Silent Retreat: Spiritual Direction Formation Program

“A five full days silent retreat”, this was what Sister Fran emphasized to us. She is the leader fronting this program of Life Direction Singapore. We checked in at 4pm a day earlier on Monday to settle in and began our first session at 8pm. After that session, grand silence began and continued till the wrap-up session on Sunday morning at 10.30am, following which, the silence ended. It was an individually directed retreat, as each retreatant had a spiritual director whom they met with for about thirty to forty-five minutes each day.

As a friend

During the opening session, we were asked to write the grace or blessing we wanted to receive from the Lord during the retreat. I wrote that I wanted “friendship with Jesus”. I wanted to spend the week like a vacation with Jesus as my friend. I recalled the verse in Exodus 33:11, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend”. I longed to keep company with the Lord. 

In my first session with my spiritual director, Soo Hoong, a ministry staff from Paya Lebar Methodist Church, I shared with her the grace I asked for: friendship with God. She asked me to think of this retreat as being with a friend for a week. I could discuss with the Lord what we could do together, or vice versa. I could also share what is on my heart or ask the Lord what was on his heart, like, “How do you see me?” In the sessions that followed she would prompt me with other suggestions of how this divine friendship could be nurtured and find expression during the retreat.

I asked the Lord a few times, “How do you see me?” The answer was to come two days later through an image that came to me of an infant child. Straight away I was reminded of a Psalm that I meditated upon years ago about a weaned child. I searched and found Psalm 131: 2: “Instead I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child, who no longer cries for its mothers milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me”. It dawned on me that my faith used to be immature, like a baby demanding, upset and controlling, wanting my needs and expectations met my way and in my time. Otherwise, I would cry in anxiety and turmoil. My faith has since become a calm and quiet trust in God during troubles and trials, matured and willing to wait patiently for God. I was pleased that that was how the Lord viewed me. Any mother would tell you how relieved and pleased they would feel when a child has moved on from mother’s milk on demand, to being totally weaned to a calm and quiet patience.  I was happy that He was pleased with my growth.

During the retreat, I seem to be gifted with a garment of praise. My heart was bubbling with joy and I was praising God often. I often sang worship choruses, hummed a melody or sang in tongues. I did it in my room, while walking the labyrinth or the rail corridor. It was a relaxed, praise-filled, and joyful retreat.

Using the labyrinth

There are two labyrinths at Montfort Centre and they can be used in different ways. I walked the labyrinth before breakfast, or at sunset or at night, because these were the times it was not hot. I sometimes walked the labyrinth to converse or discuss a matter with the Lord, as I would with a friend on a hike. Other times, I walked it to express praise and adoration, and to sing in the Spirit, or to hum a hymn. Significantly, I once used the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” and had a touch from the Lord, a grace moment, when I felt contrition and confessed my pride, and acknowledged that I am but a graced person, who earned nothing, did not deserve anything, but that all had been given to me, all is gift. 

One beautiful day with fair weather, I walked the rail corridor from Railway Mall to the newly done-up Bukit Timah Railway Station. It was a pleasant saunter with the Lord, taking in the sights and taking the occasional photograph. When I reached the Station, I simply sat and rested for a while, looking around at people taking photographs in empty carriages along old railway tracks preserved for ours and later generations to appreciate our history with Malaysia. There was a lovely café, but I was not prepared to pay $5.50 for a cappuccino. I did not walk back but took the train back from King Albert Park MRT station to Cashew. 

Paint your feelings

The organizers had art materials available for any retreatant to use. Though not trained in art, I felt the urge to take some water colour paint and brushes to express my heart and I noticed that the colours and images I painted expressed my feelings appropriately. They were bright colours, intimate and celebratory images, and point to the joy, intimacy and gratitude I felt. They kind of summed up this retreat for me. Though it was part of the “course requirement”, it was very much a formational experience for me. 

If you are interested to know why silence is important in prayer, click HERE.

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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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