About the Author

This blog is simply a diary about a solitary life with donkeys.  It has evolved over the years and was the continuation of the Brother Lapin’s Pilgrimage blog which ran from 2010 to 2015. 

The blog in its original form described a journey through a stage of life which led to a permanent move from England to Spain.  The Equusasinus blog began with a search for a hermitage and the slow journey towards establishing that dream.

 

Gareth Thomas

I had a mixed career, as an RAF technician, community theatre involvement, then pastoral work in the Church of England.  I worked in an AIDS charity in the 1980s and this led to contact with Franciscans, and eventually life as a friar in the Society of Saint Francis (SSF).

In Liverpool I worked in a pastoral support role in a poor inner-city parish and then a year in silence in Glasshampton monastery was my introduction to a more contemplative kind of life. I went to France in 1992 and was received into the Catholic Church in the Communauté des Béatitudes where I lived in the Abbaye Saint Martin du Canigou perched high on a mountain in the Pyrenees: a time to continue exploring contemplative life. 

Social work and teaching

I enrolled on a postgraduate social work course in Canterbury, trying again to strike a balance of Contemplation in a World of Action (in the words of Thomas Merton who was a great influence.)  A placement in elderly care with Kent Social Services taught me all I needed to know about the immense bureaucracy of statutory social work. It was not the kind of engagement with people that I sought! 

I enrolled on a teacher training course in Canterbury instead. There followed ten years in Kent schools, most of that time at the Archbishop’s School in Canterbury, where everyone remembers that time: it was such a good team led by inspirational Headmaster Alasdair Hogarth. But – even with such a good job – I still could not shake off the call of religious vocation and I just had to have one more look at it. It was to prove the hardest lesson.

Franciscans, Carthusians and Rome

I resigned my teaching post in 2007 and went to explore Franciscan vocation again with the Order of Friars Minor in Surrey. It was a horrendous experience, with a postulant master who quite clearly thought there was no place for mature candidates in formation. Both myself and another mature postulant, an ex-prison officer, were forced out of the formation programme having given up everything to join it, simply because that so-called “formator” disagreed with the vocations director on principle, in accepting mature candidates to try their vocation! 

So I found myself dropped off from a car, standing with my suitcase at the rather scary door of the biggest working monastery in Europe: the great Carthusian Charterhouse at Parkminster. It was a very formative experience in my two storey Hermitage “P” in the Great Cloister, but the relentless tyranny of the clock was exhausting.  I was always trying to hold onto a precious few minutes peace before the next long walk through the gothic cloister in the ceaseless 24-hour clockwork routine which I found crushing. I began to dread the sound of the alarm clock waking me at 11.30 pm to start another midnight round of chanting psalms in choir till 3 a.m.  I began to think of it as the drudgery that might be felt by a city commuter: back and forth through the moonlit cloister, always watching the clock!  The spiritual guidance was wonderful and very humane (a healing time after the nasty OFM experience in Surrey), but the Carthusian life was not for me.

The vocations director of the Archdiocese of Southwark in his wisdom – and ambition to boast the most candidates in formation for the priesthood -thought that I would make a good priest, so I went to seminary, and spent a year in the Pontifical Beda College, Rome.  This was a year largely spent hating philosophy, perfecting my game of pool, and appreciating Rome, where I used the opportunity to go knocking at the doors of all the various Franciscan ministers general until the Franciscans of the Atonement said they would value me joining them. They paid for my return flight to New York to meet their vocations team. The Archbishop of Southwark was tipped off that I was shopping around, so he cancelled my second year at the Beda College, and the Franciscans simultaneously dropped me, as the only advantage I had to them was being already part-way through seminary!

Final years of teaching

So it was that in 2010 I found myself back in Canterbury looking for a teaching job again!  My heart was not in it. After the time in Rome, I found England dull and I longed for the sun and a wider horizon.  I applied for jobs in Ibiza, in Barcelona, Seville… and Benidorm? Well, what the heck: anywhere but Kent!  So, that is how I ended up in the Costa Blanca and did another eight years teaching. To be honest, apart from the years at the Archbishop’s School, I rarely ‘enjoyed’ teaching, but the last six years as a Geography teacher was fulfilling and it was fun to watch children making discoveries of their own in the subject. So I had a final opportunity to experience enjoyment going to work each day. It was almost the best thing I ever did. Except…

The hermitage

…Except the best thing I ever did was lived in a series of moments in a different kind of reality unknown to most people. A hidden marginal world.

In a wood in Crawley Down monastery in 1984. In a retreat hut at Hilfield Friary in 1987. In the silence at Glasshampton monastery in 1990. In the granite silence of the Abbaye Saint Martin du Canigou in the Pyrenees in 1993. In the Franciscan hermitages of Umbria researching Syrian hermits in 2006. And in hermitage “P” in 2008 in the Carthusian great silence in Sussex.

Four years ago I searched for a permanent place to live with my four donkeys and I always saw that as a search for a hermitage. It was an instinct rather than a well considered project. But now it needs to be properly structured and the time has come to apply Canon 603.

Where all other vocational paths have not led, Canon 603 opens a final route. It wouldn’t have been possible in earlier stages of the journey: it only becomes possible now.

Due to the COVID-19 lock down I am exploring the hermit life just at the time when staying at home is everyone’s vocation in 2020. #QuedateEnCasa #StayAtHome

God has a sense of humour, but then I have always found this to be His most endearing quality.

Pax et bonum. Deo gratias.