Preparing for retreat

I’m starting to feel a little anxious about the weekend ahead. My life in London is generally fast paced and I’m unsure how I’ll finding coming to a sudden stop, with lots of time for quiet and reflection.

I’m sure there are ways to prepare properly for retreats, although I have some way to go to learning what this is. Hopefully as the year progresses it’ll become easier and I’ll have some useful nuggets of advice to share here.

I have managed to have a glance at the programme for the weekend. It all seems really well organised at Worth, with mealtimes, prayer times and masses following a set order. I notice there is early morning prayer on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. Not sure how I’ll manage this – hopefully no one will notice if I bunk this, unless of course they haul you out of bed if you don’t make an appearance, or maybe a loud bell rings? I really don’t know what to expect.

St Anthony - the father of Christian monasticism

The last time I was in a monastery was in Bulgaria (it was Greek Orthodox), and the room I stayed in was freezing and resembled a cell. The monks (there were only four) wore long black robes and mysterious strode around the grounds like creatures from another world.  I’m hoping Worth will be a little more inviting (something tells me it will).

I’ve also had a bit of time to dip into Christopher Jamison’s book, Finding Happiness. As I’ve already mentioned, we’ll be looking at Lust and Gluttony – I have a feeling this is going to be a sobering start to the New Year.

I’ve been reading bits about St Benedict and the desert fathers, with whom the monastic movement began. Apparently it all started out not with Benedict, but a man called Anthony who, at 27, felt that God was calling him to the Egyptian desert to live a life of contemplation. In the barren landscape of the desert, his spiritual life flourished. He lived long too – till the age of 105.

 ‘The first Christian monks and nuns were inspired by the example of St Anthony,’ write Jamison. ‘They lived in the deserts of the Middle East in the fourth and fifth centuries and became known as the desert fathers and mothers, living in loose associations and gradually founding more structured monasteries.’ From here it was John Cassian, a fourth century monk, who set about writing down the sayings of the desert fathers and mothers.

Although I’ve been going to church most of my life I know very little about the desert fathers and mothers. I feel I should know them a lot better.


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