There is a time for everything, and everything on earth has its special season (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
In a week’s time I will be at a Benedictine Monastery in Sussex, the first of my 12 retreats.
I’ve been mulling over the idea for best part of a year, until finally one day in December I sent off a deposit to Worth Abbey, thereby committing myself to the first retreat.
This is my new year’s resolve – to spend one weekend out of every month on a different retreat in the UK. Before now it never seemed like the right time to start this project – something to do with living in a hectic city (London) and all the busyness that comes with it. Now we’re in 2010 it feels right: the start of a new decade and the feeling of casting off something and beginning afresh. Plus my weekends seem to be filling up already and if I don’t do this now I’m not sure I ever will.
Worth Abbey seems like a good place to start. It is perhaps one of the better known monasteries in the UK owing to the television series a few years back The Monastery, which followed the story of six men who spent forty days and forty nights living in community with the monks at Worth, learning from the rule of St Benedict and experiencing what it is to be a monk at Worth.
The weekend is on the theme of The Rule of St Benedict, and will dip into a book by Christopher Jamison – Abbot at Worth Abbey – called Finding Happiness. I received the schedule a couple of weeks back and the chapters we’re focusing on are Lust on Gluttony, so it should be an interesting weekend.
Beyond Worth it gets hazy. This is partly because there are so many retreats to choose from that it’s difficult to know where to begin, and some have yet to issue their 2010 calendar of retreats. I prefer to be spontaneous with these things anyway – if hear of something that sounds good, I’ll go.
I have a loose plan though – to visit a wide variety of Christian retreats, incorporating Catholic, Anglican, Celtic and Quaker traditions, and exploring the various themes on offer – creativity retreats, silent retreats, perhaps a weekend of icon painting?
I’ve chosen Christian retreats because they interest me the most and there appears to be much less written about them than wellbeing retreats for example, or yoga / Zenn style retreats.
Yet my feeling is that they have a good deal to offer, for those who are Christian and for those who aren’t. There are many that are really tucked away, such as monasteries and convents that offer retreats, which have a good deal to offer yet are often forgotten about.
I should add here that I am by no means an expert on retreats, having only ever been on three – an Anglican convent in Richmond, a week-long stay with the Iona community in Scotland, and two nights’ in a Greek Orthodox Monastery in the Rila mountains in Bulgaria. Each experience made an impression on me – the warm sense of community at Richmond, the nature-focused Christian spirituality of Iona, and the feeling of reverence and holiness in the monastery at Rila.
Besides being curious about retreats, I also want to see if my experience of these retreats will help me deepen my own spirituality, and if there are things I can take away with me and apply to my London life.
Maybe I will come away at the end of the year feeling unenlightened and disappointed, or maybe I will experience spiritual renewal and new insights. Either way I think the journey will be an interesting one.