THE stark beauty of the
wilderness, and what it can teach us, is explored in the silent
retreat "With Christ in the Wilderness", at Shepherd's Dene Retreat
House, Northumberland, from 11 to 15 March.
"Wilderness helps you to
face up to your identity: how far it's formed by others, and how it
can be shaped by stories of faith which still resonate," Canon
Trevor Pitt, who is leading the retreat, says. The emptiness of a
wild place can also bring us closer to God's mystery. "We'll touch
on the via negativa, or the spirituality of
Towards the close of the
year, from 22 to 24 November, Bridget Hewitt will lead a silent
retreat on Thomas Merton, perhaps the most famous Western monk of
the past century.
Merton's message - the
mystery of not knowing - is the theme of the retreat. There will be
Merton quotes to ponder on and pray with, as well as talks. Taizé
chants will lead guests into the night.
"Merton seems to bring
people alive. He said such a lot that really speaks to our
situation today; and he was always searching, always on the cusp of
some new enlightenment," Mrs Hewitt says.
Shepherd's Dene is an Arts
and Crafts country house, with old-fashioned comforts, home
cooking, wi-fi, and a bar. There is a labyrinth and prayer house in
the grounds, and woodland and riverside walks.
Alternatively: Minsteracres Retreat Centre, in
Consett, Co. Durham, is running a reflective weekend to nourish
body, mind, and spirit, using Christian meditation, from 5 to 7
April; book in for a midweek silent retreat, from 22 to 24 October,
at the Community for Reconciliation in Bromsgrove, Worcs; St
Oswald's Pastoral Centre, in Whitby, North Yorkshire, is holding a
Lectio Divina silent weekend from 8 to 10 November; a "Be
still and know" silent retreat at Whirlow Grange, near Sheffield,
runs from 15 to 17 November.
IF YOU have never done a
silent retreat before, why not try one of the regular "A Small
Silence" taster weekends at the Ladywell Retreat Centre, in the
Home to the Franciscan
Members of the Divine Motherhood, all retreats are led by members
of the community, who are also experienced spiritual directors.
"It's a really good introduction to silence and spirituality," the
operations director, Rona Tyler, says.
Ladywell's setting is ideal
for a silent weekend. "It's very peaceful and prayerful. Just
coming through the gate, it's like walking into another world.
There are lots of beautiful walks around here; you can seek silence
and find it."
IN BERKSHIRE, four silent
retreats are on offer this year at the Benedictine Douai Abbey (4-8
February, 1-5 July, 7-11 October, and 2-6 December).
The programme director, Fr
Gervase Holdaway, says: "We invite people to chat at the first
meal; after that, they're in silence. If guests wish to speak to
one of the monks, they can. Otherwise, it's all completely
Enjoy the peace, pray,
meditate, rest, walk in the monastery woods, or wander out into the
surroundings: the monastery overlooks the beautiful Kennet Valley
and the distant Hampshire Downs.
The magnificent abbey church
is the heart of community life. Guests are welcome to join the
rhythm of monastic prayer, which takes place four times a day.
Alternatively: At Turvey Abbey, in Turvey,
Bedfordshire, opt for silent days on 23 February or 30 November, or
a silent Lenten weekend from 1 to 3 March; the Sisters of St
Andrew, in Edenbridge, Kent, are holding a Holy Week silent retreat
from 27 to 31 March; a Zen retreat is running at the Ammerdown
Centre, in Radstock, Somerset, from 3 to 8 May.
Those with some experience
of a silent retreat may wish to consider a five-day silent Ignatian
retreat, run by Acorn Christian Healing Foundation, in Bordon,
Hampshire, from 12-16 August. Regular silent quiet days are
available at The Friars, in Aylesford, Kent.
ESCAPE to the Bield, at
Blackruthven, near Perth, where the Ignatian Spirituality Centre
holds its residential retreats, for a silent retreat 28 to 31 May.
"It's ideal for people who are working in pressurised situations or
ministry. The midweek slot makes it the longest possible retreat in
the shortest number of days," the director, Fr Tom McGuinness,
"Bield" is an old Scottish
word, suggesting shelter, refuge, nurture, or encouragement.
Retreats are individually directed, and in the Ignatian
Meals are often sourced from
the centre's organic gardens. Those who feel inspired can be
creative in the craft room; energetic types can wander the 30 acres
of lawns and woodland; and there is a swimming pool and tennis
A SILENT retreat for
beginners, in the company of nuns from the Society of the Sacred
Heart, is being offered at Llannerchwen, in the Brecon Beacons,
from 31 May to 2 June, and from 18 to 20 October.
"People may not have
experienced anything like this before," Sister Stephanie Romaine
says. "After arrival on Friday, we have a talking meal. We outline
the weekend, and discuss people's hopes and fears. After that,
guests are in silence until Sunday."
There is support throughout.
"Guests can meet in the mornings with one of us, and we provide
suggestions on how to use the time: lectio divina and
sensory walks, for example."
Generally, people do not
want to leave, Sister Romaine says. "I've not been aware of anyone
who couldn't hack it, even if they'd said on Friday they were
afraid of silence."
Alternatively: Book a pre-Advent silent retreat,
from 26 to 28 November, at Llangasty Retreat House, in Brecon,
Alison MacTier is
director of the Retreat Association, which publishes the
Retreats 2013 handbook.