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Taking off my shoes

    I was brought up in a Christian household and been a believer all my life. In the last few years, I’ve wanted to take my faith more seriously. I’d visited Shepherds Dene and so knew I would be well looked after and going on a retreat  seemed a good next step for me.

    Monday

    We meet for tea and with home made cakes and I must admit I m feeling nervous. Twelve of us will spend the week together but in silence. I live on my own and am used to my own company but wonder what will this be like.

    Alison White puts us at ease and explains the ground rules. There is no requirement to attend all the talks or worship. We were encouraged to relax and follow our feelings and to find our own path through the week. After dinner, Alison gives her opening talk. We say compline together and then are asked to be silent.

    Tuesday

    I look around and wonder if everyone else if further forward in their Christian journey than I am. At least I won’t make any embarrassing gaffes if we are not talking to each other. We are encouraged to spread out around the house and there are lots of books in the library to read.

    The talks are given in the chapel in the morning and afternoon. Today we focus on why we resist saying prayers. I can organise the rest of life so why do I find it difficult to make time for God?

    Over lunch and dinner, Alison plays quiet music and I actually find I appreciate the taste of my food – which is plentiful – much more when I am  chatting away.

    Wednesday

    We are encouraged to take exercise and are blessed with fine weather to explore the grounds. Some of the group take country walks and I slip off to my local swimming pool for an hour. There is a quieter pace on a retreat but I  keep the timetable handy so as not to miss anything. There seems to be lots to do.

    In the afternoon, Alison gives a talk on intercessory prayer and in the evening, there is an optional session for sharing and listening to each other. Slightly to my surprise, I find myself joining in and talking about my experiences so far. One of the group saw a woodpecker in the grounds and another spotted a fleeting deer.

    Thursday

    I come to appreciate the routine of the day which starts with morning prayer and follows a regular pattern. The time slips by and I enjoy the chance to read and reflect and spend more time in my room and with my own thoughts. One of the group appears to be helping with the gardening. There is no sense of right or wrong behaviour.

    The talk this afternoon is about how to maintain a regular prayer life which I find especially helpful. I make some resolutions for when I return home tomorrow. I’m intrigued to find out more about my fellow ‘retreatants’. They look an interesting lot and  I feel strangely close to them and supported by them even though we are not talking to each other.

    Friday

    There is a final eucharist before breakfast and then the silence and then we are allowed to talk to each other. There is a real buzz around the breakfast table as we share our experiences of the week and then everyone goes their own ways. I feel refreshed, exhilarated and full of enthusiasm. I’ll be lucky if I can keep this up but the week has been well worthwhile and helps me take a few steps in my spiritual life. I go away clutching the Shepherds Dene programme for next year.

    A shorter  version of this article appeared in Church Times in June 2010
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