One of the good things about Seven Fountains retreat center is that there are several good cafes along the main road it is situated at. One of them, my favourite, is the Art Roastery just across the road from its main entrance. It’s a hip, arty and creatively done up cafe with live birds and garden as its key features – besides good affordable coffee and cakes. It is a magnet for the Facebook and Instagram generation. Its unique setting beats the stale Starbucks blah blah standard decor.
Anyway, after four days of silence, solitude and prayer I gave myself a reward and had a flat white and a slice of exquisite and to die for coconut cake. Maybe the many retreat meals of vegetables and fruit and unsweetened chrysanthemum tea that I had made me crave for a booster. And so I had it. It was a great place for reflection and journaling. There is a back room away from the crowd where you have more privacy and that was where I went.
This kind self-reward of three hours of reflection and break from the normal routine adds colour, introduces freshness and eases some of the intensity of interior work. I find that the relaxing change makes me feel energised and ready to continue the prayer journey.
Myself: I am here because I am worn out and tired. I also find I am not drawing as much life from scripture as before. What is going on?
Fr David: Yes sometimes people find it difficult to pray well simply because they are exhausted. It is possible that this may be the reason scripture meditation is not as life-giving as before. You are a Singaporean and you are a very busy stressed up people. Furthermore, you are Chinese.
Myself: Ha ha (laughter). I still have some pain in my heel. Gout.
Fr David: Oh that’s terrible. I had that too. There are three things important to health: 1) Prayer as a relationship with God, 2) Resting well. When we rest well we are better able to pray well and move closer to God. 3) Exercise. Exercise the mind and well as the body.
Take a good rest. Rest as much as you want. Be present with the silence. Enjoy the quiet. Go out to the open air, to nature. Maybe go to the Chiangmai University lake or the waterfall. Walk the labyrinth and the garden,
I love Ignatian spirituality. It is holistic: spirit, mind, emotions and body are all important. It is very practical and contemplative active.
I did not know how tired I was. I thought I was quite rested. Church camp in Bangkok, followed by an extended eight day of vacationing. Then the week before I was home bound and even bed-bound because I was recovering from a vicious bout of gout. I was indeed surprised that I slept more than usual including catnaps between meals. Furthermore, I found myself drowsing during prayer. I made a deliberate effort to sleep and rest more in this retreat.
The food at the Seven Fountains is wholesome. There is always rice and simple salad available for lunch and dinner, plus a vegetable and a meat and a vegetable soup. So it was not difficult to cut down on my meat intake and increase my vegetable and fruit consumption. Gradually I got better and I believe the fiber heavy diet helped my recovery from gout.
The interesting thing is that as I rested well and ate well, I was also praying better and the scripture began to come alive for me. “He make me to lie down on green pastures, He restores my soul”.
No wonder the angel simply let a stressed out prophet Elijah sleep, wake up to eat, and exercise. It readied him to hear God by the time He got to the cave.
The labyrinth is one of the key prayer features of the Seven Fountains. In past retreats I could never quite enjoy or relate to it even though I had used it a number of times.
This retreat, I find myself gravitated to it and deriving life from using it as a prayer method. I start off my “journey” to the center, unloading a matter before the Lord. I pour out my burden to the Lord about a specific matter. I do it until I reach the center, which usually takes about ten minutes or more.
The important thing is to know that my task is to tell the Lord the problem, that’s all. I do not tell Him what He should do to fix it. How He fixes it is up to Him. Like Mary who went to Jesus with the problem, “they are running out of wine”, and left it to her Son. We do not need to tell God how to fix it. He is the ultimate Fixer. He has His ways and timing and sometimes unknown to me, I could be the one in need of fixing!
By the time I stand at the Rock in the center, I have downloaded all my troubles to the Lord, and there I fully hand over the matter to Him and wait in silence to see if there is some insight, image or movement within me.
Then I would move out of the center again twisting and turning till I am out of the puzzle, but this time feeling lighter and at peace and giving thanks to God.
I did quite a number of rounds of this, for as a pastor I do have burdens which I am carrying that I should not be carrying. So laying it all down to the Lord in a prayer activity helped me feel at peace, grateful, faith-filled, and fulfilled.
The Seven Fountains Ignatian Spirituality Center keeps upgrading itself. It is almost like it has a Singapore spirit. Upgrading and improving is a passion that drives the country. I see it here in Chiangmai. If I remember correctly there were so many improvements over the last seven years. One major one was ensuite bathrooms. Another was the bitumen repairs. Then the rabbits and turkeys came. And the wooden hut was renovated and air conditioned to be another great prayer space. Yesterday, when I came in, I saw the new elevators.
Apparently the sight of older retreatants lugging luggage up the staircase moved the priests with compassion, and in addition the financial means was there for the lifts to be done. I also noticed the enlargement of the dining space to accommodate more dining tables and chairs. The grounds have also been spruced up, with the unwanted plants and weeds and ponding and stagnant water removed and the grounds looking like a newly barbered head. All in all it gives the sense of hope, freshness, and progress.
Where did they get the money from? From donations, many of which I suppose to be from Singaporeans. It is a lovely partnership or fellowship where giving and receiving is the order of the day; the priests and their generosity of opening the retreat and giving direction freely, the Singaporean retreatants so blessed and transformed by the ministry, giving generously in return. What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the Everlasting Arm!
In a sense this upgrading is what also happens in our lives as we learn to be silent, and pray in solitude, with the help of spiritual directors. The Lord draws near, we become sensitive of the movements of the Spirit, we become open to Him and obey Him and we are transformed or “upgraded”.
That is why I am here this week. I feel tired physically and weary emotionally. I have not been praying well. I have lost my appetite for lectio divina. I spend more time on reflection and journaling. Is this a season I have gone into? I need to understand what is going on. Is it perhaps my tiredness and weariness dulling my appetite for God? I look forward to a deeper love for the Lord, which is the grace I desire and seek.
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. Thank 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.
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.