By Graham Kings
On May 5–8 this year, I will be leading a retreat on Women in the Bible at Launde Abbey.
What do I hope people will get out of this retreat? That they will meet God profoundly.
Our meeting with God will be in four modes and three moods over four days.
The four modes will be: ruminating on God’s Word in Holy Scripture; meditating on seven paintings of women in the Bible; pondering on poetry expounding the Word and paintings; and soaking up music specially commissioned.
The three moods are: an Elizabethan Manor House, built on the site of a 900 year old Priory, a gift from God; silence, the eloquence of God; Daily Prayer and Holy Communion, the nourishment of God.
The Rev. David Newman, Warden of Launde Abbey, led me to faith in Christ 46 years ago, on January 20, 1974, when we were both students at Hertford College, Oxford. It will be a joy to be with him and Helen, his wife, who serves as Chaplain.
Thomas Cromwell, the architect of the dissolution of the monasteries, and hero of Hilary Mantel’s novel, and Peter Kosminsky’s TV series, Wolf Hall, loved Launde and kept it for his retirement. “Myself for Launde” he wrote, but he lost his head three years later. His son, Gregory, lived there with his family for 10 years. In 1957 it was bought and given to the Diocese of Leicester by Cecil Coleman and is now a beautiful retreat and conference centre.
Paintings. My wife, Alison, and I have commissioned Silvia Dimitrova to paint a series of seven paintings of Women in the Bible over 17 years. She began in 2003. Silvia is a Bulgarian Orthodox icon “writer” and modern painter. She spent 10 years training in Bulgaria and was brought over to England by the Roman Catholic Downside Abbey to “write” an icon of St. Benedict. She is now married to an Anglican house master, Simon Potter, at Downside School and they live there with their daughter.
I choose the biblical texts – Sarah, Miriam, Ruth, Esther (being painted now), Magdalene, Lydia and Priscilla – and Alison and I discuss the theology of them with Silvia. She prays over the texts and prepares a sketch which we adjust together. She then paints using egg tempera on wood, varnishes it and gives it to Simon to frame. Alison and I do not see it till they deliver it at a party to celebrate with our friends.
Poems. I then write an expository poem on the painting and the biblical text on which it is based. Covenant has published each of the paintings and poems. The poems have been translated into Italian by Gemma Debono at the Pontifical University Urbaniana, Rome.
Anthems. Tristan Latchford is a young composer whom I met when he was Director of Music at St Chad’s College, Durham, a year ago. He is composing a series of seven anthems on the paintings and poems, which work both in English and Italian. He will be with me on the retreat.
Pray for us, as we meet with God at Launde Abbey in May, in four modes and three moods over four days – and consider joining us.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Graham Kings is honorary assistant bishop and world mission adviser in the Diocese of Southwark, England.