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.

 

 

Relaxing in Chiang Mai

coffee along the way

Releasing the tension

A bow bent for too long may break. So after a week of spiritual intensity, it was good to unwind the tension, and relax among friends, both old and new-found, on a one day tour to the waterfalls and to the highest mountain in Thailand, the Doi Inthanon. We set off with our English speaking tour guide, Lino, from Green World Travel, who was friendly, caring  and interesting company. The temperature was cool the higher up we went.

Rainbow at waterfall

At the Maeya waterfalls, we saw a beautiful rainbow beyond a “SLIPPERY ROUTE” sign. Certainly apt: we can always find the faithfulness of God, and the sign of better times, beyond danger and risk. With the spray upon us we had a refreshing and fun time just standing there, taking photos and taking the sights in of the beautiful Maeya waterfall, jungle and sky, and giving praise to the Maker.

beyond risk, is God's faithfulness

one of God's beautiful waterfalls

Theresa, Kenny, Sunny, Annie, Ethel, Deena, Irene, Francis

salt caked fish

The King’s garden

We next went to one of the King’s horticultural project along the slope of a mountain. We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking a valley. We gorged on barbecued chicken and salt covered barbecued fish we had purchased earlier at the waterfall stalls. We walked around  gardens, among lovely flowers of all kinds, fountains, and pine trees. It was afternoon. The weather was warm but dry. It had not rained since I arrived in Chiang Mai over ten days ago. The waterfalls and the mountain were symbols of what we have experienced in the silent retreat – the refreshing, the rainbow of hope, the spiritual heights.

in the King's horticultural project

Diary of a silent retreat 2

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.

DSCF0703

“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.

retreatants minus three

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).

Simon, John, Kenny, Bernie, Rinda, Irene

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:

7 fountains sanctuary fills upAttended 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.

Eucharist every Sunday

outdoor fellowship hall

you have to admire the attention the Catholics give to aesthetics!

Eat. Pray. Journal. Sleep. Getting into some kind of rhythm.

kenny at gazebo

siesta

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 the Bishop's bookalong 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.