they walked closer.
From that point on in the Fellowship holiday retreat I spent an hour each morning, sitting by this spring, with my Bible open but unread on my lap as I listened to the water bubbling up and running down the hill and I felt such peace as I’d not felt before. I learned then something vital about myself. I need time and space to be alone, so that I have a chance of maintaining any sort of equilibrium, and moreover I need time in nature too. I am drawn to water, I gravitate towards it but the sound of running water, the feeling of sheer beauty and mystery that a spring provokes in me is numinous and necessary. There is something deeply magical about water emerging from rocks and from the earth and no matter that I know the mechanisms of it, I am always mesmerised by the experience of it. But from that spring on a hillside in Anglesey was born my love for such things and over the years that came next, I have sought such places and found them to bring me peace that nothing else can.
I’ll tell you about some of those another time.
For part one go to: Tales of the Wellspring 1