So to Good Friday and a work which has inspired me so much over the years: Faure’s Requiem; especially the Agnus Dei.
Three years ago, when I was making the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, it became one of my mainstays; whether hummed under my breath or listening to it holed up in the basement of the centre where the noise wouldn’t disturb the other retreatants! Of course in the Exercises – the Passion, death and resurrection of our Lord feature largely. So Holy Week, for me and several dozen other pilgrims, took place during the hinge of autumn and winter: the end of October and the beginning of November, as the days began to shorten, and all around us the leaves were changing colour, falling and beginning to decay.
To have a second ‘Holy Week’ in one year was a strange, strange experience, coming as it did, towards the end of a month’s prayer and solitude. To say it was challenging at times, would be an understatement. As time went on, I spent much time either out of doors, roaming the surrounding countryside or working in the art space. Increasingly as I get older, I seem to sense God’s presence in a far more sensate way than when I was younger. Not surprising, I guess, that this realisation came to the fore during such an intense time of reflection.
The Exercises are by way of being a marathon, in whichever form you make them: residential or in everyday life over a number of months. I did have a tendency to get too much ‘into my head,’ to begin with. So it took me a while to acclimatize and to realise that the advice to Pray as you can, not as you can’t really does ring true.
To return to the Agnus Dei, I made the wallhanging in the photo after praying through the Crucifixion. It’s also inspired by a wonderful meditation by Alison Swinfen, taken from the anthology Iona – Images and Reflections. The embroidered words on the host are a misquote (no books on retreat!) of her meditation: and so you love us back into the earth. You can read the whole text and view the photo that accompanies it here. I learned a lot about hopelessness, helplessness, perseverance and waiting in the face of darkness and apparent nothingness during that ‘Holy Week,’ and it was imagery, prose, poetry and music that helped me to keep going.