But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.2 Peter 3:8 (NRSV)
This is such wisdom from St Peter, and the words might have been written for us at St Benedict’s Priory as well. Who can believe that it is already a year since we arrived here at Volmoed? And looking back and reflecting on this year that was, it seems to me the things that make the day feel like a thousand years might threaten to outweigh the things that make a thousand years feel like a day.
When we look at the long day …
we are overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic and all that it has given rise to. We arrived in the last days of August 2019, and began our worship life here the following week. There was a time of settling in. Then a time of connecting with and reaching out to people in the region. Then there should have been a time of ripening and growing in ministry, but COVID-19 changed everything.
Lockdown has now extended for about half our life at Volmoed. In our previous newsletter, we expressed the hope that the lockdown and the pandemic might be short-lived, but alas, we are six months into the lockdown, with a stepdown from Level 5 to the current Level 2, yet the end of the virus and its effects seems to be in the distant future.
We feel for the untold millions of lives impacted in such a terrible way by all of this: all the jobs lost, the businesses closed, yet most of all, the lives lost and the wellbeing of so many so adversely affected. We also feel for all those, especially women and children, who have been so much more at risk to abuse of all kinds, with nowhere to go. Of course, here in South Africa, all this is tainted and exacerbated by the incredible seemingly endemic corruption of the ruling party. This was especially highlighted by the wanton theft of funds set aside for coping with the effects of the pandemic, for social welfare and unemployment benefits and for personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.
Added to this, we have the Black Lives Matter and similar protests worldwide – expressing the pent-up frustration and anger of so many people – that were triggered by the deaths of George Floyd and others in the USA and elsewhere. In South Africa, this goes with service-delivery protests and protests against gender-based violence, which sadly – all the more as August is Women’s Month here – seems to be reaching a new extreme recently.
Of course, Volmoed has also not been spared any of the economic hardships and realities of the lockdown, and the initial absence of the Volmoed staff was quite stark.
And so, this year seemed a thousand years long. At the same time, a thousand years can seem like a day.
What made this year short?
We have the incredible privilege of living in a place of such beauty. Monastic life is meant to be separated somewhat from the world, so lockdown was not as onerous for us in the Priory. We were fortunate that we could go on undisturbed with our daily rhythm of prayer and lectio divina.
We live with a degree of blessing that is truly humbling. We are aware that God’s blessing comes not because we have earned it or deserve it, but because God’s love is boundless. In humility, we are looking for ways to spread some of that blessing around. We have been able, thanks to the generosity of so many people, to give assistance to soup kitchens and other feeding schemes.
And this time of greater solitude has afforded us the opportunity for deeper reflection on what justice and hospitality mean and how these can be addressed with greater vigour here at Volmoed. We have more recently been appreciating the renewed contact with the larger Volmoed community, as well as the gradual return of some guests to Volmoed, with the attendant return of the staff, though at reduced levels.
We are pleased to be able to announce that we have a new website that reflects our presence here at Volmoed. Thank you for visiting us online. We are most grateful for the efforts of Anna Weideman at WebOwl Solutions in Hermanus, who created the website for us.
We also share news of a very recent development
Bernhard and Jane Turkstra, founding members of the Volmoed Trust, who were the first on-site residents of the Volmoed Retreat community over 30 years ago, have decided to retire to nearby Onrus towards the end of this year. They offered their house on Volmoed to our monastic community, and our Order’s council and the Volmoed trustees have both agreed to the purchase.
While we are sad to see the Turkstras move further away, we are glad that they intend to continue to be part of the life of Volmoed, and we are excited about what this development means for the future of St Benedict’s Priory. Our new home will be in a more suitable location that will better support our monastic presence on the Volmoed property, with more generous proportions and greater possibility for expansion as our monastic community grows.
As we begin our second year we pray for faithfulness and courage to be witnesses of God’s love and to find our place as builders of God’s Kingdom.
Grace to you and peace from the Brothers at St Benedict’s Priory.