Although I worked in the administration department of a Jesuit school, I was often asked to accompany pupils on various outings and retreats, thus saving taking hard-working teachers out of the teaching rota. The Head Master wisely decided that I should make a retreat of my own since I admitted to never having done so.
He sent me to Loyola Hall on an 8-day individually guided silent retreat. In trepidation & fear that I would not cope with the silence, I packed the novel War & Peace, a bottle of wine and a small radio with earphones to smooth away the days. That first evening, to my bemusement, there was a merry gathering of retreatants with a glass of wine where we were introduced to our Spiritual Guides. I relaxed somewhat when I was taken aside by a gentle, soft-spoken Jesuit who introduced himself as my guide and to allay my obviously apparent nervousness told me he would meet with me twice each day rather than the usual once if that would help my anxiety.
And that’s how it all began. That’s how I learnt to be silent, to make space in the detritus of my life for God to enter even if I might not know how to hear his voice. I never opened the bottle of wine; I never opened a page of War and Peace (and still haven’t!) and never turned on the radio. On the eighth day as I drove away, I cried with a mixture of awe and not a little panic at leaving such a haven of support and peace.
Some years later when I found retirement exceptionally confusing and difficult, I took myself to St Beuno’s (Loyola Hall having closed) for another 8-day guided retreat. As at that first retreat all those years ago, there was a merry gathering of retreatants on the first evening when we met each other and our spiritual directors. I was at first unsettled to find mine was not a Jesuit but a bright and cheerful young woman to whom I owe a great gratitude.
Over the following days I unburdened my distraught self and sought assistance in discerning what worth, if any, my present life held, where any purpose and peace could be found. She taught me to be attentive to what I was feeling so that I could reflect without panic on its consequences. She guided me in ways to pray. The often hurried and oft times forgotten examen had lapsed so together we reintroduced this stabilising ‘habit’.
Great tranquility seeped into me as I walked the beautiful grounds and gazed on the spectacular Vale of Clwyd. The wide, silent corridors of the house, the elegantly furnished rooms, the delicious food and gentle smiling staff, all softened the hurt I carried. My spiritual director metaphorically held my hand and accompanied me through all those eight days. And so I was set on the path of healing. And St Beuno’s became a house where all were good to me.