Ebb and flow at Rievaulx 

We spent yesterday at Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire. The site contains the ruined remains of a Cistercian community who lived, worked and prayed in the area for over 400 years. 

The condition of the ruins, along with the thoughtfulness of the information provided by English Heritage, make it easy to imagine the Rievaulx ways of life. But, more than this, half a century of faithful prayer and simple living have left spiritual footprints on the area that are impossible to miss. 

Faced with this ruined grandeur and remnant spirituality, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if history had been kinder to Rievaulx. 

What if it hadn’t struggled so badly in the 13th Century with livestock loss and debt? 

What if it had not been pillaged by the Scots in 1322?

What if it had not been struck by the Black Death in 1348?

What if more than 15 monks (down from 650) had survived to the end of the 1380s?

What if it had not been suppressed and dismantled in 1538?

What if the dissolution of the monasteries had not taken place? 

What would Rievaulx be today? 

These questions turned naturally on their head, to the institutions and ways of life that I know and love. The ones that seem strong, and yet are as fragile as Rievaulx. 

What if the bricks in the wall of my life – the bricks that offer security and hope and a future – one day lie as ruined as this once-great abbey? 

Rievaulx’s most famous abbot was also one of its first: Aelred. As Aelred watched his community strengthen and prosper, I wonder what he knew about life’s ebb and flow? 

Did he hope that Rievaulx  would become one of the richest abbeys in England? 

Did he fear the challenges that eventuality brought it to its knees? 

Did he wonder about the imprint of holiness that his community would leave on the area for centuries after its death? 

Halfway through our visit, we set up a groundsheet on the site of one of the many chantry chapels. The significance of sitting down for a picnic where, centuries earlier and for hundreds of years, monks and locals had gathered to break bread, was not lost on us. 

And so the questions that have stayed with me – questions about me and about the institutions and ways of life that I take for granted – are these:

When I am gone and forgotten, who will picnic on the remains of my chapel? 

What spiritual footprints will I leave? 

How might my holiness (or otherwise) impact a place? 

What grandeur I see now will lie in ruins? 

What of these ruins will people wonder at? 

Rievaulx was a good reminder of life’s ebb and flow. We grow, we prosper, we struggle, we fade away; leaving only our footprints in time. 

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Autumn: In words and pictures

An hour spent tidying up the garden yesterday, although I was soon distracted by what was happening to the outdoors.

The unmanaged beauty of those plants I never got around to taming.
The defiant, glorious flowering of bedding plants in their final days.
The creep of decay as winter’s wet and cold begins to settle.
The sheer amount of failure and waste, as in every part of nature, that is needed for even the smallest signs of life to flourish.

And it got me thinking about life.
About our own moments of Autumn.

Maybe that’s about age and relationships and life stage.
Maybe it’s about other beginnings and endings.
Maybe it’s just our response to the way the seasons shift slowly around us.

So here are twelve photos exploring these themes, and four haikus to unpack the images a little.

I hope they’re helpful to anyone going through an Autumn at the moment.

(The photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.)


Autumn in haikus and pictures

Consolidation
A look back at what has been
Dressed in decay’s scars

Glance in the mirror
Past, now, future; all in one
Sunshine and shadows

Some of us made it
Blooming, then going to seed
Beauty in decay

We saved best till last
Light in the shade of the past
Frail, veined, glorious