Sunday, 16 September 2007

Looking for a meeting

One of my reasons for wanting to contribute to the sheffieldquakerblogspot is because while I have really appreciated attending the Sheffield meetings over the past few years I have not been ready to contribute anything beyond my presence for the time being. I knew I would miss meeting however and this post is about an attempt to hold a family meeting.

When I’d first arrived in the area where we are based in France, on leaving the motorway, I had noticed an impressive monastic building just off the main road. I had decided to go there some time to see whether there might be somewhere I could go that was quiet and secluded. My aim was to be able to go with the children, as I have to the Sheffield meeting. I was drawn to the monastic building because I imagined it may have cloisters where I could draw and do calm activities with the children in a location where they would feel a respect for silence. A reflective space.

I went there this Saturday, parked and left the children at the car with their mother. I walked up to the monastery and saw a sign for a reception. I went up, tried the door which was locked, and knocked. No one answered and I was turning to leave when an older, very pale skinned woman came and opened the door. I greeted her and said in French:

« J’ai une question assez particulier à vous poser… » which meant « I’ve a rather unusual question to ask you ».

The woman replied, « I’m sorry but I really don’t speak any French unless you speak really slowly ». The sister, it emerged came from Kansas, and was part of an international exchange between Dominican foundations and was here for some five months. I explained that I attended a Quaker meeting in Sheffield and that I would like somewhere quiet and reflective to go with my children occasionally and wondered if there might be a place in the monastery.

She thought that this sounded like a fine idea and suggested I speak to one of the sisters who was in the Basilica at the moment but would be out later. I said that with the children and it being near lunchtime I couldn’t wait that day but I would come back another time. As I explained this, the sister looked over my shoulder and asked if those were my children playing over there. I looked and saw that they had come out of the car. They look lovely she said. I thanked her and walked back to the car.

As I walked down the alley of plane trees that shaded the drive up to the monastery I saw that the children were playing in and with the fallen leaves that were gathered on the grass lawns to one side. They were running around and collecting piles of leaves to make pretend fires. This is perfect I thought as I walked up. This is the right place to do this. More than that, what I wanted to happen was happening right now with my having done nothing. I joined the children in their play and we covered each other in leaves and discovered each other hidden by leaves.

Lunch time was approaching and we needed to eat so after half an hour we set off home.

Today I took both girls back there; in fact we had to return because Lottie thought she had lost one of her favourite toys there. I parked once again and followed the girls to the bench where they thought the toy had been left. It wasn’t there. I suggested that I would ask at the reception to see if it had been handed in. As we walked forward we saw that there were other children playing outside the Basilica. I suggested the girls played there with them and went inside.

There were about one hundred people inside all listening to a Dominican Brother lecture on the history of the site and the Dominican Order in the area. I stood to the back and looked around the Basilica. It was so simple. Pretty much gutted during the revolution it had been partially restored in the mid 19th century but there was nothing ornate. The lecturer’s voice was distant and I took a pad and drew a sketch of the scene. Peace. A meeting place.

The girls came in and found me. They went very quiet and whispered. Would you like to draw I asked? Yes they did and they both drew pictures of the interior of the Basilica.

Ten minutes later the lecture ended and we left. We had found our meeting that morning. We didn’t find the toy. It was a Barbie. No one had handed it in.

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