A cup of New Year's blessing from Glastonbury

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 29, 2004

They travelled from Glastonbury to Cochrane with a very special gift, not for our community only, but for the whole world.

Retirees Patrick and Maureen Long, two of Cochrane's newest residents, come from that part of England renowned for Avalon, King Arthur – and, of course, the Holy Grail.

Glastonbury. Legend has it that this is the place to which, 2,000 years ago, the Holy Grail came with Joseph of Arimathea, fleeing Jerusalem for fear of Roman persecution. The Grail – contrary to Dan Brown's interpretation in The Da Vinci Code – is the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper, and then used by Joseph to receive Jesus' blood at the Cross before Joseph placed Jesus' body in his own tomb.

When Joseph set foot in the area southwest of London now known as Glastonbury, so the story goes, he placed his staff in the ground and from it grew the Glastonbury Thorn, a hawthorn that, unlike other hawthorns, blooms not only in the spring, but also at Christmas. For years a spray cut from the Glastonbury Thorn was sent to the Queen to celebrate the festive season.

This is the place also of the Glastonbury Tor, the distinctive hill that dominates the Arthurian landscape and stands at the entrance to the underworld. Here, some say, Joseph buried the Grail, from which flows the red-coloured Chalice Spring which currently runs underground till it emerges at the Chalice Well, located in a beautiful garden near the centre of the town of Glastonbury, 50 minutes south of Bristol, Pat and Maureen's home till recently.

Pat and Maureen have a personal interest in the Glastonbury tradition, and in particular in the Chalice Spring and Well. For the past 20 years they have been members of the Companions of the Chalice Spring, a worldwide group who support the upkeep of the well and garden.

Over coffee recently the former police force dog handler and his wife shared with me some of the stories of the amazing well.

The Chalice Spring is powerful, they said. Many have come over the years to drink or sprinkle its healing water.

"It's a continual giver," Maureen said; "everybody seems to feel they're walking on sacred ground."

"There's no definite attainment it promises," Pat added, "but it consoles your spirit." Like Advent, it provides "a hope for the future."

A year ago they saw Prince Charles himself at the well, they said. He had two plastic containers for getting some Chalice water. He sat there quietly in the garden for a couple of hours till the crowds got word of his presence and started pressing him.

Pat sees in the Chalice Spring a healing especially for the divisions among people and nations. About this healing he quoted to me from the 18th century poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge ("Religious Musings"):

There is one Mind, one omnipresent Mind,
Omnific. His most holy name is Love.
. . . From himself he flies,
Stands in the sun, and with no partial gaze
Views all creation; and he loves it all,
And blesses it, and calls it very good!
This is indeed to dwell with the Most High!
. . . 'Tis the sublime of man,
Our noontide Majesty, to know ourselves
Parts and proportions of one wondrous whole!
This fraternizes man, this constitutes
Our charities and bearings. But 'tis God
Diffused through all, that doth make all one whole. . .

With those lines in mind, Pat and Maureen told me of a ritual they performed while preparing to settle in Cochrane. They walked down to the Bow River and, taking a container of Chalice Spring water they had brought with them, they poured the water into the Bow as a blessing and a prayer.

"I just wanted to find no separation between England and here," Maureen told me. "I just wanted to find unity."

Truly, in the arrival of these two newcomers from across the waters, and in their prayerful blending of streams, their desire for wholeness and unity is already being felt. So may we all bring blessing to the New Year, as these ambassadors of the Chalice Spring have brought blessing to us.

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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