1 August 2010
Your curate, the Reverend Tim Treanor writes;
Consider a soldier in his early 30s spending months recovering from serious wounds received in battle. As the first crisis passes and his smashed leg becomes stronger, he thinks about the future. He cannot return to his former life and he still wants to commit himself wholeheartedly. But to what and how?
I might be describing one of the brave British servicemen who have been seriously wounded in Afghanistan and who are undergoing rehabilitation at Headley Court. In fact, the date is 1521, the place is a small castle in the Basque region of northern Spain and the soldier is called Iñigo. He is now better known as Ignatius of Loyola. During the period of enforced inaction, Ignatius discovered a way of praying and reflecting on the life of Christ which can help someone discover how they may best serve God. He called this programme of prayer ‘The Spiritual Exercises’. Ignatius served the poor, was ordained, and founded the Roman Catholic religious order, The Society of Jesus.
In August, I will make ‘The Spiritual Exercises’ at St Beuno's, which is near St Asaph in north Wales. The retreat is silent and lasts for 30 days. In addition, there are a few days for preparation and at the end to draw fruit from the experience; during the retreat there are two short breaks for 'repose'. The 26 retreatants will share some structure: we will eat together (in silence, of course!) and attend a daily communion. Most of the time, one is alone - with God. I will meet once a day with an experienced prayer guide to reflect upon what has happened and agree the next tasks. The expectation is that a retreatant spends 4 or 5 periods of prayer a day, each lasting about an hour. The Exercises are a set of contemplations, usually scripturally based, that follow the life of Christ, praying on the birth, life, passion and resurrection of the Lord. (Those who went on the parish weekend to Lee Abbey may recall David Widdows introducing a distinctive form of Ignatian prayer, the Examen.) I will also have time to walk in the beautiful countryside.
As you know, I am not naturally silent and reclusive (far from it!). So, why am I doing this? The idea has grown slowly but steadily. During the last decade, I have met Christians who have been blessed richly by the Exercises. I have undertaken two 8-day silent retreats in the Ignatian tradition and, although these were difficult experiences, they encouraged me to continue. The bishops of Exeter and Plymouth think that this is a good moment for me to make the 30-day retreat. I will certainly learn more about prayer. I also expect to discern more about Christ’s personal call to me to share His love for the world.
The silence is more than not talking. It is primarily a way to focus by setting aside normal distractions, such as watching TV, sending emails or reading novels. And silence is always a gift. It is a generous gift from Michael and my colleagues who will continue to minister in the parishes while I am away. It is a generous gift from Emma, for we expect to have no contact.
Everyone can gain from putting down routine concerns and drawing aside to reflect. Clearly, this is a huge opportunity for me and also a significant personal challenge. So, please pray for me. I will be praying for you. It will be interesting to see what the fruits of this are!
PS I will be leading a day on Ignatian Spirituality at Tavistock Methodist Church from 9 am to 4 pm on Saturday 25 September. You would be very welcome to come along to hear how the retreat went, to ‘have a go’ at some prayer in the Ignatian tradition and to draw aside to spend time with God.