Journey To Creation Retreat 2021

This prayer retreat was a welcome break for those weary with working from home, and with the rapid changes of Covid 19 restrictions. It was also for lovers of God and nature, for those who wish to find God revealed in nature, and God communicating with us afresh as we immerse ourselves in the sights, sounds and movements of the forests and parks around Montfort Retreat Centre in Upper Bukit Timah Road.

This semi-silent retreat was held from Saturday 6 to Wednesday 10 November 2021. After the participants had trickled in from 10am onwards the retreat commenced with a briefing at 2pm followed by an orientation walk to the Chestnut Observation Tower. Nightly zoom meetings for small group sharing and instructional sessions for the whole group of about 18 were structured into the retreat program. I was there with Matthew and Jessica, and Juliana to provide volunteer support for the retreat that was led by spiritual director, Lance Ng. We were guides for individuals who needed someone to accompany them along the nature trails nearby.

the retreat program

I was there to guide retreatants on Sunday and Monday. From Tuesday onwards they were on their own. I enjoyed the initial mutual introductions. This helped the guide and retreatant be at ease with each other’s presence. After that, the retreatant was left alone on their silent contemplative walks, and I kept some distance away so they can have their alone time, privacy and freedom. I enjoyed the walks too as I had been inactive for about three weeks after my booster jab. I welcomed this burst of concentrated daily walks which started at 7am in the morning and usually ended around 10am plus. 

I love walking in the forest but found guiding different because there is always that concern of keeping the retreatant within my sight but yet hopefully without me intruding. I want them to feel safe and yet be fully present to enjoy God’s creation and presence.

After their morning walks, the retreatants had time to reflect, rest, nap and journal their experiences. At 7.30pm each evening, they shared over zoom what had impressed or moved them during their walks, first in small groups, and then together as a whole. Lance Ng also gave conversational talks on very helpful topics like self-knowledge and truth; having conversations with God about areas in our lives that needs attention and formation; and how community is so vital to our journey to being fully human. 

From listening in to the retreatant’s lively and interesting vignettes about how God was dealing with and communicating with them, I could see that when we re-visit nature we find God happy to use what we see, feel, smell and touch to communicate with us. After all, at the beginning, it was in a nature setting that “the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…..the Lord called to the man, “Where are you?”(Genesis 3:8,9 NIV). We find God in the garden, and he finds us there too…more aware of our struggles; sometimes hiding because of them, and yet open to listen, open to God’s movement towards us despite all our faults.

the Lord’s leading

The team had actually gone on a dry run through the retreat program a few months back but the latest Covid 19 restrictions required that we modify the program drastically. However, our creative God is not handcuffed by human rules and is able to transcend them and reach us on the inside in our solitude and silence. We were amazed at God’s unfolding grace and leadership of the retreat. We know the retreatants had experiences of and dialogues with God and moved closer to him. They also left the retreat having learned a way to be with and listen to God which they could use in any of the many parks in Singapore. This is a bonus.

first quarter 2022, God willing

I could detect an appetite for more of such kind of retreats. For now though, the retreats being rolled out for the first quarter of next year (2022) are as follows:

registration for first quarter 2022

For registration, Sign up HERE.

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Silent Retreats: Seven Blessings & Benefits

What are the blessings and benefits of going to a silent retreat? I have been to many silent retreats from one day to over thirty days and I have always experienced many benefits and blessings through them. I have listed those that I can recall here, although not all of them are experienced in every retreat. The benefits and blessings are like a fountain and what it dispenses are abundant, life-giving and multi-faceted. Here are seven blessings I have experienced.

First, physical rest. Like most Singaporeans, I am often unaware of how much I needed rest and sleep. I was so caught up with the church work, family commitments, unticked boxes in my “To Do” list, and meetings that I often failed to attend to my body’s plea. I push my body and prop it up at night to its brink. In a silent retreat, I quiet myself and slow down. Quickly I begin to hear my body’s sigh. I embrace my limits and have my naps and unbounded sleep. Imperceptibly my body would rejuvenate, and the joy and sparkle would return. 

Second, processing of past events and experiences. Being proactive and productive is drilled into us by our culture, but being reflective has to be learned. There is no better place to learn this than during a retreat because it offers space for God to be with us as we reflect on past events and experiences, both the blessings and the burdens. This conversation with God about past painful and happy experiences helps us to go back in order to go forward. It facilitates a healing process, adjusts our assumptions and perceptions, empowers us for reconciliation, and roots us in the peace of God in the midst of unchanged circumstances and ambiguous issues. I always leave the retreat house with deep peace and joy.

Third, knowledge of God and self. God reveals himself to us as we intentionally seek him in silence, solitude and prayer. “Seek and you shall find”, Jesus promised. Mostly, I find God revealing himself to me, and more of myself to me. This knowledge comes through scripture meditation and other ancient ways of prayer, through reflection of how God is present in my past experiences, through the Lords’ Supper, and through what I observe and experience day by day in the retreat center.

Fourth, transformation. The knowledge of God and self often led to repentance, trust, commitment, directional change, worship and praise. It is not mere head knowledge but formational knowledge born out of illumination and truth encounters. Many years back I was going through a burn-out and a lengthy retreat restored me completely. You can read about this HERE. It was a transforming experience that convinced me that set apart times of seeking God in solitude and silence are vitally important for all followers of Christ, particularly those in the front-lines of the Lord’s service. 

Fifth, learning to seek and know God. Free from all earthly distractions and duties, I find myself having the space and time to learn to be intimate with God.  The many hours devoted to prayer, whether regulated or spontaneous, individual or together with others, in your room or in the chapel or outdoors, lend itself to intensive training and learning of what it means to pray. Most Singaporean Christians hardly pray – they are bombarded every day with a hundred things! The retreat gives you an undisturbed space to form a deeper connection with God and to form a habit of daily prayer and reflection, however small the beginning may seem. Armed with this success, one is more assured when one goes back into the fight of the daily grind, because he or she now has a stronger connection with God and is more confident about praying through life.

Sixth, patient hope. Retreatants often come with burning questions or issues. The felt need has to be strong for a Singaporean to sacrifice precious annual leave and money which could be used for a vacation or expensive device. They seek God with an intense expectation of a clear answer from God during the retreat, preferably by the middle of it. Sometimes God does address the issue concerned and answers or direction is graciously granted. Other times, in fact, most times this expectation of a quick satisfactory answer is met in a different way from what is expected by the retreatant.  

The biblical Job demanded an answer from God for his “unjust” suffering and got nothing God’s revelation of his glory and greatness. No intelligible logical answer was given to the mystery of why a righteous man like him had to suffer so much. God drawing near to him and revealing his greatness is deemed sufficient to root Jobs faith in the sovereignty of God. This often happens in retreat: we want an answer to help in decision-making but God simply draws near and reminds us of who he is, and invites us to trust him. God beckons us to wait without worrying. God invites us to hope.

Seventh, learning discernment. Spiritual discernment is a neglected gift, one we should all pray for and develop. I have found a growth in my ability to distinguish the thoughts, desires and feelings that comes from the devil, or my old self, or from God. I learn to discern the idols in my life: those things that I need to be freed from, so that the choices I make are glorifying to God. I learn to detect the devil’s specially designed tactics of attacking my specific weaknesses. I learn to be more sensitive to the Spirit’s movements in my heart.

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Christian Prayer Retreat: whose great idea?

Today Christian prayer retreats are available in many different forms across many traditions. They can be categorized broadly as personal retreats, group retreats, and daily life retreats. What are these? Who originated the idea in the first place?


Personal retreats are adaptable to many different life situations, personal needs and spiritual growth stage. They can be as short as a few hours which is suited for beginners, to one day retreats and to longer retreats of about a week to thirty days (like the well-known Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius). The longer retreats usually include an individual prayer guide called a spiritual director, with whom the retreatant meets daily to share what he or she had experienced in each day of prayer. These longer retreats are therefore also called “personal guided retreats”.

Group retreats are of various sorts. Preached retreats are what we Protestants are more familiar with. They are like “church camps or conferences” with three to five messages per day, but with more time in between for reflection and prayer. There are those group retreats that involve some dialogue and interaction among retreatants, with more time for reflection and prayer. Finally, there are group retreats that include usually daily spiritual direction for everyone, and very brief presentations by the retreat leader. This usually follow a theme or structure, but at times may be individual-focused and not theme-bound.  

The final type of retreat besides the personal and group retreats, is the daily life retreat. This retreat is designed for people who are unable to withdraw from home or work like in the other retreats. They make a retreat without withdrawing from their usual life, by committing themselves to a daily time of prayer for a specific number of weeks or even months following a program of meditation and prayer, guided by a spiritual director periodically. 


There is variety and rich creativity of themes and forms in Christian prayer retreats, but whose great idea was this? Christian prayer retreats in its fundamental form as we know it today is commonly attributed to Saint Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus. He was a military man of the 16th century, adventurous and reckless with women, games, brawls and armed conflict. He was wounded severely in one leg while defending the territory against France, and during his recovery in Loyola, he was deeply affected by two books, “The Life of Christ” and “Golden Legend” – a book about the exploits of saints. That convalescence was a bed of repentance and transformation which propelled him with great hunger towards God. 

He decided to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but on the way there, he had encounters with God, particularly in Manresa where with much fasting, asceticism and long hours of prayers every day he sought to know God and his will. It was in Manresa that he began taking notes of his keen observations about his self-awareness and the dynamics of what he was experiencing as he sought God in prayer. These became the embryonic beginnings of his classic contribution to Christian prayer retreats, a manual titled “The Spiritual Exercises”, which contains guidance about how to help people experience God through meditation and prayer of the gospels, and make a commitment to serve God from a place of spiritual freedom. 

He began giving out exercises to his friends and seekers who approached him, preferably with them withdrawing from usual activities to devote themselves to meditation and prayer, but also for those who could not, spiritual exercises on a daily basis. Many who devoted themselves to these “prayer retreats” experienced life-transforming encounters with God, and he trained his followers to give these exercises to other seekers too. Till today, the Spiritual Exercises are still being given by Jesuits and others, and the manual he wrote, used by spiritual directors around the world, as it was in the original format, but mostly with adaptations.

From the early years, the form of the Spiritual Exercises could always be adjusted to the needs. It was never rigid. And the Jesuits used different variations and people of other orders and traditions creatively morphed it too. The fundamentals of the Christian prayer retreat remain the same: withdrawal from usual life for time alone with God to encounter Him in meditation and prayer. The expressions or forms it takes differ in a hundred ways.


During this same period, the Protestants Reformers had nothing similar to it and were actually wary of all things Catholic. The Lutherans, Calvinists, Puritans, Quakers, Baptists, Methodists, and others knew little of prayer retreats. They have thrown away the baby with the bathwater.

Sadly, modern Protestants were quick to adopt and adapt the secular world’s scientific, philosophical, psychological models, and management methods but hesitant and slow to learn from the other streams of Christian tradition, for example, the value of prayer retreats.. This lack of humble and wise learning is clearly evidenced by the scarcity of Protestant facilities dedicated for Christian prayer retreat, and of trained spiritual directors to guide God-chasers, compared to what is available among the Catholics. It was only in the 1950s that significant interest began to grow about the need, value and importance of Christian prayer retreats to the health and discipleship of the Church. Evangelicals began slow but steady steps to learn these ancient pathways, while keeping faithful to the basis of all spirituality: the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I for one, am upbeat about the interest in Christian prayer retreat among evangelicals today. I have received much from personal guided prayer retreats and believe it is an invaluable treasure that the Church must acknowledge and tap into if it wants to be a servant church. “Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught, The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.  (Isaiah 50: 4-6 ESV)

(The term “Christian” prayer retreat includes Catholics and is used to distinguish it from secular, New Age, and other religion’s retreats.)

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Cycling with friends in Punggol Waterway Park

I am blessed to have God-given friends. I met Lance Ng, a spiritual director working with Kingsmead Center, on the recommendation of Jacintha Teo (see blogroll links). A modest man who gave up a promising career to serve God in giving spiritual direction. I met him regularly for about a year in Kingsmead, and during that period went with him to a retreat in Chau Son, and a camino in Spain. He is graced by God to listen and give sharp insights that help me grow in self-understanding, knowing God and what he is doing in my soul. Recently, he guided me through a retreat for my transition and I was blessed. You can read about this retreat HERE.

Another lovely friend, my wife and I got acquainted with is Kae, a social worker with a social service agency. We got to know her during the Chau Son retreat and the camino and connected with her easily.

They have both picked up cycling during the Covid-19 and find in it a great joy and re-creation. There is a theology of play as you know and we are not to devalue play, as it is a way to pre-dispose ourselves to God. We can even find the God who dances in play. Thankfully, it took confinement and covid-19 to prod them into cycling. So when they invited me to a riding jaunt in the north east – the Punggol Waterway, I was happy to do so, as it would be my first time cycling with them. So after a camino meeting where we planned retreats (see image below) that Lance would be leading in the first and second quarter, we had two Bromptons in the car boot and headed to a free car park near Punggol Seafood restaurant and started our bike ride from there.

The last time I rode here was with Pastor Richard Wong in March 2016. The Punggol Waterway Park was new then. I wrote, “I agree with him that this is a beautiful park. Give it another five years for the young trees to grow bigger and shadier and it will be perfect”. To read the full story click HERE.

The weather was cloudy and cool on this afternoon ride on Friday, 22 January 2021. It was a lovely ride and I enjoyed the shady experience provided by trees that have grown lush with branches and leaves that lends its evergreen tint upon the whole scene. We rode around and was on the iconic Halus Bridge. Mid-afternoon showers arrived, and we reached our coffee destination in time to avoid the rain, and had coffee and cake at an area by the river, which had many cafes and restaurants which did not exist five years ago. Quite happening. I imagine this must place must be packed during weekends.

It was a satisfying relaxed afternoon of riding with friends who I realised were much younger and fitter than me, as I often found myself 50 metres behind them straining to catch up. I felt gratified, grateful and glad. Life with God is never boring even after retirement.

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Distractions That Spoil A Silent Retreat


Whether it is a laptop, cell phone or tablet, any kind of device that gives you a wireless connection will be a major distraction. Our frequent usage of mobile devices and its resultant positive emotional rewards have conditioned us to a habitual pattern of usage whenever we hold our cell phones in our hands. Our muscle memory takes over and we unconsciously repeat our usual routines of phone usage. In normal life, this is at worse, a time stealer. In a silent retreat, this becomes a distracting idol that disrupts the time you have set apart for the Lord and Love of your life. 

There was one recent retreat where I thought I was able to limit my usage to using the Bible App in my cell phone, and take pictures for blogging and sharing with loved ones. I was fooling myself. I got absorbed in it, and the digital idol took over and became a major distraction from listening to the Lord. 

I felt that the precious time I had set apart to be with the Lord would have been better if I had not bought that Thai local SIM card at Changi Recommends. If I needed to communicate with my family or church office, I could do it when I arrived on the first day. Most cafes there have free wi-fi and I could have communicated my whereabouts from there. I regretted falling into temptation and learned an expensive lesson.

An even greater distraction is urgent work. Do ensure your work will not chase after you where you are. Finish whatever you have to before the retreat proper begins. 


Silent retreats can be forbidding and we wonder how 16 to 18 waking hours will pass. We may think one way to pass the time is to bring along books for work, for spiritual nourishment and for leisure. Most books are not helpful and may not flow in tandem with what the Spirit is wanting to accomplish in you. Why not let the spiritual director guide you in your meditations and readings if any? Let him or her sense what God is doing in your soul and direct you to scripture passages or spiritual exercises that will facilitate, and not hinder, God’s ongoing deep work. 


It is natural that when you are in an unfamiliar place or overseas for a silent retreat you would want to get to know your environment and surroundings. Some exploration is inevitable and with it the joy of discovery of new sights, things, and experiences. However, if you put on the tourist cap, looking for things to buy and see and experience, it will be a distraction from your main purpose of seeking God. 


We Singaporeans are used to a high level of comfort. Our standard of living Is first world. However, retreat houses are not five stars hotels, not even three stars hotels. They are modest spaces designed for worship, prayer, quiet and rest. 

The mattresses are not Simmons or Sealy, but definitely better than a sleeping bag. Some have en suite bathrooms but many, especially in Asia, have common bathrooms. They are not restaurants. You wouldn’t queue up for the food, but it is balanced and we Singaporeans could all do with eating less anyway. 

There are very comfortable retreat houses but they are more expensive and often found in Western countries like Australia, Spain, USA and England. 

Accepting that the comfort level is not ideal in retreat houses, and being mentally prepared will go a long way in helping you focus on seeking God. If you are fixated on fixing your comfort level, you will be totally distracted. Do what you can as you anticipate some problems with comfort, like, bring your own pillow if it is really necessary!! But accept what cannot be changed, and pray for the grace of enduring hardship like a good soldier of Christ. 

What are some major distractions you have experienced in your silent retreats? Share it with all the readers by writing below in the comment box.

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