The desert is a vast and beautiful. The colours of the sky and the sand and the piercing blue against the reds and the yellow, are intense. A few years ago, on an 8 days retreat in the Egyptian desert, three days of which were solitary and fasting, I was struck by the space and sheer beauty of the desert.
It was a struggle to get away, with four children at home and a fulltime job, but I needed space and after all, many people, including Jesus, have gone into the desert and have found solace and purpose.
I often feel I need space, space from the constant demands of daily life such as e mails and domestic tasks. I find that when I have a moment spare all too easily my hand can move to my phone or instead of sitting down I move to clear something away. I need to space to think, to remember who I am and space to breathe, for my body to stretch, to be alone, but I struggle to make it happen, even for a moment.
The desert provided me with space to expand because there, of course, the usual demands could not crowd in. At first I was struck by the beauty of the sky at night and landscape by day, a beauty that stays with me whenever I think of those biblical stories of the desert.Read more...
Gemma Simmonds is a religious sister of the Congregation of Jesus. She began her ministry teaching at secondary level in the UK and went on from there to missionary work among women and street children in Brazil. She trained in Christian spirituality at the Ignatian spirituality centre in Wernersville, USA and this led to work as a retreat giver and spiritual director and as chaplain in the Universities of Cambridge and London. Alongside this she spent 26 years as a volunteer chaplain in Europe’s largest women’s prison. Until 2018 Gemma taught pastoral theology at Heythrop College in the University of London. She now teaches at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology in Cambridge.
Gemma has been involved in training others for Christian ministry for nearly 30 years. She is an international speaker and lecturer, a simultaneous translator and a regular broadcaster on religious programmes for the BBC.
We asked her about the advice she’d give her younger self.Read more...