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   My TRIP To Estonia by úna Agnew SSL

MY TRIP TO ESTONIA by Una Agnew ssl

My trip to Estonia

As a member of a group entitled: Spiritual Directors in Europe, I travelled to our Annual General Meeting, hosted this year by members of the Estonian group. The meeting is hosted by a different country each year. For me, the prospect of visiting Estonia was an exciting prospect, yet, in the weeks leading up to May, the proposed date for our meeting, I was still wondering if I would make it. With Covid still in the air, it was difficult to decide.

Making a solid act of faith, I bought my air ticket in January, only to discover a month later that Ryan Air had cancelled its direct flight to Tallinn. There were four Irish members intent on making the trip, so with Sr Liz Fletcher RSM as our leader and travel aficionado, we decided to take what was on offer—a two-leg journey, Dublin to Frankfort and on to Tallin.

It was worth it all. We arrived at a wooded lake district called Nelijarve, about an hour’s journey from Tallinn with a day to spare before the meeting began. Much to our delight, the sun shone, and the lake, surrounded by the tallest fir trees I have ever seen, was fringed with hosts of marsh marigolds in full bloom. The lake stretched its unruffled expanse in front of our meeting room, a well-appointed boathouse on the edge of a lake. Something about the quiet of the lake, with Easter still in the air, suggested it could be Galilee!’ We had the place to ourselves for a whole day to relax and take in our surroundings before the 40 strong group arrived. Each day, the sun shone warmer, and one evening, just as I walked towards the lake, I heard the unmistakeable sound of the cuckoo!

A strong level of soul -friendship bonds this group, some of whom, have been meeting annually in different countries over years. We slip easily into our well-established routine: Prayer, going deeper, Eucharist, triad work, workshops, and progress reports from the Executive Council. All is done in a spirit of international respect and ecumenical sensitivity with English as our common language. Each evening we interact socially, sharing some of the produce of our countries while chatting on topics of mutual interest. We share a confidential mission, so we benefit from this rare opportunity to talk about it.

What interests me deeply in these annual encounters, is the opportunity to understand the spiritual ethos of the different countries and especially, that of the host country. Estonia is officially Lutheran with hints of Russian orthodoxy and latent Catholicism. Estonians are quiet, peace-loving people strongly attached to nature and to the produce of the earth. Their innate reticence stems from years under the Stalinist regime. ‘Whatever you say, say nothing’; it’s a self-confessed national trait. Their love of music is evidenced by an annual Festival of Song, held each year in Tartu, the spiritual capital of Estonia. Estonians are intensely proud of their independence and jealously guard their unique culture.

One of the days planned for us, was an experience of cultural immersion. We were conducted by bus to the famous Arvo Part Centre located about 35 kilometres from Tallinn. This beautifully constructed building aims at preserving and making accessible the archive and spiritual journey that has inspired this world-famous composer. Striking for me was the tall, organ-like steel tower just outside the building with a piano at it summit, a powerful statement – a ‘Tower of Song’! as Leonard Cohen might have called it. Arvo Part’s musical and spiritual journey expressed within and around this building could be the subject of a day’s retreat. A tiny chapel integrated within the building expresses something of the darkness, light and spiritual transformation that accompanied this composer on his arduous spiritual pilgrimage. A selection of influential icons were among those that mapped his spiritual journey.

The more sombre part of our cultural outing ended with a pilgrimage to the tall black wall, inscribed with thousands of names, a memorial to the victims of communism. When we noticed the dates of those who were tortured and died, 1940, 41, 43… right up to 1950, it sent a cold shiver through me as I recalled that during these precise years, I had played safely and carefreely in the fields around my home in Ireland. Little did I know what atrocities were then occurring in Europe. The homing of bees, returning to the hive, is a theme dear to Estonians and celebrated in poetry and song; it seems to express a hidden code for well-being, safety, closeness to the earth and the magnetic power of home.

There was a final treat trip to Tartu, planned by a member of the Estonian group for those whose travel plans allowed it. This brought us on a new Estonian adventure, which I will recount on another day. 

by Úna Agnew SSL

Continuing story of Una: An Extra Day of Culture and Spirituality in Estonia 

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