contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Franciscan Priory

GREYFRIARS: A SENSE OF PLACE

Greyfriars is the shell of a church that once belonged to the Franciscan friary founded in Gloucester, England, around 1231 (1). The friars rebuilt their church in 1519. What is left of it, after a series of violent transitions including its final restoration, is a slightly bleak twentieth century heritage ruin, saved for me by its elegant arches. It does, I find, support an aspect of tranquility in this neighbourhood, along with an active Quaker Meeting House purpose built early in the nineteenth century. I live in a city centre, on a densely populated estate, yet it doesn’t feel that way. Good modern insulation helps, but my sense of place suggests an underlying leaning towards calm.

I notice this because I have been more-or-less housebound since I last wrote, with a further deterioration in my health, until a welcome uptick in the last couple of days. The picture, taken on 9 April doesn’t do the building full justice. It is much more substantial than it looks, with both the nave and north aisle in place. But it is the view from my home. My sense of place within the confines of house, block and estate has sharpened. The Greyfriars ruins nourish me, as do sun, shadow and sky in this urban environment.

I have been processing health concerns: the advantages and limitations of having a label (COPD); dealing with health services and new medications; wondering about lifestyle adjustments; considering risk and resiliency factors, what’s in my power to influence and what isn’t; the ecology of relationship, especially thinking of my wife Elaine and challenges I may pose to her as a person with health issues of her own; feelings of relief that our cynically underfunded health system is holding me well, except at the political level where decision makers want to forget about COVID. (People with COPD are prone to infections, and this would not be a good one.) I also ask myself what role, if any, my spiritual view and practice might play. This is a whole line of inquiry in itself, and one to go into as I stabilise, and find a new ‘normal’.

(1) see https://gloucester500.co.uk/greyfriars/ for more illustrations and further information

LIMITS AND BLESSINGS

In my world, this is a time of laboured breath and limited capacity for walking. While medical investigations are underway, I am constrained in what I can do. But walking outside, taking slow deep breaths, and drinking plenty of water are medically and spiritually recommended. Today I went outside for the first time in some days, water bottle to hand, and a rhythm of slow, deep breathing established.

I walked in my neighbourhood and a nearby local park. The picture above is a treescape from that park. For me, it is images solidity and endurance alongside blue sky and spring growth. In itself, it occupies a unique niche in the web of life. I enjoy its company, and the opportunity to record its presence here.

My world may seem, at least for the time being, to have shrunken. My own presence in it, and my perceptions when present to it, do not have to shrink along with the physical distance I can cover. A necessary slowing down contains it own opportunities. I have space and time to enjoy the willows here, their leaves, and the shadows of their leaves. I am constrained to take notice. I appreciate the experience of noticing. I am reminded that I am just outside the period assigned to willow in my personal tree mandala (1,2), but of course it is not too late to connect and commune. There are compensations nested in my unwanted condition.

I find the houses and their surrounding plant life photogenic, not least under a blue April sky. The season has been advancing, the equinox now well past. Around me, I find an energetic acceleration towards summer. Hildegard von Bingen called this kind of natural power viriditas. I can recognise and enjoy it even when I’m lagging behind.

Very close to home I encounter the ruins of Gloucester’s Franciscan Priory, sadly with a nondescript mid C20th building tacked on behind them. They are a landmark for me on my return. I’m tired. I’ve about reached my limit. Although I’m sad that my walking distance is so limited, I feel blessed and nourished by what I find within the limitations. I am also glad to sit down and recognise feeling at once refreshed and exhausted.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2021/tree-mandala/willow/

(2) The mandala is based on my personal experience of trees in the neighbourhood as well as traditional lore. Moving around the spring quarter from 1 February, the positions and dates of the four trees for this quarter are: Birch, north-east, 1-22 February; Ash & Ivy, east-north-east, 23 February – 16 March; Willow, east, 17 March – 7 April; Blackthorn, east-south-east, 8 – 30 April. The summer quarter then starts with Hawthorn at Beltane. For a complete list of the sixteen trees, see https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2020/autumn-equinox-2020-hazel-salmon-awen/

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