Have you ever been on a spiritual retreat? We are lucky to live right down the road from a retreat center, so Daniel and I have both been able to attend weekend retreats here and there and it’s always so spiritually fruitful. Carrots reader Amy from Australia shared with me about a beautiful retreat at an abbey and I thought it would be fun to interview her about her experience!
Tell us a little bit about your faith background, Amy.
I wasn’t raised any particular faith. There were the basic concepts of “doing unto others” as well as a strong sense of spirituality and belief in something. In my teens I started searching more and I found a youth group attached to an Anglican church. I started going. From there it grew and I took it on as my own. Like most people I had my time away from God and church in my late teens and 20s but found my way back. I love liturgical faith and I think it is the rhythm of the seasons and celebrations that really draws me. I am high church Anglican.
What do you think prompted you to seek out this retreat?
Initially it was a TV series!! Honest!! The ABC did a 3 part series where 3 women went to stay at the Abbey for 33 days. It re-aired late last year and I watched it all. I was talking to my friend Sarah and said it was something that sounded wonderful to do…not for 33 days mind you. As it turned out Sarah and her husband were moving and the new house they had brought was 1hr from the Abbey. Something that started as a hypothetical became very possible. We tossed it around for a while then decided that we were going to do it. As we got closer and the dates were set my motivation changed I saw this as a chance to really narrow my focus to just me and God.
I am not going to lie it was exciting to see the Sisters that had featured in the TV show! I had a few rather tragic (and quiet!!) fan girl moments! I was blessed to spend time with 2 of the main nuns. It was very cool. But all the Sisters I met and talked with were amazing.
Why do you think retreats benefit the spiritual life?
I think all of us tend to “lose” our focus on God. Not because we want to but because we lead lives in the world. We have responsibilities and so many other things. We rarely have that time to merely be with not just God but ourselves as well. A retreat gives you the chance to not just seek God but to look inward in to your own heart and soul. The rule of St Benedict begins with “Listen with the ear of your Heart.” Sometimes we need to step away to be able to do that.
Share with us about this particular retreat (location, structure, etc)…:
So my friend Sarah and I were at the Abbey in Jamberoo NSW. It is an enclosed monastic order of sisters who live the rule of St Benedict. The only “structure” we had was the prayers in the church. The Sisters pray 7 times a day. First is at 4am. The last is at 7pm. Those on retreat and members of the public can attend 4am, 7am prayers, Mass at 9am and Vespers at 5pm. The monastery has a church meaning that it is open to all; however some of the prayers are done privately. There is also Lectio Divina on Wednesday and Christian Meditation of Fridays offered for those on retreat. We were able to attend both.
All the services were sung in plain song. So amazing. Also, at vespers the sisters would say out loud what they were praying for in the intercession. I remember hearing one say “all mothers” and another “all those on retreat” and “all those in violence”. It struck me that these women take a vow of enclosure. They never leave the Abbey but although they are not in the world they are indeed aware of it and, more to the point, they pray for it. Constantly. That makes me feel better.
After Mass we would go back to our hermitage and have breakfast. We would do different things till mid hour and lunch. I would pray, often a Rosary. It was lovely to get through an entire Rosary! I also did a lot of reading, different books and the Bible. Sometimes I would feel like being active, so I would go for a walk around the gorgeous grounds or I would just stay in and read.
After mid hour prayer it was lunch. Lunch was a cooked meal and provided for us, as was all our food. However, breakfast and dinner we made ourselves. It really was lovely accommodation and it fitted with the Benedictine rule of hospitality.
In the afternoons I would journal a bit and read a bit again. It was just time to be.
Vespers at 5pm ended the day. After dinner we found ourselves going to bed ’cause our beds were warm! We were there in winter and in the mountains it was sometimes below zero.
It sounds very boring to read back but it was really special to just stop, have nowhere to be, nothing that had to be done. Just be me.
What were you expecting and how did this retreat match your expectations?
What did I expect? I am not sure. Ironically life really threw me a curve ball and about 4 weeks before I was due to leave I was in hospital for my bipolar. I almost expected not to go. But I was encouraged to as a time to spend healing after all that had happened. I got the chance to focus on my own heart and thoughts. I really felt that I could just stop and talk to and listen to God. It’s easy to get angry at God sometimes. I was able to work through some of the anger I had.
I had another expectation that was blown out of the water. I expected that God wouldn’t touch me directly. I expected to see it for others but not me. During Lectio Divina with Sister Hilda I was shown how wrong I was. It was one of those moments where you know with you entire mind body and soul God was there. It wasn’t loud, it wasn’t a glorious moment in the church it was a wise spiritual woman who has given her life to God simply telling me what she felt God wanted me to hear. And it was what I needed to hear. It was a moment in my life when I knew God was there and He loved ME. I will never forget that.
Did a retreat from your typical daily life affect you in surprising ways? Did you find being disconnected difficult or refreshing?
Yes, being away from my home and all that goes with it was strange. Yet, while I was away I actually gained a new perspective and drive for my vocation at home as a wife, mother, and homemaker. I wanted to come back and do the mundane! It was as if watching the Sisters go through their days with such a passion for their vocation made me want to embrace that passion in my own vocation.
Disconnecting was hard at first. But after awhile it was refreshing. It was nice to pick up a book or listen to some music or pray rather than head to the laptop. I have been trying to keep that up and not reach for the laptop first.
What are some lessons you took away from this retreat?
“Listen with the ear of your heart.” I got to see what happens when you stop and listen with the ear of your heart. Not just to God but to those around you. I find myself taking more time to listen to those around me, especially my husband and daughter.
I enjoyed learning the Benedictine method of bible reading. Of reading a passage till something hits you. Then you find yourself sitting with it. Going about your day but it’s still in your mind. Meditating on it and really finding what the message is for you. We often read the Scriptures quickly I am enjoying slowing that process down.
I had the privilege of receiving a blessing from Mother Abbess. It was one of the most profound experiences of the retreat for me. It was a gorgeous blessing from a mother to her daughter. I will always remember the overwhelming sense of love as she placed her hand on my head, then my shoulder, then signed me with the cross. It was a reminder that as women we can offer such love to others. I know that I take the time to bless my daughter as she goes to bed, but do I bless my friends and those around me? I don’t have to say a long blessing but a touch and a God bless you. I have been challenged in that.
Amy brought home some beautiful candles from the retreat and is giving one away to a lucky Carrots reader. Just leave a comment to enter! Enter by Sunday, Sept. 28th and I’ll choose a winner by random number generator. Thanks, Amy!