Recently I spent several days in Walsingham with three friends. Like me they needed time away from work to recharge their batteries. Unlike me they had suffered rejection and disappointment and saw this as an opportunity to seek God’s healing and His guidance as to the way forward.
You may think that Walsingham at this time of year, when the crowds of pilgrims have thinned somewhat and the weather become dull and cheerless, is hardly the ideal place to visit when you feel broken inside and need a positive lift. However, because it is the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary instructed Lady Richeldis to build an exact replica of the holy house of Nazareth and over the centuries since then has been a place of prayer and pilgrimage, I would say it is an ideal location to pray, discern and walk closely with God. I was also aware of how Walsingham played a pivotal role in the conversion of England. What were the words of Pope Leo XIII? “When England goes back to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England”. This was indeed a holy place, we were walking on holy ground.
During my stay I came across a gem of a book entitled The Practice of The Presence of God: Conversations and letters of Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence lived in the 17th Century and at the age of eighteen experienced something that would change his life forever. Did he experience a blinding light and fall to the ground, and did he hear the thunderous voice of God as we know Saul did? No, his life changing event was the sight of a dry and leafless tree standing gaunt against a backdrop of snow. As it says in the book, ‘Thinking of the changes the coming spring would bring, he felt an overwhelming sense of the knowledge and love of God, and afterwards endeavoured as he put it, ‘to walk as in His presence’.
Later I found myself, along with my fellow pilgrims, in the cottage of a Catholic woman by the name of Eileen who was delighted to play hostess to us. We made two visits to Eileen’s and on both occasions our conversation slipped quite naturally into moments of prayer, both silent and verbal. It was on the second occasion that Eileen began to talk rather wondrously about living in the Divine Will as opposed to doing the Divine Will. It was Louisa Piccarreta (1865-1947) who apparently received a revelation from God of this new existence. For most of her life this Dominican Tertiary was bedridden and often in pain and yet she experienced constant and joyful conformity to the Divine Will.
I was left wondering how all this had passed me by until now. On my departure from Walsingham there was one question uppermost in my mind. It wasn’t just a question of knowing more about the Divine Will but how do I begin to live in it?
Some years ago Karl Rahner said that we are entering an age when the Christian must be a mystic or be nothing. He was saying that we must be a profoundly spiritual people – a people of deep prayer or we will become almost irrelevant…..