Easter in a Time of Isolation

Women at the tomb Maurice Denis


Hello! This is just a heads up for anyone who is not part of a gathered Christian community and would like to follow the story of Jesus from Maundy Thursday to Easter morning in a contemplative way.  I have adapted it for this time from the retreat I led at Othona in 2016.  It is a series of rituals, poetry, readings, music and art.  It will also include body prayer, silence and my own earthy written prayers.  The purpose is to help reflection in your own home, either on your own or with those you share a home with.  It will focus on the mystery of the cycle of living, dying and rebirth at the heart of all life.  I will put the first notice up on Sunday April 5 in order to give time to gather the ritual elements together if you choose to do those. The Maundy Thursday material will appear on Tuesday April 7 so each day will be posted 2 days ahead of the day it is due to be used.

We have, without exception, all had to adjust to such a profound change in the way we live in the last 2 weeks.  For me although the outside world is quieter, except for the birdsong – surely the signature tune of this strange time? – my virtual life got much much noisier.  It took a week to adjust to the far greater powers of discernment I now need to navigate the phone messages and online wonderful material that “bombard” both the devices I use – all offered in friendliness.  During that week I hesitated over whether to offer yet one more online Easter resource and add to the plethora already out there but my discernment has led me to do just that: offer it.  I hope it finds its way to at least 1 or 2 people who would value it.  I will explain it more on Sunday. And I hope that we all find what we need to resource our spirits in these extraordinary months.  Feargal Keane read this on the Today programme this morning from John O’Donohue so I will finish up here with it as it is the kind of material my Easter meditations contain:

“This is the time to be slow,

Lie low to the wall

Until the bitter weather passes.


Try, as best you can, not to let

The wire brush of doubt

Scrape from your heart

All sense of yourself

And your hesitant light.


If you remain generous,

Time will come good;

And you will find your feet

Again on fresh pastures of promise,

Where the air will be kind

And blushed with beginning.”

Quiet week in September by the Sea


This is a beautiful time away, at Othona, Burton Bradstock, Dorset.  It is nearly a week of quiet.  Not a retreat so much as time to let be and unfurl.  Othona do these weeks twice a year and they always book up so I’m posting this early.  My job is merely to prepare quiet in the wonderful chapel morning and evening and to be available should you want some time alone to talk.  This time we are thinking about emptiness and the different things it can mean when we experience it.  But it is not necessary to consider this at all! As always at Othona, the spirituality is open to all which is one reason why I return again and again.  If you have not visited before the beach is a 15 minute walk down a path across fields and the grounds of Othona are also a place for quiet in one of the turning seasons.

Our work is simply this: to become the emptiness that can receive.

–  derived from M. Eckhart by Sweeney and Burrows.

For more information and booking see https://www.othonawestdorset.org.uk/civicrm/event/info?id=1656



A Space for some wild spontaneous person!!


A space has come up on our Book of (H)Ours Retreat on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.  Monday January 28- Friday February 1st.  See details below.  If anyone reading this would like to come and can come at such short notice, please contact The Open Gate on Holy Island.  You would be so welcome and we are all beginning to feel excited about our time together.

Book of (H)ours Retreat on Holy Island, Northumberland.


Lindisfarne in Winter: Monday 28 January to Friday 1 February

I am delighted to be offering with Claire Gibbs, a bookbinder, heritage expert, naturalist and priest, among many other things, and Mary Fleeson, an artist at the Lindisfarne Scriptorium, a creative retreat on Lindisfarne in deepest winter.  In January, Holy Island is quiet and even more elemental than usual.  So we can be out with the wind, tides and birds or in beside the fire at the Open Gate Retreat House, the home of the Community of Aidan and Hilda. Over the course of our time together, we will make our own Book of (H)ours to take home.  We will learn about Illuminated Lettering, Books of Hours and the Lindisfarne Gospels and each day will  begin and end with optional chapel times.  There will also be time for personal reflection and quiet.  It will be creative, reflective and time out to consider our prayer/meditation lives.

If you want to know more about it get in touch with me.

If you want to book go to the Open Gate website: https://www.aidanandhilda.org.uk/retreats-menu.php




Forget your Perfect Offering (Easter retreat 2017)


Having not been away over Easter, I had never journeyed through the days and nights before with a gathering of people. And what a joy it was to travel the dark evening of Maundy Thursday through the dark day, blackest night, black without crack day to bright night and exceptionally beautiful sunrise of an Easter morning and then to rest in that for another 24 hours at Othona in Burton Bradstock Dorset. We were blessed with Othona hospitality that you can just sink into and dry sunny weather, blowy winds and so fierce waves and constant birdsong in the woods and Othona trees. My Dawn chorus track for Easter morning was superfluous! I loved re-imagining Easter with the washing of each other’s feet, making hot cross buns and a Celtic cross with branches, greenery and clooties, the Tenebrae, huge Easter bonfire, watching the sunrise over Abbotsbury and Easter communion outside. We followed the story but wove it through with Mary Oliver, Rumi, Rilke, Jan Richardson, GM Hopkins, my own paltry liturgical grounding and blessing bits, and music courtesy of John Tavener, Arvo Part, Davy Spillane, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone and more.


The highlight for me was nothing to do with my re-imagining but courtesy of the Divine imagination. On Easter morning just after dawn a small group of us went up the hill overlooking Abbotsbury, Portland, and Chesil beach one side, River Bride and her Valley of gentle rolling hills on the other. Dew on the ground and the gentlest halo of mist on the land, swallows accompanied and soared and dipped around us. The sun was behind clouds but a streaky line allowed for a white bleeding into orange light. Personally I thought that was enough – isn’t that how it is? – Just a glimpse but a glimpse enough to keep our hearts open and our eyes awake to other perceptions of the light burning in every living thing. We serenaded the sun with several chants and then as we saluted the sun she rose above the clouds to greet us in all her glory – which of course we couldn’t look at! Someone had mentioned the unmarked chapel in the wood down below. I had never visited but we all wanted to so passing a hare, many Easter bunnies, cows lazily munching and looking up to watch us, and not one but 3 leaping deer, we walked down through a wood in silence, over little wooden bridges and came upon the chapel.


It was my perfect church – a tall stone arch one end, an altar facing east the other. The altar had several offerings from other earth worshippers – stones, and flowers and candles. And the cross was old and wooden – maybe 1930s? of Christ dressed in robes with a crown – and beautifully simple. Most perfect was that it was a church with no walls. Just trees and the earth, at this time with bluebells, the daffodils gone over, the sun shining through the trees and the birds in full song. As we stood or sat in silence (there was a fallen tree), it all felt so given. The abundance of grace was overflowing. My heart felt it would burst with joy and confidence in the Beloved. Then I called the directions and as we walked back I felt entirely happy at being given such a gift. In a world with Trump and Kim Jong-un playing with their missiles, it was enough to allow my fears to unfold towards the sky and to let them be bathed in hope.

Easter Day Blessing

Bless to us Beloved,

This day, this sunrise,

This opening out into spaciousness

as joyful as the dawn of Springtide

sprung from the cold wintry earth.

As we rise to the rising of life itself

may we know your luminous presence

with us and within us

so we may let go into the present moment

of all the moments that we will be given

in this brand new day.

New Retreat Programme 2017


Cup and Ring Markings at Ketley Crag Northumberland

My website is being updated and it is not finished yet but in the meantime, on the Retreats page, there are the retreats that I am leading in 2017.  Do book through the retreat houses if you are interested in coming on one. Or if you want to know more first, please contact me.



Divine Feminine Celtic Pilgrimage July 5-6 2016

Some would call it serendipity, I would call it Spirit but in June I came to the clarity that though I had two books birthing inside me, the one that was to come first was a resource book and maybe app, for pilgrims in Northumbria. There are of course many of these but this would be a spiritual guide and I had been led to some out of the way places and would want to include those. Content enough that I had a shape to my new year back in Durham in September, not a week or more later, I was contacted by two American women who were bringing 3 others to these shores in early July. They had followed a trail from Ireland to Iona and now here to Holy Island and the North East. Together we came up with a plan to spend 2 days exploring St Hild, St Ebba and the Divine Feminine. This is a tiny fragment of what we got up to.

Santa Hilda


We walked across the sands from Sandsend to Whitby hearing the story of Hilda and bits of ceremony to orientate ourselves to the place and to Hild and then up the 199 steps to the Abbey. She is so strong and in the shadow of the referendum, I was struck by how much we need her wisdom today. Lowly folks and High Kings all came to her for counsel. She held the Celtic and Roman strands together and ran an equal monastery of men and women. Whitby was the greatest place of learning and education at that time (7C). She governed with energy and inspiration and saw the divine in each person and of course we especially know the story of Caedmon who was a cowherd at the Abbey but who became the first English poet (whose name is known) thanks to Hild’s encouragement.

The Abbey is breathtaking, standing proud on the edge of the land looking out to the sea below, with the sound of the waves and sea birds and swifts circling. Legend has it that when the birds fly over the Abbey, they dip their wings in honour of Hild. We christened this the “Hild tilt” with arms splayed, one low, one high. When we got to it, there was a Chartres labyrinth in the grass which several of us walked. This was a gift as the women I had brought here were experienced Labyrinth leaders and had wanted to find one in Durham. There were no notices about that and little information about Hild – tho if you wanted to know about Bram Stoker and Dracula, you were alright. It reminded us that even with a stonking great beautiful building right in front of you, the gift of women and wisdom generally, are like gossamer – barely visible. You have to look and more than that, you have to be tuned in, in silence and listening in the unknown. Wisdom always feels like this but none more so than in the UK post June 23, 2016.

Hilda spread your cloth of wisdom

Pass your shuttle of golden thread

Through the weft of our shared lives

And warp of all that’s torn and spent

May we as sisters on our journey

Spin with you this sacred web.

Heal the warp

Heal the weft

Pass your shuttle of golden thread.

Weave together the lost

Weave together the found

Weave together the broken

Weave together the strong

Weave together the sad…….


……..Reel us in

call us home

stitch us through with love divine

reel us in

call us home

help us trace the wisdom line

reel us in

call us home

mend the tattered fabric of our times.

C.Tess Ward 2016


Whitby Abbey – the Spectacular!

The next day we rose bright and early and drove through the Northumberland national park – o my! It’s breathtaking – way more sheep than people. I wanted to take my new found sisters to one of my out of the way places – the Lady’s Well at Holystone. Though it’s history is more 12C, it feels to me a holy feminine place as a convent of Augustinian canonesses lived here and I have always regarded water as a female element being about flow and honouring emotions (which it is associated with). Curiously though, when the Victorians put their Celtic cross folly in the middle of the pool, they dedicated it to Paulinus and put a statue of him there with his baptizing cloth. So although probably nothing to do with Paulinus, who baptized Hild, it fitted with our mini pilgrimage. To get to it, we walked in silence through the forest, across a field and it is in a magical grove watched over by yew, oak, beech and holly trees.


At the altar and round the pool, we had a morning ceremony. This included:


When I am among the trees,

especially the willows and the honey locust,

equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,

they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,

in which I have goodness, and discernment,

and never hurry through the world

but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves

and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,”

they say, “and you, too, have come

into the world to do this, to go easy,

to be filled with light, and to shine.”

Thanks be to thee O God that we have risen today

to the rising of life itself.

Carry us like a leaf on a stream

in the abundance of your loving kindness,

new every morning.

C. Tess Ward 2016

By the afternoon we had arrived at Craster. Four of our party walked the coastal path to Beadnell travelling across the golden sands of Embleton, Low Newton and Beadnell.


We walked past Dunstanburgh Castle which stood sentinel at each point of our afternoon journey. The end of our pilgrimage was Ebb’s Nook. I may have tempted fate by taking water as a theme as by then, it began to rain. So we proceded with a shortened version of my Ebba Vespers. Unlike Whitby Abbey, Ebb’s Nook is hidden – I doubt many of the villagers of Beadnell know it is there. It is on a little promontory – which reminded me of the Burren. It is easy to see how the rocks would have formed the chapel in 12C. What remains is a natural chapel – grassy with layers of rocks and water pools and always the waves washing against the edge of the land. It was a pleasure to speak CF Alexander’s version of one of the verses of St Patrick’s Breastplate together:


I bind unto myself today

the strong name of the Trinity

by invocation of the same,

the Three in One and One in Three.

I bind unto myself today

the virtues of the starlit heaven,

the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,

the whiteness of the moon at even,

the flashing of the lightning free,

the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,

the stable earth, the deep salt sea

around the old eternal rocks.

Ebbs Nook 2

Sadly so little is known about Ebba. She was a friend of Cutbhbert and an exact contemporary of Hild and like her, a Saxon princess who founded a double (both sexes) monastery at Abb’s Point across the border in Scotland which she presided over for 40 years. There is also the story of Ebba the Younger, who was 9C. When the Vikings raided she took a razor and cut off her nose and lips. Her brave sisters watched it and followed suit. When the Danes appeared they were so disgusted they fled but although the nuns were saved from rape, the invaders soon returned and set fire to the convent and Ebba and all her community were killed. We considered the flow of courage in women and how although waves move through the water, the water is at is – it keeps its integrity while being able to move and flow.

We also thought about how Time Team only a few years ago found baby bones in this place from 16-17C. They were unbaptized and Ebba’s Chapel will not have been a burial ground as it was too small. So we imagined the women coming to this sacred – and safe – place to bury their dead foetuses and babies in the hope that they would be taken to heaven. This seemed to us Ebba’s blessing across the centuries, reaching out to those beyond the boundaries.


We ended with a blessing and felt truly blessed by the still pool and chuckling spring of the morning, the rain and waves of the afternoon and the strong and wise flow of the sacred feminine present in this land that we had just trod, as of course, everywhere.


Bless to us this day the sun that is above us

The earth that is beneath us

The ocean all around us

Your rhythm of life within us

flowing and ebbing

and ebbing and flowing

into the evening which lies before us.

C. Tess Ward 2016 (adapted from Iona Community and they from Carmina Gadelica).



“As I end this day in your safe-keeping

I count three blessings before my sleeping”

This apparent nursery rhyme ending to each day in Celtic Wheel (of the Year – O Books 2007) derived from a dark chapter in my life when I was not feeling thankful at all. I wanted things to be different from the way they were – both the things I had control over and things that I didn’t.  Because of the darkness, the love in my life became extra bright, the cherishing far stronger than it had ever been. And this instinctively spread to appreciating the canopy of the trees, the birdsong, the kindness of people, little things that happened during the day that were light peeping through the cracks in the darkness. Gratitude was not a spiritual discipline I took on because it was good for me, it became a life-saver, a way through. And when I moved on from that chapter, (not by leaving the sadness behind but I by letting it become part of me),  I also inherited what had now become the natural gift of gratitude, and it has never left me.

As I say in the Introduction to the book, finding three things to say thank you for every day is easy in my experience. Others come hot on their tails and if I stopped to really think, there’d be a flood more but I’ve normally fallen asleep by then.

I later came across the words by Meister Eckhart  “If the only prayer you say in your life is “thank you,” that would suffice”  and I entirely agree with him. It covers everything because it removes you from the centre of the universe and acknowledges the grace we are held in every moment of our lives.

But another wise man, the poet and novelist, Patrick Kavanagh said at the end of his life: “Praise, praise, praise / The way it happened and the way it was.”  This puts into sharp relief, the challenge of gratitude. This is a challenge to say whole-heartedly when we think of the difficult things life has thrown at us and harder still when we consider the far greater suffering of others, . So gratitude must be a work in progress for a lot of us. I have noticed though, that I don’t always say thank you for the good things. I can say a prayer that goes something like, “if I’d had the car and not had to waste the entire morning getting to somewhere, I’d never have had the experience of walking by the river in the rain which was good”. If I continue to practice saying thank you every day and night before I sleep, and feeling thankful for what is…….If I continue to try to let the things that I decidedly don’t feel thankful for scud around in the pending section, until they settle, if they ever do………. then one day, one day, I might be able to say Kavanagh’s good words with fulsomeness. Kavanagh, after all, spoke these words because he well knew about grappling with the power of them.   He is also the man who wrote:

“Me I will throw away.

Me sufficient for the day

The sticky self that clings

Adhesions on the wings.”

– From “The Self Slaved”

Spring Retreat – Reconnecting with the Earth


I am enjoying preparing the retreat that I am leading with Matt Freer next week – Wednesday evening to Saturday lunchtime at Cuddesdon (scroll down 2 posts for details).  We are hoping for a fire one evening, there will be a focussed solo time and I am at this moment, writing short earthy complines to be used in the wonderful chapel at Cuddesdon.  Also loving looking through all the old favourites – Rilke, Rumi, David Whyte, John O’Donoghue and Mary Oliver and some less well known poets.  We are hoping for the weather to hold as there will be much time outside and it is so beautiful at the moment.  Matt is preparing other kinds of things for us to do.  We have 12 people signed up which is a great number but if you wanted to be a latecomer, do be in touch with Cuddesdon and they can add your name.  If any participants are reading this, see you next week.


Imbolc – white skirts and green hearts


Imbolc has always been one of my favourite festivals. I’m sure this is partly because my birthday is the following week and so long before I ever knew about Imbolc, snowdrops have heralded excitement and new things. Their defiant energy emerges from the slumbering cold earth with both strength and fragility reminding us year after year that life , however tender, can overcome. Their colour too – green and white, such a magical combination, pure snow white skirts lifting to reveal the peeping green heart. They somehow combine the milk of Brigid and her green mantle. [It is said that Brigid was milking a cow and a poor woman came by and she gave some milk and another and she did the same and when she ran out, the cow produced some more for her to take back to her mother.]

St Frideswides well

We gathered in the dark at St Frideswide’s well in Binsey or “Treacle well”. [St Frideswide is the patron saint of Oxford. She had fled to Binsey in a bid to escape marriage to a king of Mercia, whose pursuit of her was halted when he was struck blind at the gates of Oxford. Frideswide’s prayers brought forth a healing spring, whose waters cured his blindness, and the spring was walled into a shallow well which became a focus for pilgrimage, the mediaeval sense of the word ‘treacle’ meaning ‘healing unguent’.]

 It was the perfect place for Imbolc, given that we couldn’t get to Kildare to go to Brigid’s well. It was a healing place where a woman had stayed true to her womanly spirit in a world where expectations were set by men. We came with our lanterns and called the directions in this sacred place under the bright full moon (and Jupiter) with the shadows of ourselves against St Margaret’s church wall and the bare trees flickering.


We shared the people, places and situations that needed healing – these included personal and global things. Imbolc to me is a particularly feminine festival because of Brigid and it is also Candlemas which is about Mary coming to the Temple, for purification – sadly because religious purity laws deemed childbirth unclean. On the day when Islamic men thought they were cleansing the world by burning an innocent man alive in a cage, it seemed more important than ever, to hold fast to women’s ways of healing the world – which both men and women can inhabit. It is more hidden and doesn’t carry guns but it requires daily attention to the opening of our eyes ears and hearts. As we knelt to put our faces under the arch of the well to touch the water and each well wrapped bottom stuck up in the air, we asked for healing and cleansing and flowing of Spirit through all the troubled and painful lives and places. I was warmed by our prayers and the only thing we could do in the face of such horror and violence. We hummed and offered silence and then one by one gathered up our lanterns and walked back into the moonlit night.

O Caring one,

nurturing, generous and milky kind,

yet defiant as the snowdrop in a cold climate,

come with your healing and your balm

so we might be gentle and strong

and part of the flow of peace.