Tales of the Wellspring 3 ~ inspirations
for part one visit Tales of the Wellspring 1
for part two visit Tales of the Wellspring 2
Once or twice in my life I have made a decision while under the influence of alcohol. Most of us have, if we’re honest about it and if we’re lucky nothing very untoward has come of it. The most life changing decision I almost made was on the strength of exhaustion, the exhilaration of moving to a new and very rural area, a childhood dream and several pints of Scrumpy Jack cider. Thankfully, I said I would sleep on it and come and view the horse the next day. Good sense kicked in with a mild hangover and though the horse was beautiful as a de-horned unicorn she had not been broken in and on the strength of the fact that I’ve never owned a horse before, let alone broken one in to bit, bridle and saddle, I said no.
I am relieved now that I didn’t go through with the purchase as I suspect it would have led to much heartache later. I’d also learned my lesson from something that had occurred in a pub about six years previously, though in that case it was the result of a pint and a half of Guinness and some persuasive friends.
It was a bit more than that really. My husband had been accepted for ordination training a few months previously, to commence to following autumn, and life was in a kind of free fall. We were gearing up to moving from Middlesbrough to Nottingham, selling our home and renting another and at this time our daughter was about 18 months old. There were so many uncertainties my head spins now to even think about it. We belonged to a Fellowship of Vocation group that supported those considering or entering ministry and it was after such a meeting that we decided to capitalise on having a babysitter and when the core of the group decamped to the pub afterwards, we joined them.
David, the group leader, was a Taizé fanatic and he set himself to convincing us to come that year. Taizé is a religious community in the far south of France famed for its music and its silence. Young people from all over the world visit for a kind of retreat. My objections were simple: we had virtually no money and we had a baby. Money? Ha, as we were at that time under a key age, we were able to pay the bare minimum, David told us. And there were lots of activities for children and so on.
So I said yes.
When the time came, I regretted the decision immensely. We were in the throes of selling our house and I was reluctant to go away at a crucial time. But we’d paid our initial deposit for coaches etc so we went. Let me tell you something: travelling from the North East of England to the South of France on a coach with a hyperactive two year old who doesn’t sleep was possibly one of the most challenging experiences. It took a full 24 hours and the last 12, driving across France was horrific. It got hotter and hotter. By the time we got there, the temperature was in the 80s.
I had had no sleep whatsoever and I don’t like heat anyway. Since I speak French, I sorted out where we were to be billeted and we trudged half a mile up the road to the farmhouse where those infirm or with tiny children were put. We found out later a minibus would have ferried us there but no one thought to tell us. The old farmhouse was lovely, but in a state of some disrepair and the girl who was there to welcome us was Hungarian and spoke only basic English. She showed us to our room, which turned out to have a stone flagged floor and one single bed. At this point, I sat down on the bed and burst into tears.
“We have a problem,” said the girl and left us alone.
Ten minutes later she came back with a very nice nun who spoke good English and found us first a room with two beds, and then a travel cot for the baby.
I didn’t like Taizé; it was full of too many people, and too much noise and bustle and confusion. I felt miserable and confused myself and I wanted to go home, desperately. I liked the Church, with its icons and its flickering candles but I didn’t like the service I went to the first evening. Hypnotic repetitions of simple songs wound my nerves up to breaking point and I could see everyone else falling under the sway of it, becoming entranced and I felt angry and excluded. I tried to get into the spirit of it but couldn’t. Total fail. We also had to share child care because it turned out at just short of 2 years old our daughter was considered too young to be in any of the kid’s activities without one of us being present. So we had to turn and turn about participating in services and study groups.
We’d been there about three days, and I had become resigned to being there and was just keeping my head down and trying to get as much out of it as I could. I felt a massive sense of disappointment; it was just not what I had hoped it would be for me. I blamed myself, because I’ve always been useless at anything with groups. Then my husband said, have you found the Chapel of the Wellspring yet?
Simple answer, no. I’d not even known it was there. I went and looked at it next time it was my turn to be baby-free. It looked…..intriguing. It looked like a cross between a B&Q summer-house and an Orthodox church. A rough wooden roof over decking but an onion dome on the very top. I stood for a moment looking at it. Inside, candles flickered by icons and in the middle was a trough of water. I went in and sat down. There were only benches or prayer stools and it was simply nice to be out of the glare of the sun. The little structure was filled with the fragrance of cedar-wood and of the branches of box that were stapled to the frame (I still don’t know why) and the sweeter smell of candles. The birdsong outside was muted and after a few seconds I could hear only a trickle of water. Below this structure was a real spring and the water was channelled from below into the stone trough at the heart of the little chapel. The heat of the day was so intense that the slow trickle of water from deep in the earth kept the trough filled but it rarely overflowed. After I had sat there for a while, I could smell the water: cool, and fresh, filtered through layers of ancient rock and earth. I went and knelt by the stone basin that held it and touched it. The refreshment went somehow beyond the coolness of water on a hot day; the water felt newborn and ancient at the same time. I did not drink, but I did touch my face with the water.
From that point on this place became my touchstone for getting to grips with whatever was raging inside me. I would come in and sit in silence and after a short while what had bothered me had melted away. There was a power there I cannot describe, and even writing about it now, I feel the silence and hear and smell the water. Before we left to go home, I bought a pendant with a simple representation of the wellspring, two lines of waving blue and it came with a tiny card that has sat on or near my desk in the 20 or so years since then.
It has the same quote from the Book of Proverbs in five languages, reflecting the multi-lingual nature of Taizé:
“More than all else keep watch over your heart since here are the wellsprings of life.” Pr.4 v 23
I’ve wished every day since we left that I had that Chapel of the Wellspring somewhere that I could visit every day; wanted to live in a home where the garden held a spring I could meditate by and be healed constantly of the pain life can bring me. It’s taken me those intervening twenty years to start to understand that in reality, I do.