‘Ignatius and the GBBO’

Published on 26 Oct 2016
A piece of coffee and walnut cake.

by Marian Bolton

I love the Great British Bake Off programme. As I began watching this year’s series, two things occurred to me.  Some time ago I realised that the God of my childhood images made no sense to me. The “ultimate Ofsted” God waiting to catch me out or fill in my tick list of success and failure with the emphasis on failure and sin was nonsense. However, my big problem then was, what was God like? How did I, should I picture Him? I was fortunate to ask a priest who, in turn, asked me what I enjoyed doing. I enjoy cooking.  “That then,” he said, “is where you will find God.”  It was, for me, a brilliant piece of advice. God in the enjoyable, the creative. How good is that? It was a great basis from which to continue my search.

The second thing that crossed my mind as I watched GBBO was how a little over ten years ago I scratched the itch to go on retreat. It was something I really wanted to do but going on retreat is a bit weird. Right? Despite the fact that my working environment was a Catholic school, I told no one how I planned to spend five days of my summer holiday. I was going on a course.

So I turned up with great misgivings and not a little anxiety. The last time I had been on retreat was in the late sixties when it was a compulsory part of my Sixth Form Convent Grammar School education. The focus, for many of us, then was devising ways to communicate without speaking and finding good, holy books to read. I seem to remember   The Saint novels of Leslie Charteris were quite popular.  I arrived mid-afternoon at Loyola Hall to a warm welcome and tea. There was afternoon tea with cake. How normal is that? It was a ridiculously reassuring starting point.  The retreat itself was an amazing experience in my ongoing search for God. As my first retreat in adulthood, I did worry about the protocol. In a silent retreat did one nod, smile at or ignore the people on your retreat when you bumped into them?  There were times in the sessions when I would surprise myself. Specifically, walking bare foot on the grass to appreciate the God of my Senses.  It made sense. I did think to myself, “won’t mention this bit to anyone when I get home.”  But always, throughout the days of peace and the new and sometimes strange experiences, there was tea time.  The cake was good and the afternoon tea enjoyable and normal.

Since that first retreat I have enjoyed many retreats. Over the last five years these have been at St. Beuno's, where the cake is as good. Retreats are now an intrinsic part of my life.  I engage in them without worrying about protocols, mindful of the fact that everyone else is on their own particular path to God and unaware of whether I smile at or ignore them.  The tranquility of St Beuno’s, the sense of being embraced by years of searching and prayer, is a power house from where I am recharged to go out and continue my search for God in all things. I find decent piece of coffee and walnut cake is a good place to find Him.