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.
That blog in its original form narrated my move from England to Spain and this Equusasinus blog described the search for a more solitary life in the Costa Blanca mountains for the donkeys and I, in El Parral.
I had a mixed career, as an RAF technician, then community theatre writer, and involvement in pastoral work in the church led to contact with Franciscans, and eventually life as a friar.
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 lived in the Communauté des Béatitudes in the 12th century Abbaye Saint Martin du Canigou perched high on a mountain in the Pyrenees.
Social work and teaching
I later enrolled in 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.) This 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 the 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 in the Great Cloister. 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 a ceaseless 24-hour clockwork routine, and I began to dread the sound of the alarm clock waking me at 11.30 pm to start another night of chanting psalms till 3 a.m. The spiritual guidance was wonderful and very humane (a healing time after the brutal OFM experience in Surrey), but the Carthusian life was not for me.
The vocations director of the Archdiocese of Southwark in his ambition to boast the most candidates in formation for the priesthood sent me to seminary, in the Pontifical Beda College, Rome. This was a year largely spent hating philosophy, perfecting my game of pool, and appreciating Rome.
Teaching in Spain
In 2010 I found myself back in Canterbury looking for a teaching job again, but after the time in Rome, I found England dull. I longed for the sun and applied for a job in Spain. That is how I ended up in the Costa Blanca and did another eight years teaching.
In a mixed career (to understate it!) the best thing I ever did was live a series of moments in a different kind of reality unknown to most people; the hidden marginal world of monks and hermits.
In a wood in Crawley Down monastery; in a retreat hut at Hilfield Friary; in the silence at Glasshampton monastery; in the granite silence of the Abbaye Saint Martin du Canigou in the Pyrenees; in the Franciscan hermitages of Umbria researching Syrian hermits; and in hermitage “P” in the Carthusian great silence in Sussex; in all those places I was always at home in solitary silence.
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. I originally saw it as being properly structured under Canon 603 (the rule for diocesan hermits), but gradually came to see this as an unnecessary step and – in any case – I did not get much response from the church when I made enquiries about Canon 603 in this diocese.
Due to the COVID-19 lock down staying at home is everyone’s vocation in 2020-2021. So this is more of a ‘hobby hermitage’ to match my ‘hobby farm’ with donkeys. God has a sense of humour, and I have always found this to be His most endearing quality.
Pax et bonum. Deo gratias.