Chau Son Retreat 2018

This silent retreat was for seven days in early December. It took a day to travel to the Cistercian Monastery near Dalat, Vietnam: two hours by flight to Ho Chi Minh City; a 45 minutes domestic flight to Dalat, and a final hour by bus to this cool weather mountain retreat. It was the same hours returning to Singapore. One day of re-entry program was added.

The retreat proper began with a half day of orientation and then grand silence began and continued for seven days. Each day we met with our chosen spiritual director. There were 28 retreatants from Singapore and Malaysia and 6 spiritual directors. Securing this slot was difficult as the guest rooms were often occupied from local needs.

I enjoyed the retreat, and will post about it later after Christmas and New Year. However I did manage to make some simple slideshows from the photos I have taken. Three slideshows to be exact. Apple makes it a breeze. But only after I have loaded the photos from my Android Samsung Galaxy Note 5, which was quite a chore.

The first slideshow, is the most complete one which shows the beautiful grounds, some of the food we ate, and the one day Dalat re-entry program before we flew back.

The second slideshow excluded the food section, and allows more time to appreciate each photo and stir nostalgia.

The final video are my favourite photos.

 

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.

 

 

Xavier House: Silent retreat

Silence and solitude still our stormy selves and position us to listen better to God. That was what I experienced during my five days of silent retreat in Xavier House on Cheung Chau island, Hong Kong. Besides the physical and soul rest, my spirit was able to feast on the word of God and I must say unlike my several previous retreats this was one of consolation with wonderful moments of  assurances and joy.

Why Cheung Chau? Well my pastor friend Eng Hwa had gone there several times and had talked about it. One day I felt an urge to try this Ignatian Spirituality Centre. Anyway the airfare costs about the same as flying to Chiangmai, where I usually went to the Seven Fountains spirituality centre. I was also ready to have a change in setting, and to try a different spiritual director.

So my pastor friend Seng Chor and I made an application. They only accepted those who have already experienced at least a three day silent directed retreat. And we had to change our dates a few times to suit the availability of the spiritual director assigned to us, a Fr Paul Goh, a bi-lingual Singaporean Jesuit priest who was posted to this centre in 2012.

Our flight was delayed by two hours because of the Typhoon Nida which brushed by Hong Kong the day before. We landed at the Hong Kong International Airport. From there we took the airport railway to the “Hong Kong MTR Station”. Then we walked five minutes to the Central Pier and boarded the frequent ferry to Cheung Chau.

Cheung Chau is a fishing town. In the harbour were berthed hundreds of fishing boats. By the time we reached there at about 3 or 4pm the boats were all back. The main street by the quayside was a long stretch of shops of all kinds facing the sea. It is packed with Hong Kongers every weekend as there were a few hiking trails and beaches on the island.

We followed the map given by the retreat center and we had to walk up a slope to reach the Xavier House, which was nicely perched on the slope of the island with a fantastic sea view and breeze. The early Catholic missionaries knew how to buy properties for their work! The whole retreat area was about a football field size but spread across the slopes. There were many niches for seating and private meditation and a beautiful chapel that had a full glass panel facing the sea. However, the single bed room was typically small like all living spaces in Hong Kong.

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Typhoon Nida felled a tree in town the day before

 

Cheung Chau is a fishing village so its full of fishing boats in the harbour.
Cheung Chau is a fishing village so its full of fishing boats in the harbour
Cheung Chau pier is lined with supermarkets, seafood and tim sum restaurants, cafes, dried seafood stalls, bicycle hire shops and a MacDonalds.
The Cheung Chau harbour front is lined with supermarkets, seafood and tim sum restaurants, cafes, dried seafood stalls, bicycle hire shops and a MacDonalds
The path leading up the slope to the Xavier House.
The path leading up the slope to the Xavier House
The part of the L shaped building facing the sea.
The part of the L shaped building facing the sea
The large tennis court sized yard and sea view.
The large tennis court sized yard and sea view
A nice sheltered meditation spot facing the courtyard and sea view.
A nice sheltered meditation spot facing the courtyard and sea view
If you prefer the outdoors there are many wonderful spots for quiet mediation.
If you prefer the outdoors there are many wonderful spots for quiet meditation
Another excellent shaded spot;
Another excellent shaded spot
If you love heights....
If you love heights….
Another few seats for journaling and contemplation
Another few seats for journaling and contemplation
Spoilt for choices.
Spoilt for choices
View of the cross on top of the building.
View of the cross on top of the building
View of the cross from the top of the building, another place for night or early morning meditation.
View of the cross from the top of the building, another place for night or early morning meditation
On top of the rooftop
On the rooftop
Cheung Chau at dawn.
Cheung Chau at dawn
Cheung Chau in the morning
Cheung Chau in the morning
In the of the beautiful chapels
In one of the beautiful chapels
My "hong Kong sized" room.
My little room
Home cooked healthy Cantonese food was served at lunch and dinner. Breakfast was bread, butter , jam and peanut butter
There was home cooked healthy Cantonese food at lunch and dinner and breakfast was bread, butter, jam and peanut butter and cereals
There were about 30 retreat ants staying for different periods during my 4 nights stay there
There were about 30 retreatants staying for different periods during my 4 nights stay there
Town was five minutes away so sometimes I had tim sum with the Lord
Town was ten minutes walk away so sometimes I had tim sum with the Lord
Sometimes I hiked to get rid of calories and meet God in nature
Sometimes I hiked for exercise

The retreat director was diligent and asked for four one hour and fifteen minutes sessions of prayer and meditation per day. He gave four Bible passages and two optional ones. Each day I met him at 7.45pm and shared what the Lord had spoken to me through the passages and what affections, feelings and desires they stirred. He listened intently and gave some insights but mainly, he listened. His training lasted 13 years and included specialised counselling and spiritual direction. I was blessed and quickened by the meditations and God spoke to me through the passages. We began on Tuesday night and ended on Saturday evening with a thank you dinner. I left the retreat refreshed and recharged. My faith has been quickened and I am very blessed and very thankful that the church I serve supports such retreats for pastors. Seng Chor and I moved to a hotel on Hong Kong island and did some touristy stuff. Never liked the urban side of Hong Kong but after flying all the way there what is another two days?