I frequently write my snail-mail postcards at the next stop in my journey and I am writing this about Othona although I am now in Cornwall. I was there between my flying visit to my brand new granddaughter and returning once her dad returned to work. It was a perfect place to be, a place I have stayed regularly since my first time thirty one years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter, the baby’s mother.
Othona is a large house in Dorset overlooking the sea. I sometimes tell people it a retreat house because that is an easy representation but it doesn’t feel like a retreat on the weeks when it is teaming with children. Rather it is a community house: a small core community live on site and visitors become the community during their stay. We eat together, meet in the chapel for a time of reflection in the morning and evening, do a daily chore, and we often spend the evening together chatting. Sometimes it a quiet week and at other times there are courses. These vary widely. In the past I have spent a week learning about the Orthodox church from an eccentric Orthodox priest, contributed to the staging of a short opera which was written and performed in a week, celebrated Easter with film and music, and considered the relationships between religion and the environment.
I love being there for presence of the sea, its murmuring in the background and the views of it from nearly every window. I love the walk through the fields down to the pebbled beach (though walking across pebbles with grumbling children is close to purgatory). Last Saturday I had a wonderful day, walking in the sun along the cliff path, enjoying butterflies, swallows , a kestrel and skylarks, and finally lunch at the cafe as well as the sight of the waves pounding the shore and travelling to the far horizon. It was a gloriously sunny day, perhaps that’s why so many people on the path were beaming. Another pleasure at Othona is withdrawing to the quiet room to read, often abandoning books I have brought with me for the books on the shelf.
But I also prize the community aspect- strangers , some of whom I first think a bit odd, become people, sometimes friends. It is rare that the group does not gel across the week and it is hard to leave the people as well as the place. I left with regret on Tuesday despite eagerly looking forward to seeing my little girl again.