Reflections by participants on St Non's 2012 Retreat, 7-13 July: 'Where have you Hidden, Beloved?'

From Richard Craig:

Two consecutive entries from my retreat journal:

11th July (St. Non's)
Strolling on the terrace in the declining sun after supper I am faced with the fact of suffering among my ageing friends. There has been much about the suffering involved in seeking God this week but nothing about the world's suffering when one has found God. I guess that's not what retreats are for.

12th July (St Non's)
And here this morning in Tessa's presentation is the response to the fact of suffering. She asks, 'what is longing to be breathed and sung into being in you?' She answers, 'we are called to be a song-breath just as we are, hidden in silence: a song of lament, compassion and hope. We are called to share both in the cry, 'Where have you hidden, Beloved?' and in the song'. The imagery, from St. John of the Cross, reminds me of The Magician's Nephew in which Aslan sings Narnia into existence and of Hildegaard of Bingen, 'I am a feather on the breath of God'.


From Sharon Roberts:

I would like to offer one of the catalysts from Day 3 - "Waiting on the Beloved". It’s an extract from Sara Maitland's "A Book of Silence" and it is, for me, a bang-on definition of silence: "Silence may be outside, or beyond the limits of descriptive or narrative language but that does not necessarily mean that silence is lacking anything. Perhaps it is a real, separate, actual thing, an ontological category of its own: not a lack of language but other than, different from, language; not an absence of sound but the presence of something which is not sound....."

The St Non’s retreat was, for me, a thin place which was thick with silence (if that isn’t too paradoxical).


From Gill Greenwood, three reflections:

1I'd like to offer the following poem, one amongst the many poems in our room and on the walls of the retreat house:

“Our first task in approaching Another people Another culture Another religion Is to take off our shoes For the place We are approaching Is holy
Else we may find ourselves Treading on Another's dream
More serious still We may forget That God Was there Before our arrival" (Unknown)

It speaks of the respect which Contemplative Fire shows to other faith traditions - one of the many attractive aspects which drew me to Contemplative Fire. And it made me feel immediately at home in the retreat house.

2" 'Gazing' is probably the best word to touch the core of Eastern spirituality. Whereas St Benedict, who has set the tone for the spirituality of the West, calls us first of all to listen", Praying With Icons by Henri Nouwen, p13.

We were invited to choose an image/picture/icon to gaze on. I chose the attached image. The word "gazing" triggered a very different way of looking.

3I valued the time spent in the ‘Three’. Even though it was with strangers, it felt safe and permitted vulnerability, giving, receiving, recognition.


From Michael Weller:

I am safe on the ground following the retreat, however I am still digesting the "food" provided and shall be for some time.
I now see mountain peaks and, I suspect, hidden valleys which had been shrouded in mist.
I enclose a "poem" I wrote on the retreat with the addition of the last verse added when I returned.

The Snowdrop
I see a flower a snowdrop,
A snowdrop I murmur and hurry on.

I see a flower a snowdrop,
A Snowdrop I proclaim
and bend to confirm the well known shape.

I see a flower and rarely will kneel to look
and lose myself in awe and beauty.
Slowly I comprehend the concept of Snowdrop,
of flowers and of creation.

Rarely do I see creation all around
in all its forms both natural and transformed
to suit our purposes,
and marvel at the universe.
Then I ache with longing for I know not what,
For my beloved?


From Diane Rutter:

The theme of the week was hiddenness and we were invited to allow ourselves to become hidden with God. One of the suggested practices was to explore the wonderful coastal landscape and find a place within it in which to be hidden with God. I found a hidden cave, in a hidden cove, which was glistening wet as the sea was only just retreating to reveal it. I waded in, then sat, gazing out, imagining Jesus there with me and our conversation. After a while I gathered up some of the little pebbles and spent time balancing them on a wet boulder. When I ventured out they remained, a lingering mark of my time hidden with God in that place, before they were washed back into the sea on the next tide.


From Graham North:

What do I take away from the silent retreat?

1 - Contemplative prayer is like sitting, waiting with someone I love, not wanting the moment to end. So, I can wait with Jesus, 'doing' nothing and not feeling guilty for my inactivity.

2 - Contemplative prayer is not 'idly' waiting; but is 'attentively' waiting, like a professional waiter in a restaurant. I want to hear the quiet whisper and notice the small gesture. I want to be attentive to others in everyday life; and I want to be attentive to what Jesus may be calling me to do in a more strategic sense with my own life.

3 - And what might Jesus call me to do? Garth Hewitt wrote, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the World's hunger meet." I find this immensely freeing and immensely reassuring. God won't call me to something repellent to me; nor too frightening for me but to what excites and interests me. And as I read elsewhere on the retreat, the place he calls me to is marked with a red 'x'. I may not see that red 'x' because my feet are covering it up!


From Ann Worrall:

After walking to the beach and finally finding both the tide and the sun out, I look, as instructed, for my quiet, hidden space in which to find God within. No calm sandy place to lie without getting soaked. It would have to be on the rocks.

I stand and survey the terrain and my gaze is taken by a very long line of schoolchildren heading down the coastal path, complete with adults issuing orders. My heart sinks. I have come here to Find my Beloved in the Quiet Solitude! I watch their advance, eyeing which way I might retreat. I hear their noisy, excited buzzing as they come off the path and sit on the big rocks some way off while their teachers instruct them and hand out sandwiches. I beat it to the rocks round the corner, figuring they would be less likely to want to travel too much from the path. I am invisible to the dogs, the families and children, the couple who are erecting a tent lean-to. The rocks are smooth and warm under my feet. I marvel at their colours, vivid reds, greens, greys. I find a spot where I can sit and lean against the cliffs and be in the sun. Below, hidden, fresh water trickles, but the rocks are high enough to keep me away. I peel off some of my layers and soak in the warmth. I see everyone making use of the earth, taking simple pleasure in digging, walking, lying. The calm descends......

A huge whoop of sound penetrates my consciousness. I look round and see all the schoolchildren rushing for the sea, screaming with delight. One or two 'cool' boys and shy girls hang back, but a long line stretches out at the water's edge and the children hop and jump and leap the waves, yelling and shouting with pleasure and awe. The 'cool' boys take off their designer shirts, the shy girls their wellies, and put them in a heap and join the splashing throng. Oh what joy was expressed there, how widely stretched those little bodies in great star leaps of wonder and ecstasy. We become used to 'seeing' children dully hunched over electronic games, cynical of simple pleasures. Here was my Hidden Beloved appearing as bold as brass before my eyes, changing my tired heart's vibration from a dull thud to a life giving Chachacha. I smile and laugh out loud at the wonder of God.

Across the rocks a small girl bends behind a rock and shouts to her daddy to come and find her. 'But I can see you,' mildly protests her daddy. 'I'll tell you what, I'll go round the corner so you can't see me, and count to ten'. Satisfied, the little girl, unable to see her daddy now, just hear the counting, scoots across to an inadequate crevice. Granny and mummy gesture to her to curl up in a ball so as 'not to be seen'. Daddy triumphantly counts to ten and then scours the beach not finding her until finally creeping up on her from behind and surprising her and making her squeal with delight.

I sit and wonder at how often I play this game with God, insisting that I and He are hidden then waiting and trusting that He will come and find me, so that I know I am seen and loved. It's when I don't take the time to wait expectantly and in trust that I miss out spiritually and feel alone.

I decide to pack up as the sun fades a little. I realise my observations of others and deep ponderings have left me less observant of myself. My fleece and kagoul have dropped below the rocks and into the cool, fresh water. I wring them out, drape them about my person and pick my way slowly back to the welcoming warmth of the retreat house to rejoin my companions in this whole mysterious journey of contemplation.

Return to Verbal and Visual Reflections and Snapshots page