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Quiet, please

25 January 2013

Does a silent retreat appeal? Alison MacTier and Rachel Giles detail a few that are on offer 

Peaceful: the walled garden at the Bield, where staff from the Ignatian Spirituality Centre hold retreats

Peaceful: the walled garden at the Bield, where staff from the Ignatian Spirituality Centre hold retreats

Midlands/North of England

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 unknowingness."

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.






South/South East/South West

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 Surrey Hills.

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 silent."

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, says.

"Bield" is an old Scottish word, suggesting shelter, refuge, nurture, or encouragement. Retreats are individually directed, and in the Ignatian tradition.

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 court.




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, Powys.


Alison MacTier is director of the Retreat Association, which publishes the Retreats 2013 handbook.



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