Silence, solitude and prayer

This simple message was preached at New Horizon Church. It expresses my conviction about the great need for a more contemplative approach to prayer in the church. If we want to live a life that pleases God, we need to learn to silence the inner noise and listen to God. We need to learn spiritual discernment. This contemplative spirituality is akin to the old Pentecostal tradition of waiting on God. We Pentecostals should not be overly cautious about wading into the waters of contemplative spirituality.

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Refreshed at Seven Fountains Spirituality Center

The Ignatius Block where most men stay

It had been six years since I last had my silent retreat at Seven Fountains Spirituality Centre under Fr David Townsend. Church friends who have gone there recently have told me of changes in the center, as well as outside. Like the newly tarred roads and new animal residents in the center; the gentrification of the surrounding areas; the barring of Chiangmai University and its lake to outsiders; and the new shopping malls and cafes that have opened.

Pastor Eng Hwa and me at the BOAT restaurant

Eng Hwa, a pastor from Praise Evangelical Free Church kindly did all the bookings. The week we wanted was fully booked. We asked if there were available dates earlier or later and praise be to God we took the five days available the week before. We also booked a hotel room nearby for a few days, so we could extend our prayer retreat, as we were graciously permitted to use the retreat facilities and grounds, during the extended stay outside the center. Both of us were assigned a local Thai spiritual director, a Fr Saichon. When the dates were finalised we booked the Scoot tickets at SGD$233 each.

My spartan bedroom with attached bathroom
With insect gauze and nice greenery for room view

We arrived at the center around one plus on a hot afternoon and after settling in our rooms went out to look for food at the BOAT restaurant. During the light leisurely late lunch we decided to start silence from dinner onwards. After unpacking, I needed a bath and a nap. It had been a long day.

The next day spiritual director saw me and he got to know my background and experience in prayer retreats. Then he handed me the prayer and meditation for the day. I was asked to do a “faith history” for the first day, and on the second and third day, a “vocational history” with several passages of scripture each. Over the several days I set aside time to pause, pray and ponder, and allow the Lord to lay on my heart what He had for me. I had no major decisions to make nor much processing to do, so I was more relaxed and open. Suffice it to say that at the end of the retreat, I felt very grateful, enlightened, reassured, strengthened, and left the retreat with a sense of assurance, anticipation and excitement about what laid ahead for me.

I had to tackle some emergency work from the church though. The retreat center does not allow for retreatants to use the wireless (though they have wireless equipment installed). So I had to retreat to a Art Cafe nearby, buy a cup of coffee for 60-80 Thai baht to access free wireless to complete two pieces of urgent work. Thank God this did not affect the rhythm of the retreat.

Bird in the glasshouse (Art Cafe)

The Art Cafe is a unique cafe. It looked like a glasshouse and it housed the owner’s pet merbuk, a lovely songbird. Initially I was taken aback but later I got used to this energetic friendly bird.

I was glad that the local Jesuit priest was my spiritual director. It is good that Asian spiritual directors have been trained so that there is less dependency on the Caucasian priests. We have this bias that prefer the Caucasian as we think they are superior. I think we need to break that mentality, and learn to trust the Lord to use the locals to give good direction. How else can they improve unless they have more and more experience? I was blessed by Fr Saichon and I could sense the Lord was using him to direct my meditation and prayer times. “Some trust in horses and some in chariots, but we will trust in the Lord”. Praise God.

Fr Saichon local Thai Jesuit priest

I could not sleep well the first night due to an overdose of caffeine. So the next day it was only one cup a day and an hour of brisk walking in the evening at the park at the Chiangmai University entrance. All apprehension about not being allowed into the university disappeared, and so I got bolder and went farther to the Angkaew lake. No security officer stopped me. The lake was such a peaceful place for exercise and relaxation.

Breakfast in BED hotel

After the retreat we moved to the BED hotel and spent mornings in prayer at the retreat center and the afternoons and evenings in long walks, and having our meals at the Maya Shopping Mall about 15 minutes walk away. We caught some movies too: “Walk With Me” a documentary about mindfulness; “Kingsmen” – an action comedy that ends up being good at neither; and “American Assassin” that feels as fast-moving and exciting as Bourne Identity. I saw more movies at Maya Mall in those few days than in two years in Singapore. I returned home refreshed, recharged and reassured.

 

 

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Jurong Lake & Little Guilin Ride

We were supposed to have started our ride at 7.30am. But it rained and so the Brompton Pastors Club had breakfast in my home. A leisurely breakfast. By the time we finally rode off it was 9am. The weather was superbly cool. We rode to the Chinese and Japanese Garden because Then Chee Min came all the way from the east. At the least he should ride through the gardens. Then we were on the PCN to the Little Guilin. The west is where I live, so I guided the group. At Little Guilin the rain fell and we adjourned to a Malay kopitiam for an early lunch and fellowship (and theological discussion abut generational curse) till the rain stopped. Then we headed to the former granite quarry at Bukit Batok Park and from there proceeded to the PCN that links the Bukit Batok to the Ulu Pandan PCN. Our original plan was to do the Ulu Pandan PCN to Ghim Moh for lunch but rain altered our plans and we called it quits after we did the lovely Teban Garden overhead  steel bridge. We reached my home by 12.15pm. A wonderful splendid lovely morning with pastors! God’s way is always better – the rain forced us pastors to spend as much time time seated around the table of fellowship as on our Brompton foldies; and it cooled the day which otherwise would likely have been direct sun on us by mid-morning.

Early morning rains delayed our ride. We were in no hurry.
Unfolding the Brompton folding bikes.
Ready to ride by 9am!
At the Chinese Gardens main building
Riding along Bukit Batok streets
Two oranges, two blues and two greens. Bromptons against Little Guilin.
Wefie.
Shelter from the rain. Might as well have an early lunch!
Old quarry at Bukit Batok Park
Along the way on Bukit Batok PCN to Ulu Pandan PCN
Trouble on beautiful steel bicycle bridge that connects Ulu Pandan PCN to Teban Garden PCN. Brompton toolkit and common sense solved the problem. Thank you Jesus.
One final shot for the road.
Back in my home: 4 folded Bromptons inside a Toyota Wish. Incredible sight.
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