Work was making large demands on me. There was more to do than time or energy to sustain it. I looked at the retreat day I had booked in my diary in the week ahead and wondered whether I could afford it. I decided to go. I had been to the retreat house before and in theory knew my way to it. But my mind was elsewhere. I took a wrong turn and found myself locked in rush hour traffic heading in the opposite direction to where I wanted. I was due to arrive at the retreat house by 9am. There should have been plenty of time. But when I finally got myself at least facing the right way I missed my turning again. Perhaps I could follow this road and somehow work out an alternative route to my destination? A little way on and I was completely lost. My levels of anxiety and frustration were rising.
I arrived - hot, weary and agitated - an hour late. I made profuse apologies, and though these were received with understanding, I struggled to forgive myself for being so absent-minded and stupid.
I was there to have some well-needed space, to catch up with myself and listen to God. But all I could hear for the first hours of being there was my agitation. I was more wound up than ever. The day was a waste of time.
I gave up trying to pray and instead went and sat outside. There was a rough patch of ground in front of me. Too tired to even try and work out my tangled life or think great thoughts, I began to notice how the grass stems were of different colours and heights. A breeze stirred the seed heads. Here and there a buttercup threaded through; and a bee paused on a clover flower.
The bee moved on. A burst of sunlight cast the shadow of a nearby tree upon the grass. A blackbird began to sing. Rest crept in.
It was only a small patch of grass left untended – and hitherto perhaps – unheeded. But in that so temporary moment I began to touch another level of reality: eternity.
To see a World in a grain of sand
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
From ‘Auguries of Innocence’, William Blake