I have been a director on the 5 day silent retreats at Minsteracres for the past 10 years and began to realise quite early on that some of those who had not made a retreat before found coming straight into the silence too much of a challenge. Also, from the experience of running day retreats I found that some people of all ages were keen to have a slightly longer experience, so for the past four years I have been leading 2/3 day retreats two or three times per year.
This gives the retreatants the opportunity to have, as a group, several sessions of reflective input and guided prayer time, an individual talk with a prayer guide and a time of shared reflection in the evening, gathering together the prayer, insights and discoveries of the day. Silence is introduced gradually and then becomes part of the contemplative atmosphere in the house.
The people who come to these ‘beginners’ retreats’ are from all walks of life, from all denominations and none, ranging in age from late 20s to 60s. What I find remarkable is that to begin with the only common factor is each one’s search for meaning, purpose and a sense of the ’spiritual’
. A few of the ‘beginners’ and those coming top the 5 day retreat have told us that they have wanted to make a retreat since watching ‘The Big Silence’ and similar programmes on T.V.
About half of them are fairly regular church goers, but some, while belonging to no church in particular, pray most days, either alone, with their partner or in a small house group. Some are familiar with the bible or at least the gospels; others have hardly ever opened a bible and use prayer books or pamphlets, or can’t remember when they last tried to pray. The number of younger people, men and women, coming has increased in the last two years and the other prayer guides and I are amazed and encouraged by their sincere searching, their eagerness to learn more about discovering and deepening their relationship with God and their willingness to share what happens in their minds and hearts during the days of retreat.
This sense of being with others searching (and usually discovering) in a similar way has a powerful effect on the individuals and the group. I have felt a very powerful movement of the Spirit, especially in the final prayer and reflection session of each short retreat.
Anne McCarthy RSCJ