Walsingham is without a doubt a special place for me but generally the Shrine of Our Lady has a unique and much loved place in the hearts of many Anglo-Catholics. Why? Well perhaps it has something to do with the warm welcome that everyone receives as they arrive. Not only from the administrators, clergy, catering and gardening staff but also from Bishop Lindsey Urwin, the Shrine Administrator since 2009. For me the most important aspect is that the Shrine has something spiritual to offer too. It offers a place to center once more our hectic and haphazard lives in and with Christ. To rededicate ourselves in prayer and in the presence of Christ our love and dedication to the way of the cross.
For me when I enter the small chapel, with the many empty wine bottles secreted in the flint walls, (presumably used communion wine bottles) the place is awash in prayer. It's hard for me not to speculate that if prayer was to be like wine, then this place would have so much of it then it, would be flowing out through the tower and pouring over the dainty picturesque village of Walsingham.
Search for Walsingham on YouTube and you'll find numerous videos of protesters telling those on processions through the village that "No where in heaven do they sing 'Hail Mary'" and that "the only true path is Christ".
A couple of weeks ago, while reflecting on this with a Methodist friend she agreed with the protesters. But I explained that for Anglo-Catholics the love of Mary doesn't exclude the love we have for Christ. Similar to the rest of the 'Holy Catholic Church' we see that Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church, and Mary is the mother not only of Christ but our adopted mother too. My friend shook her head. So I added 'When a future bride meets her groom, does the groom not in time introduce her to his Mother? And does the bride love the groom any less because she has been introduced to the mother?' She sat for a moment and shrugged - 'I guess so.'
So Walsingham is for many a place of intimacy, sitting as the bride with the groom in the company of our adopted mother. Walsingham is about being in the presence of Christ and Mary our mother in mutual adoration of Christ. Personally, I can sometimes feel like an interloper, sat with these two colossal characters who have such a wonderful love for one another and for the Church which transcends the current reality of the Church with its failings. But sit long enough in the Shrine in Walsingham you are inevitably lifted up, not because of our own feeble efforts but because here the prayers of the saints over the years carry you perpetually upwards into the arms of Christ. In Walsingham, like so many places of worship that resonate with prayers our heart can be opened up to Christ in greater and more humbling ways.
This is a place of refreshment, as fitting for a retreat centre. In a world of constant distractions where hapazard prayer lives and devotion to the Trinity can be a constant battle - it is warming to know that places like this exist. Here the constant prayers of the many visitors and people on retreat enter into the spiritual hemisphere across this land, once described as the dowry of Mary because of its once fervent love for our adopted Mother. Here, as with many other places of worship our prayers are going out to a world which desperately and urgently needs Christ.
Well, I've already booked to go again next year, would be my flippant response. But once I think deeper upon the question I know my answer would be that as a Christian my prayers meet those of other Christians across the country (and further afield). For me it's easy to forget that I am part of something considerably larger. (Yet in practice the boundaries of Christendom are fixed firmly in the Body of Christ which transcends physical and spiritual. No matter when or where we pray no prayer is wasted, and no prayer is left unheard.) But what can I practically do, following my retreat at Walsingham? Perhaps it is to remember the joy of that encounter with Christ in prayer and in the eurcharist. To remember how important a regular prayer life can be. (I wonder if I can I fill the place I work so full of prayer and thanks to God that similar to Walsingham when others walk in they notice it?) I can also remember that my struggles of saying the Daily Office are not something I am doing alone, instead they are meeting the prayers of the many places like Walsingham where the prayers sprout out from the tower and outwards past Walsingham and Norfolk and across all Christendom.