The fruits of my annual retreat - pt. 1

Well, it's now been 5 days since I got back from my annual retreat (see previous blog posts); 5 days since, like Peter, James + John in the account of the Transfiguration, Jesus invited me (not that I had much choice! :-) to come back down the mountain into the "world" and share with others the graces received during our time in the "desert".

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The view from my room in the monastery one glorious morning.

First of all, the monastic prayer. Benedictine monasteries follow a daily rhythm of prayer, manual work and study which actually creates a very full timetable. Our routine during the retreat certainly followed their prayer timetable (Laudes, Terce + Mass in the morning, Vespers + Compline late afternoon and evening, with optional None after lunch and Vigils in the early hours of the morning for the more courageous). These prayer times (with the exception of Mass) follow the same basic structure with an opening hymn, psalms and canticles mainly from the Old Testament, a scripture reading from elsewhere in the Bible, bidding prayers, etc... Most of the prayers are sung in a modernised version of Medieval plainchant. In the monastery where we were the 22 monks are very good singers on the whole and have recorded cds. They do practice regularly, especially when learning new music. There is also time set aside for individual silent prayer and meditation on Bible texts.

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In the communities of my own congregation, we have a pared down timetable that is structured around the working day. So we have Laudes (Morning Prayer), 30 mins. silent prayer + Mass in the morning before school, then Vespers (Evening Prayer) + 15 mins. silent prayer in the early evening before supper. We also are encouraged to augment this with our own private devotions (eg. Rosary - which we do say in common on Saturdays, outside prayer groups if we wish, Lectio Divina, etc...). For me personally this often involves prayer through music: contemporary Christian (and secular) songs, Gregorian chant, Classical music, whatever I find moves me and brings me closer to God.

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Landévennec monastery up on the hill.

For our "study" during the retreat we had talks given by the Abbot (Head) of the Monastery, a relatively young monk in his 40s. The major difference between our week there and the life of the monks themselves was the absence of manual work. This allowed the chance to catch up on extra sleep (YES!!), go for long walks (and in my case runs) in the picturesque Breton coastal countryside, do some spiritual readings and generally unwind and let God into my life, into my mind and heart a bit more than maybe I do amidst the hustle and bustle of the teacher's life.


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The monks in prayer.


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The Abbey church for Sunday Mass.

I love this kind of experience and always have, ever since my first monastic retreat at the Benedictine monastery of Downside in S.E. England when I was 17. I do find that my mind is freer to listen to God's promptings, to reflect, to make connections between events, people, things I read/listen to/watch and see God's hand guiding me in all that, his gentle presence there always, his open arms ready to welcome me back when I stray.

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I find God's beauty in some of the photos that I took which are on this page and also here in a Flickr album. These can help me back in the "world" to relive/rediscover in me the wonderful graces received during such a time of blessing, to sustain me when things get rough.

Some of my reflections written during the retreat will follow soon...
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