Heraclitus talks about creation being designed with the dynamic of opposites and that ultimately there is a harmonious divine fire at the essence of everything. Entering the paradox of stark opposites is inevitably creative and there, I think the river is a constant energy of creativity and life force pushing through even the hardest of times.
I go on pilgrimage to Bassenthwaite in all seasons. The island has gone now as the lake is smaller and there is a 12th century church on the shore. But I imagine through the flow of time, back to when Bega is still there and wonder what it would have been like waiting for the boat to take me across. If I had met her, would I have found that, as we see in the small records we have of Celtic monks in her era, she spent hours standing in the flow of water, arms out in prayer for the source, the Christ, to find her? Believing in a deeper river of grace underneath. And would I have found that the trees and stones were carved with knotted prayer offerings handed over to the returning winds?
The story of her journey is always told with the note that her long walk in the snow to find a cave left no footprints. When I am on pilgrimage in winter I am aware that the untouched snow-capped mountains flow into the lake and bring their stillness with them. As I wait, my choice becomes more of a promise to the island in the midst of the flow. There, this ancient lake that has felt the footprint of many women, including mine all my life, is a great body of water connected to snow and sea. A great being, generous in its renewal and ancient in its peace.
Marie-Elsa Bragg is a priest and writer. Her first novel, Towards Mellbreak, was about four generations of a Cumbrian Hill farming family looking at spirituality and nature. Her second book, Sleeping Letters is a compilation of poetry, fragments of unsent letters and prose facing a family tragedy. As a priest, she has worked in parishes such as Kilburn and Lisson Grove, London as well as being a Duty Chaplain in Westminster Abbey and Speakers Chaplain House of Commons. She has been a Jesuit-trained Spiritual Director for 25 years and runs workshops on creative writing, constellations, mythology and spirituality.
Photographs by Elena Heatherwick.