I had a good retreat this year. As is often my practice I opted for an individually guided silent retreat. This meant that I was not going to have any contact with anyone for the duration. The only person I would speak to would be my guide once a day for about 45 minutes. It was a Roman Catholic retreat house and there was a mass each evening, which I joined most days.
The picture evolved over the days, starting with the words in the ribbons at the top. God was inviting me to come away and rest in him. I was very tired. The guide suggested I meditate on some verses from Hosea. A lovely ‘coincidence’ that this is where I had got to in my praying through the bible and journalling. So it felt right. Over the first few days I filled in the gaps between the ribbons.
I also used psalm 131 to meditate on being calmed and quietened, being held in God’s loving presence. I did another of the ribbon designs. In the gaps I initially just put spots then I tried to do something else which didn’t work. The result isn’t as pleasing to the eye as it might be. But then I suppose prayer is like that – sometimes frustrating!
The first mass I attended was on the third day. I had been contemplating Jesus as the bread of life and drawn to contemplating the crucifix on the chapel wall. When the priest held up the wafer during the prayer of consecration it shone with the reflection from the silver patten. I then worked on the heart and communion image.
Next I thought about being connected to Jesus, in his words at the Last Supper about being connected to him and in him like branches on the vine. The combination of Jesus as bread of life and the vine resulted in the tree of life picture to the right. I hadn’t planned that the tree would be heart shaped – subconscious at work perhaps?
Finally, I had been thinking and praying about some challenges I knew were awaiting me on my return home. I continued to contemplate the Presence of Christ with me as I live in him and he lives in me and him as my strength and refuge. His banner over me is love. I did a tower as some words from a song came to mind about God being a strong tower, the righteous run in to him and are saved. The trinity design was cut out and stuck on where the door would be. It was a practice following the instructions in a book. It is a bit wonky but part of my retreat so right that it is there. The way that we enter the strong tower of God’s protection is, after all, through the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I felt encouraged by my guide’s opinion that I am rooted and grounded in God, and that I discern his guidance for myself. She actually did very little guiding, but it was good to have someone to share with and affirm me. I feel more drawn to contemplative prayer and she has recommended a book.
Finally, as I prayed about returning home and ministry, I asked God for confirmation about my plans. A CD of hymns was playing during supper and I thought that if ‘Guide me O thou great redeemer’ came on it would be confirmation. It didn’t. However when I went for a walk down on the beach at sunset I got something even better. I hadn’t managed to see any sunsets during the retreat so this was a wonderful bonus. As the sun set and the sky changed, some of the clouds resembled black smoke whilst others were fire-like. They ended up looking like pillars, albeit horizontal rather than vertical as you might see them in a bible illustration. Nevertheless I had a sense of God’s confirmation that he was indeed guiding me. The words added to the tower were inspired partly by two hymns as well as scripture: Guide me O thou great redeemer and Be thou my vision.
The final touches to the picture were to add the fiery-cloudy pillar which I decided to put at the end of the psalm 131. For those who may be questioning the design, no it is not supposed to resemble a fire breathing dragon!
The finished picture has been a focus for my prayers and reminder of the retreat, enabling me to continue the benefits of the retreat as normal life returns.