Finding hope at a hermitage

Gerry Dillon

Do you ever wonder what keeps you putting one foot in front of the other, day after day, hour after hour? What got you out of bed today and what keeps you going? With much of the UK in another lockdown, what are your thoughts and emotions telling you? Are we really entering a time of hope, peace, love, and joy, or is it a time of frustration, anxiety, and disappointment?

As normal everyday people, I would guess that you would say it depends, on what time it is, on who you are with, on what you are doing. So much of how we respond to the challenges that life throws at us is about where we find ourselves at any given time.

During the first lockdown, I took up my first post as a priest. Having started my training originally in 1997 I was finally committing to priestly life. You could quip, I am a slow learner or that I like to take the scenic routes, you could also say I really take my time to be sure but I hope you would agree that waiting 23 years before taking up my first appointment is far from spontaneous!

So when an unknown number called asking if I would travel to the Highlands of Scotland to consecrate a piece of ground for an elderly hermit, you would not be surprised that my answer was, let me have a think about that.

Over the next week I had many thoughts; what permissions would you need? Can any priest consecrate the ground? Looking back, I never thought it was a hoax, I just kept thinking: “why not?”

That’s why, a few weeks later, I parked at Corrour Station in the Highlands and began the journey to meet Ken, the hermit of Loch Treig. What a strange sight it must have been! With a backpack on one shoulder and a cassock on the other, film producer Lizzie and I travelled under the warm sun, over new paths and roads, boggy grass, large stones onto a loch shore and finally to a gate in which a cabin was hidden.

What a generous greeting we received! What was left of the day and much of the night was spent listening to stories of journeys, travels, adventures, about nature, life, questions, and even some answers! Absolute joy! As the sounds of nature kept rolling in the background the crackle of the wood stove blended with the call of owls and our laughter joined with the bellowing stags.

At first light we set off to the place to be consecrated. We stood on a cleared hill with the low cloud surrounding us and we began to pray. To witness the peace in that place and the obvious love Ken has for the world that he has chosen to surround himself with, I was left in awe. I can’t remember ever a phone call bringing such joy. After the last amen, we stood in silence in that place, in the knowledge that the deed had been properly done.

Before I left, Ken invited me to come visit again. Next time I’ve to let my wife experience this place and these people. We’ve to plan for the day when the ground is to be used for the purpose I have set it aside for. Not yet, Ken assured me, maybe when he is 102!

So, now when I meet people and they tell me of frustration, anxiety, and disappointment, in my heart I pray for them as I reply with a story of hope, peace, love, and joy, about the first time I met the hermit of Loch Treig.

Do you have your own story of hope from the pandemic? Perhaps it’s being reunited with a loved one? A friend helping you when you were self-isolating? A socially distanced community-building quiz with your neighbours? Something you’ve learnt about God as you’ve slowed down? In the face of frustration, anxiety, and disappointment, hold on to that and tell others; spread around stories of hope and goodness.

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