Thursday 7 March 2024

Treasure from the Gloom by Terry Rees


 The sky was deeply overcast, accentuated by the dense overhang of trees, a dank and cold introduction to the day. The conditions mirrored my feelings, low spirit  and suppressed awareness. For all of us there are moments in life when our internal disorientation and accompanying sadness steals our normality.  I was on retreat in Norfolk, staying in a convent located in a beautiful and secluded corner of the countryside, sadly now closed. Exceptional pressures at work, continuing responsibilities at church, and a  heavy pastoral burden for a loved one,  a burden equally shared between my wife and myself,  rendered my spirit weary. I was here in Norfolk because I had  persuaded myself  that a short withdrawal, to press the ‘pause button’, hoping to silence the ambient noise of labour and responsibility, to be ‘still’, to reflect and pray, was necessary.

                          I had taken a walk through a copse that lay within the extensive grounds of the convent and the path unexpectedly  took a sharp turn - and there it was!  A little way off  to the side,  nestling at the foot of leafless trees, penetrating the gloom with a piercing brilliance, a single isolated clump of snowdrops bravely flaunted its dazzling beauty.   It is difficult to convey adequately the sheer impact this image had upon me, cognitively, emotionally and spiritually. I received it as a spiritual grace, a symbol  of Divine presence in dark places. It was also  an icon of hope, Christian Hope, not wishful thinking, nothing less than the glimpse into an alternative future. Mind and spirit were elevated from negative to positive, from gloom to light.

                        Some readers might wonder if my imagination has gone into overdrive in addressing the literary task of recording this narrative. True, one of the dangers for any writer is to drift into hyperbole when recording the past. All I can say is that I have tried to be very careful not to do this. For me,  this truly was a moment of revelation, the revealing of a different possibility, an alternative  mental and emotional space.  To be very blunt,  and I make no apologies for saying this, it was a ‘God Moment’, a ‘Word of Knowledge’ as it is sometimes described. It reflected the Celtic spirituality idea of being in a ‘thin place’,  a geographical or situational location where we encounter the boundary between the human and the divine as  a very thin, porous membrane rather that a thick wall.  It does seem that this is a foundational work of  the Holy Spirit, transforming so-called ‘ordinary’ encounters into the realm of spiritual surprise.  Needless to say, the remainder of my time on retreat was framed quite differently.  Life’s pressures certainly did not vanish in a puff of smoke, but my faith in the abiding presence of God, in all situations, through the whole varied landscape of life, was strengthened.  It was this experience that confirmed my growing interest in the power of images to inspire, inform and encourage. It is, of course, why Jesus of Nazareth utilised parables and metaphors as  ‘mind pictures’, and for myself this encounter on that dark, dank February afternoon has become a personal ‘living parable’.

                          The foliage of the snowdrop plant is not very impressive, yet the flower that erupts is delicately brilliant, shouting for attention, flaunting its beauty, a beauty that is the fruition of unseen movements beneath the cold soil. Something has been happening beyond human vision and now the fruits of those processes are dazzlingly visible, gifting us a glimpse and a promise of a spring and summer yet to come. For me this was a reminder that God works beneath the visible surface of life, in the cold, dark, uncomfortable places,  and yet is the author of spiritual surprise. I think sometimes we are called to trust in the invisible, sometimes frustratingly slow, work of the Spirit. Did not the Apostle Paul crystallise this out for us from his turbulent experience:-

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”

The poet Christina Rossetti beautifully presents us with a challenge, suggesting that we need to have the faith to look at the often unimpressive present and yet see the future it is moving towards.


Lord, purge our eyes to see

Within the seed a tree,

Within the glowing egg a bird,

Within the shroud a butterfly.


Till taught by such, we see

Beyond all creatures Thee,

And hearken for Thy tender word,

And hear it, “ Fear not, it is I. “                       


As we navigate Lent, and in due course move into Holy week, we can reflectively navigate the movement from the cold, dark, gloom of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, into the dazzling brilliance of  Easter Sunday.  Surprisingly, Vincent van Gogh is reputed to have said “Colour isn’t everything in a painting, but it is what gives it life”  And it is surely the RESURRECTION that provides dazzling colour to the Gospel narrative and its deepest meaning. The apparent end was actually a beginning. For all of us, every end incubates a new beginning too.

Terry Rees


Treasure from the Gloom by Terry Rees

    The sky was deeply overcast, accentuated by the dense overhang of trees, a dank and cold introduction to the day. The conditions mirrore...