January 2023 Digest - Mucknell Abbey
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January 2023 Digest

Happy New Year! It’s been a busy start to the year here at Mucknell Abbey, with some varied weather alongside. These two photos, taken on subsequent days from the same window, illustrate this well:

Living and Learning

Despite the cold, there’s been plenty to do outside; Br Adrian in particular has been very busy practicing his new hedge-laying skills. Hedge laying is a traditional way of managing hedgerows, which enables them to become both robust barriers/fences and a wonderful habitat for both plants and animals. There are a wide variety of regional methods of hedge-laying, each developped for the particular needs of an area. Br. Adrian said that this variety in technique gives him confidence, as it must mean that there is no One True Way to lay a hedge! Our hedging was planted some 12 years ago, and so is now ready for laying. In order to lay the hedge material over, it is cut into near the base, to leave just a thin layer of bark/wood attached; this is called pleaching. Once this has been done, the plant in question can then be bent over and woven in between stakes. Over time, more material will grow up to fill the gaps, and create a traditional hedge. There is much more information available on the website of the National Hedgelaying Society; the photos below show what Br. Adrian has been up to here at Mucknell:

Br. Adrian hasn’t been the only one learning new skills; Leah has been tucked away with Br. Michaël in the icon room, learning how to create an icon. She had this to say about the process:

“In December, over the course of several weeks, I had the privilege of learning how to write and icon with Br Michaël.  One of the many things that I found inspiring about the whole process was the transformation of natural materials: wood, clay, water, pigments, egg, gold… into something intended to be, not simply a piece of art, but a way into prayer and a window into eternity.  Br Michaël was a patient and reassuring teacher, helping to bring things back when they went a bit ’sideways’ and willing to take the time to share his craft.  It was a joy to see his skill and knowledge and enjoyment of his work and to hear how he has developed his practice over the years.  As a way of expressing my gratitude for the experience I wrote a poem, trying to craft in words my sense that the whole process of writing an icon and the work of an iconographer is itself a glimpse of eternity.”

Image maker, for Br Michaël

Head and shoulders bowed
like brooding wings,
making sacred
humble earth elements.

Rich red clay
polished until it shines;
ready to receive
a sea of burnished gold.

From the dust of earth
the colours of life;
cinnabar, azurite,
ochre, and umber;
and the fashioning of
a face, a nose, a mouth—
and the eyes—

to gaze upon
a face made holy,
image of the Maker.

Visitors to Mucknell

We have also welcomed various visitors in recent weeks; on Sunday 22nd, we had some of the sisters from the Bernadine Cistercian community at Brownshill Monastery in Stroud join us for tea and Vespers. They moved to Brownshill at about the same time as we moved to Mucknell, and the two communities have been good friends ever since. We exchange visits with them every year during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, taking it in turns to visit and host.

The community have also been enjoying the many and varied visitors to our bird feeders, which Br. Anthony keeps stocked up over the winter. Here’s a short clip where you can see just a few of the comings and goings:

And finally, we continue to welcome our retreat guests, and those here for quiet days or to visit the community. Our ministry of hospitality is one of our core ‘works’, and one that in a divided and fractious world (and church!) feels ever more necessary. We pray for those on retreat or pilgrimage every Saturday, and along with many others for the unity of the Church on Thursdays. Alongside this, we continue as a Community made up of very different people to witness to the possibility of communion, love and friendship in our diversity, and we continue to pray that the same may be possible in the church.