Looking forward to silent retreat in Seven Fountains

Air fares to Chiangmai are daylight robbery. Direct flights would easily cost upward of SGD$300 even rising to SGD$600 in peak season. For anything under SGD$300 you would have to include a stopover, which meant a long wait at a Bangkok airport.

This was what I was rudely made aware of as I tried to book a flight to Chiangmai in mid-July. It’s not the school holidays; it is the rainy season, so I thought it would be inexpensive. SIA’s direct flight was close to SGD$500. By God’s grace, the God must have brought to my mind Scoot. ┬áThank the Lord, I have finally managed to get a Scoot ticket for SGD$350. I was over the moon.

I am heading to Seven Fountains Ignatian Center for a 8 days retreat and rest. The pastoral ministry does take a toll on most of us, and we all do need that time-out to rest, sleep, eat, drain out and process the negative emotions and experiences, deal with the shadows in our life, draw closer to God and feel His unconditional love, practical care and the peace that passes all understanding. To know Him more, to love Him more, to follow Him more closely.

One feature of the prayer grounds in Seven Fountains

Why is it important to have an experienced priest or minister trained in spiritual direction to accompany you? Most times, we are violent towards ourselves – condemning ourselves, pitying ourselves, angry with ourselves, regretting missed opportunities and mistakes. It can get depressive and self-harming. A director would be quick to spot that, alert you, and direct you gently to green pastures and still waters of God’s mercy and grace. They will help you be more gentle with yourself. No more bashing of oneself but rather basking in the grace and love of God.

I am thankful the church I serve, World Revival Prayer Fellowship, gives its pastoral staff five days paid leave and a reimbursement of up to $600 for directed retreats annually. This has been very helpful. I wish such an enlightened policy had been around when I was new in the ministry. The purification, the healing, the strengthening of faith, and simply the rest of mind, body and emotions all add up to a restorative, redemptive, regenerative time in the Lord. I always return with more grace, more peace, more love, more resolve, more energy. Always! And the church people benefits when their pastor is renewed in the Lord, or is more in love with the Lord, or simply more rested in body and soul.

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.