A few years ago I conducted a retreat for members of the Mothers’ Union in West Wales. We stayed at St Non’s Retreat House, just outside St Davids. I’ve led many quiet days, retreats, residential conferences, and cursillo weekends over the years, but this was the first time I’d led a silent retreat and it made me realise just how much I enjoy doing this sort of thing. The wonderful privilege of leading a group of people who are seeking to discover a deeper sense of God at work in their lives is very humbling. I am merely someone who opens up possibilities for others: pointing out possible pathways they may follow and helping others find direction in their lives, and in doing so discovering a deeper sense of my own vocation and ministry.
During the 3 days, I delivered 7 talks, led 5 services, gave 2 guided meditations and had 4 in-depth conversations with participants, but in the quiet solitude of a retreat house set on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast, it all felt peaceful and gentle. The feedback from the participants was positive and affirming, but what surprised me most was that I found it more of an opportunity for personal reflection than I had expected.
An encounter with God cannot, of course, be arranged in advance and programmed. Retreats don’t always achieve what we hope. We might arrive with a pile of spiritual classics, intending to read them all, and find instead that we succumb to a good sleep in the afternoon or a long walk. The retreat may be a pivotal life-changing experience, or it may be very ordinary and not feel at all special, but if we are open and attentive to God, it will never be wasted. It may be years later that we realise the value of something we hardly noticed at the time. I first went on a retreat as an 18 year old schoolboy. It was then that I learned to use the Jesus Prayer as an aid to meditation, repeating it over and over in time with my breathing. At the time it was simply something I learned, but to which I paid little attention. Over 40 years later, I know that this simple method of prayer has influenced my life in so many ways. I would like to think that the retreat at St Davids was an important milestone in the spiritual journey of the participants and that it will bear fruit for a long time to come.