It was a wonderful and blessed retreat at Seven Fountains Ignatiun Spirituality Center in Chiangmai, Thailand. Every silent retreat is different but here is a diary of what it was like for those who want an idea of what it may be like.
Thursday, 18th November:
Squirrels- bushy tailed ones. There seemed to be several families, including little tots, sliding, waltzing and jetting rapidly without brakes nor care from branch to branch and tree to tree. They were amazing to watch. I found it so relaxing to just sit at the balcony and be entertained by their delightful dances in the trees.
Today I looked through the whole gospel of Luke and picked up the emotions of Jesus. His frustration, anger, sadness, tears, sorrow, rejoicing, happiness, rebuke, and distress. I thought David told me to relax but he directed me to do something that required a few hours scan through the gospel.
Obedience yielded treasures, I found out.
Friday, 19th November:
My birthday. Fifty five, and since 5 is the number of grace, I am expecting grace upon grace this year. The church members quietly wished me well. There were eight from WRPF including Simon and Rinda.The Shins and the Chongs gave me some energizing stuff to make this day celebrated away from home a comfort and a wee special. Others, who found out later gave me some well wishes on notes and candy.
Entered into the gospel story of the man with the withered hand healed by Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus was very angry. Englightening time.
As I celebrated the final communion, I enjoyed feeding on Christ – His body and blood. What a beautiful mystery – this fellowship meal with the Triune God. Hidden nutrition.
Saturday, 20th November:
Six days of complete silence ceased at breakfast. I’ve been hearing mini-explosions from firecrackers fired two nights before a festival called Loi Krathrong. At breakfast, there were explosions of joy, and laughter and conversations. The retreat concluded with sessions where they summarized and shared and each one were prayed for in the afternoon.
After saying thanks and goodbye to David, my morning was spent going deeper into the story and exploring further what insights the Lord had for me from the story. By afternoon, I was done and concluded my retreat by myself in praise and song.
The evening was a celebration at Tsunami. The pastors were all honoured and well cared for with a Japanese meal. As we headed to the Night Bazaar, we found ourselves caught in this jam along the river.
As it turned out, the local folks were celebrating Loi Krathrong, a festival where they released decorated boats or 4 feet tall lanterns with light into the river or sky, to symbolize the release of bad luck, sin, sorrow or wishes, prayers and dreams. Firecrackers exploded and the night sky occasionally lighted up with fireworks. Hundreds of lighted lanterns slowly and silently rising up, drifting with the winds and the lights disappearing from sight made the night festive and nostalgic.
I felt like a newly serviced car, a computer that just went through a lengthy de-fragmentation process. A lantern just lighted up. A heart of flesh. Freshened. Enlightened. Encouraged.
(Standing: Francis, Lee Hong, Siew Gin, Kenny, Theresa, Lisa, Irene, Deena, Ethel, Simon. Stooping: Sunny, John, Lye, Bernie, Jenny, Annie, Wendy, Rinda.)
Further information about retreats of different kinds conducted by Simon and Rinda Tan are available through their ministry Listening Inn.
Monday, 15th November:
It was the third day of the retreat. Enter the story, my director tells me. Experience the moment, the whole scene.
The passage he gave me was the wedding at Cana.
Tell Jesus how you are feeling and what you need and listen as he speaks in your imagination.
This Ignatian way of meditation took time. But it was worth it for the Spirit was free to inspire my often unused right-brain to yield insights and applications otherwise missed by normal left-brained, logical, rational interpretation.
Relax, he reminded me.
The silence at mealtimes seemed odd but I got used to it. We avoided eye contact. Eyes can talk too, as lovers and children know. We ate in silence, even if those who sat opposite or beside were friends.
Never liked food for the masses. Especially hotel food in church camps. The Thai food here was mostly rice, vegetables with slivers of pork or chicken, and gourd (and good) soup, and the occasional spicy dish(we had chicken curry once). But no complaints from anyone, which was unusual for Singaporeans, even Christians. Maybe the enforced silence.. haha. For me, I was happy with the food. Slowed down, with no distracting talk, my senses, including taste, became sensitive.
Tuesday, 16th November:
Be gentle with yourself, was his mantra to me. Was I so harsh with myself, or was he just warning me in advance, knowing my tendencies to condemn or judge myself? Be gentle, he kept saying.
You are suffering from burn-out, he said.
This was after having heard me for a few days. He had thus joined a chorus of pastor friends who had sung the same song. Well, that was why I was there.
Do not make any major decisions until after you have taken your sabbatical. Certainly, don’t make any major decisions here.
Was that a relief for me to hear? Not really, I did not enter into retreat with any intention of praying about making any major decisions.
Just enjoy Me, the Lord had said to me the morning before I left, and I have stayed with that word, since day one of the retreat.
Wednesday, 17th November:
Tonight was special. The Lord whispered, Everything I have is yours. My faith was stirred and joy bubbled up in song within.
Learned to doodle (see right) with my Samsung Jet Dynamic Canvas, some sketch software in my mobile. Yep, I guess I just had to touch something electronic. No laptop, no TV, no newspaper, no radio here in the desert.
Saturday, 13th November:
The mornings and evenings were lovely and cool and the birds and squirrels always came alive with their song and dance routines. The afternoons were warm but not so humid.
“Relax, do whatever relaxes and refreshes you. Don’t force the scripture passage to yield anything. Just relax”. This was the advice my spiritual director Fr David Towsend, SJ, kept repeating over the next few days. Yes, we Singaporeans are always in the productivity game. Since walking relaxes me I took several long walks….and jogs. The Chiang Mai University is a mammoth campus, as I found out, during these explorations.
The other retreatants were going through a whole morning and afternoon of talks. The returning retreatants only needed to attend the morning sessions conducted by Simon and Rinda Tan. They each would meet with spiritual director Simon or Rinda daily for thirty or more minutes. Simon and Rinda were gracious to allow me to join the community as and when I wanted and to have the priest as my spiritual director. There were four pastors at the retreat(see pic below).
Silence began at dinner time. It would continue for the next six days. It’s the spiritual equivalent of not opening the oven too often to see if the cake was baked. Sharing prematurely would dissipate the depth to which the Lord wanted to work with us on an issue.
Sunday, 14th November:
Attended the Sunday morning mass. An hour and ten minutes. A liturgical service with scripture and sermonette interspersed with songs and climaxing with the Mass. Fr David Townsend spoke about why the Creeds were so important to the church and how it often required courage in the ancient days to recite them. There was certainly a price to pay for speaking the truth. John the Baptist knew that. When he saw Jesus he declared, Behold the Lamb of God, and straight away he lost two faithful members. Later he would lose his head, literally, again for speaking the truth. This business of truth speaking was serious stuff.
David had already given me a passage to meditate on and as it was Sunday, I did not meet with him.
Eat. Pray. Journal. Sleep. Getting into some kind of rhythm.
They tell me reading biographies is sort of okay during a silent retreat, unlike reading books on spiritual stuff that might lead me on a detour from what God is saying or doing inside me. The same goes for MP3 messages. So I brought along and finished “Born for Blessings” by Bishop Moses Tay. It was a straightforward account of his life and career as Bishop and then Archbishop. Was impressed that the Bishop, later Archbishop, was very committed to the Lord’s work in his youth and later as a general practitioner. He received his University of London theological education via correspondence and was ordained a priest while still in medical practice. Bi-vocational- this is something the church will see more of in the future, I believe! Anyway this book offers an insider’s view of what happened in the upper echelons of the Anglican communion during the denomination’s recent turmoils.
Just some notes for readers to get an idea of what a silent retreat looks and feel like. Nothing matches the experience though. Of course what happens in the interior life remains private in my own journal. However, brief diary notes over the next few days may give readers an idea of what it was like. Hopefully they may want to have a retreat themselves.
Thursday, 11th November:
Here I am. The common response when God beckons His own. Here I am. Half a day of travel, with an hour’s transit in Bangkok. Half a day to settle into the Seven Fountains retreat house in Chiangmai. Mine was a little room with a view and a balcony on the corner of the third floor of Block 2.
Here I am Lord.
Had a cheap and good Japanese meal before the retreat proper began. Tsunami is just three minutes walk to the left as you walked out the entrance gate of the retreat house.
To view videos clips of the Seven fountains grounds see below:
Friday, 12th November:
It was good to begin. House rules and orientation. Shown the different blocks, chapels and dining area and other spaces. Simon and Rinda brought us out to the Chiang Mai University lake area just fifteen minutes away.
Watched the “Bucket List” movie, which gave new meaning to the scripture catchphrase, Watch and pray. Hmmm….what would my bucket list look like?
The dining hall was still crowded with animated conversations.
Interest in meditation increased with a New York Times interview with Lee Kuan Yew, where he opened a small window into his soul: he was an agnostic, but he had learned meditation from a Christian friend whom he admired. With eyes closed and body relaxed, he now repeated in his “innermost heart” a “mantra”. He used “ma-ra-na-tha”, an Aramaic word from the new testament, which in English meant, “Come Lord Jesus”. He did it to help him sleep when he felt helpless and pained with his wife’s discomfort in the room next door. His late wife, Mrs Lee (Mdm Kwa Geok Choo) had suffered several strokes and had been bedridden and speechless.
The NYT interview was followed up with an appropriate and illuminating interview with the Christian friend who has been meditating for 22 years and who taught Mr Lee how to meditate. His name is Mr Ng Kok Song, 62, and he spent 40 years investing Singapore’s reserves as group chief investment officer of Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC).
He was interviewed by senior writer Lee Siew Hua, of the Straits Times, who also gave us the Glitz and the Gospel, a weekend feature on the megachurch scene several weeks back. Drawing from excerpts from the chat with Mr Ng (ST, pg A 10, 22 Sep 2010), you could see what he thought of meditation and its benefits to all (headings in bold are mine).
What is meditation?
“You can practise meditation with a secular mindset for relaxation and serenity. These are laudable objectives. But it could be a self-centred motivation. Or you can practise with a spiritual mindset. If you go deeper, and your are nourished by reading the scriptures or by your religion, this takes you into the dimension of relationship and prayer. Prayer is relationship with God. Christian meditation is a form of prayer. That opens you up to the dimension of transcendence. You move from self-centredness to other-centredness. In the Christian tradition, this is love.”
On the benefits of meditation, Mr Ng has much to say:
Discernment and clarity
“I think it gives you greater clarity of mind, which helps in times of chaos and great stress, to see what’s the cause of things, what’s passing, what’s enduring and what’s really important.”
“It helps you not to be kan cheong(anxious, panicky). After doing your work to the best of your ability, you take a step back and go home, with some detachment from the results of your action.”
Activates whole brain thinking
Mr Ng quoted scientific studies that indicate meditation benefits the right brain, which is linked to intuition and the big picture. Most executives are left brained which is linked mainly to logic and linear thought. “To be a whole person you need to tap into the untapped.”
Shapes the way you lead
“The will to lead cannot be an ego trip or domination. I would call it acceptance of responsibility. With meditation, your mind is remade. The way you see leadership becomes quite different. You see it as serving. You see it as the ability to admit that you don’t know everything and can make mistakes. Otherwise, you can lead your folks into disaster. In the silence of your meditation, in a very mysterious way, you come to understand yourself better. You come to a state where you see your limitations and also your potential…..and gradually you learn to love yourself as you are.”
Contentment and joy
“”The problem in Singapore is the consumerist tendency to measure our well-being too much in terms of lifestyle and material possessions, so much so that you don’t have time for expansion of the spirit. But the human being is not created for the self, but for others too. The way to experience joy in everything is not to seek to possess. This is in contrast to our material life.”
Christian meditation, in particular, those ancient forms of prayer, mainly preserved and maintained by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox streams, have seen a revival among evangelicals for over two decades. Conservatives and fundamentalists have generally been wary and suspicious of these as they have thrown away all things Roman with the Reformation. However, with our foundation soundly established in who Christ is and what He has done, we should wisely embrace some of these practices into the mainstream of evangelical respectability.
Having been exposed to the writings of Eugene Peterson, Richard Foster and others has helped me personally. More importantly I had colleagues like Rev Simon and Rinda Tan, who were thrilled by the retreat ministry during their theological training in New Zealand Bible College. Open to these ancient forms of prayer our church staff became the guinea pigs of “experimental prayer”. We were privileged to enjoy the Spirit’s breeze through the open windows of our minds and hearts.
We tried many ancient practices of prayer and meditation like lectio divina, examen, centering prayer, meditation, silent retreats, having spiritual direction and journaling. Certain practices have stayed with me over the years.Practices like journaling, lectio divina, examen and what Mr Ng does. Meditation is a form of prayer all Christians should feel comfortable with. Sitting in outer and inner silence, relaxed and breathing slowly and deeply. Repeating silently some love or scripture word or phrase in the inmost heart is edifying. My favourite is “Papa” or “speaking in tongues” in my inmost heart. Another practice I love to do is going on regular several day retreats with others or in solitude. If you are interested you may want to sign up for a retreat with Simon and Rinda Tan who are now full-time spiritual directors and lead the ministry called Listening Inn.
The comment about the video says, “Research from Dr. Masaru Emoto, says that when human thoughts are directed at water before it is frozen, images of the resulting water crystals will be beautiful or ugly depending upon whether the thoughts were positive or negative. Emoto claims this can be achieved through prayer, music or by attaching written words to a container of water. Since 1999 Emoto has published several volumes of a work titled Messages from Water, which contains photographs of water crystals next to essays and “words of intent”. My son Matthew showed this video and it set me thinking.
I would like to know your opinion if this is science or science fiction or new age stuff?
IF the above videos are real science, then it is fascinating giddy stuff.
Just think of our human body. It is largely water: 70%.
Let’s engage in adventurous speculation and extrapolation.
Will the harbouring of negatives like bitterness, anger, prolonged stress and hate cause malformation at cellular level that consequentially become a disease?
On the other hand, would grateful and joyful praise all day perk the body’s performance and resistance to disease?
What is the impact of our attitudes on our water laden body? What is happening at a cellular level? Are beautiful and ugly water crystals formed and if so are they precursors and indicators of health or disease?
What are the implications on meditation? Meditation is translated from Hebrew “ hagah” which means ponder, mutter, speak, muse, and imagine. When we meditate on the gospel and the promises of God thinking on it, speaking it under our breath, muttering it – what is happening to us psychologically and physiologically? What is being birthed in us?
We keep muttering verses like, “God is my refuge and strength”, or “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?” or “The Lord is my righteousness” or “The Lord will supply all my needs” or “He himself took my sickness and diseases”. We say them over and over. What happens as we do that?
What happens below our skin when we sing praises in the congregation or in the home? When we listen to different kinds of music?
Is speculating on water, instead of gold, the next best investment of the century?
Watch this second video with a spoonful of salt: