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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Almost Everything You Need to Know About Having a Silent Retreat

With the Covid-19 pandemic curbing travel overseas you may want to consider using your annual leave and savings to find real refreshment and rest in God’s presence. Consider going for a silent retreat in 2021. People who found that with their regular travel plans dashed, staycationing does not really give you a sense of refreshment. A complete change of scenery was what it took in the past for a re-charge. Why not consider a change in perspective: maybe its spiritual refreshment that is needed. Jesus call to us who are weary and heavy-laden is simply: “Come to Me”. So a silent retreat of three, five or seven days may be what you need in 2021.


Seeking God in silence and solitude has a rich biblical tradition that reaches back as far in the Bible as Moses and his 40 days on the mountain waiting on God in silence and solitude to receive what God wanted to reveal to him: the ten commandments. Even Jesus, the One Greater than Moses, sought God in silence, solitude and prayer for 40 days before he embarked on his mission. 

Silence and solitude wean us away from internal and external distractions and expectations, and creates an inviting space for us to pray with greater ease and focus, and to know and love God more.

In a silent retreat we are intentionally withdrawing ourselves from human and digital interaction, to set ourselves apart for a specific period of a few or more days, with the sole purpose of seeking to know and love God more, and to receive whatever graces or gifts he chooses to pour on us. 

While this can be done from home, there are dedicated spaces designed specifically and intentionally to make the space conducive for prayer and reflection. Often these are owned by Catholics because they have a rich tradition in dedicated spaces of silence for retreats that goes back many centuries. The evangelicals are awakening to this need too but there are few in our region.

The blessings of a silent retreat are many and you may experience a few of these: being healed of painful and tough experiences from your past; a freedom from attachments and idols; greater awareness of self, the world and God; an increase of love, joy and peace; feeling you are Beloved of God; and deepening of your friendship with God. Other side benefits are a digital detox, a good rest, and refreshment.

A spiritual director accompanies and guides you as you seek God in prayer. He usually meets you daily in a one to one meeting, to listen what you have experienced in prayer, in order to co-discern with you the stirrings of desires, memories, emotions and hope that have surfaced. He helps you clarify what God is doing in your soul, and how you may respond to Him.


Here are some of the most common reasons:

To seek God for wisdom and peace in decision-making

To rest and recover from feeling stressed and drained

To seek God’s answer to burning question

To seek God’s peace and help because you feel troubled

To make peace with your past hurts, losses, faults

Wanting a closer relationship with God


Use this prayer for spiritual openness to prepare your heart for your retreat- before, during and after:

Father, I ask for your divine presence before, during and after my retreat. Thank you for preparing my heart for this time of intimacy with you. 

I ask for openness to listen to you speaking to me through the insights and feelings that will come to me at this retreat. May I be attentive to the movements of grace in my heart, as you lead me in prayer, worship and intimacy.

Remove obstacles and distractions that may prevent me from receiving from you. 

Open up my mind to the life-changing truths of your Word, and give me a new understanding of who you are to me and your personal love for me.

Touch me profoundly so that my life is changed by your living presence in my heart. Thank you for loving me and for reaching out to me.

 I worship you. In Jesus name. Amen.


Ask yourself why you wanted the retreat: what’s your specific purpose in making a retreat?

Find out more about the retreat house. Probably someone had told you about it but if you could see photos and videos and read about the place you will be more physically and psychologically prepared.

Pack sufficiently for comfort and safety: mosquito repellent, medicines, personal toiletries, flask, cap, comfort dried foods, favourite beverages.

Do not bring stuff that distract you from prayer and rest. The basic stuff to bring are: Bible, journal, stationery(for coloring or artwork), earphones, cell phone.

If possible, do slow down your pace a few days before your retreat. Most times we are anxiously getting things done and handing things over till the very last minute. 

Do not miss the group or personal preliminary session, if any, as they delineate the theme or give reminders of the right attitudes for the retreat.


In your first meeting with the spiritual director share why you came for a retreat and how much experience (or lack of it) you have in making a silent retreat. (Most people begin with a day retreat, moving on to a two- or three days retreat, then a 5- or 7- or 10- days retreat. They gradually increase the number of days as they see the need and benefits of doing so).

The first day or two are usually for you to settle into the new environment, and to rest physically and emotionally as much as possible. A tired body and a stressed mind are not conducive for listening prayer. Frequently, it begins with rest, relaxation and light reflection and the first meeting with your spiritual director. 

Do not be afraid to tell the spiritual director it is your first time in a silent retreat and ask for some instruction on how to pray and what to do during a retreat. 

After that first session, the spiritual director will tailor the programme or schedule according to your needs and his sensing. If structure helps you, schedule your day into several one-hour periods of prayer and journaling. Perhaps two periods in the morning, one period in the evening, and one at night. If more or less is expected, add or subtract as you see fit. Some retreatants prefer structure while others prefer a spontaneity and freedom to pray, walk, sleep, meditate whenever they want to. A sage once said, Pray as you can, not as you must.

Some silent retreats have more organized group programmes and schedule so retreatants gather daily for a fixed period to experience God together in some activity like a contemplative walk, or the Eucharist, or an hour of recollection. (As the silent retreat may include retreatants of different Christian traditions or physical fitness level, retreatants may discuss any wish to withdraw from any activity with their spiritual director).

Observe silence throughout the retreat unless yours is a preached group retreat that may have periods of interaction interspersed with silence. It is not called a “silent” retreat for nothing.

Avoid distractions like social media, doing work, watching videos, surfing the internet. Wean yourself from the need to use your mobile: this is a form of “virtual” silence and solitude. 

Record your key insights, emotions, memories, images in a journal, voice recorder, or cell phone. Our memories cannot be trusted, and simple records will enable us to see significant patterns and repetitions, and recollect experiences.

Before meeting your spiritual director pick the main issues, emotions, memories, desires that surfaced during your times of prayer. It is not a time for you to rattle the cognitive Bible study insights and lessons you have gleaned from your reflections, but more importantly focus on the emotions and desires.


It depends. Some retreats include the stipend for the spiritual director in the overall cost of the retreat. Others do not. You have to ask if it is not clear.

A stipend is simply a gift of money to appreciate the services or ministry of the spiritual director, who in some cases, depend totally on retreatants’ or directees’ generosity to support themselves and the services they offer. It is sometimes called a love offering given out of gratitude for services rendered. 

The amount is not fixed in most cases, though Kingsmead Centre, a local retreat house, recommends $30 per session of 45minutes or 1 hour for its spiritual directors. This is only a recommendation but should not make you feel bad for giving less, nor hinder you from giving more if you wish to. You can even give a stipend or love offering even though it is already included in the retreat cost.


Recollect and review all that the Lord has done in you, or shown to you:

-Did I experience movements during the retreat? Examples: moved from fear to peace; condemning and hating myself to accepting my weaknesses; from hopelessness to hope; temptation to resolution and strength; confusion to enlightenment; from lukewarm prayers to strong desire to pray.

-What graces have I received during this retreat? Examples: strength; awareness of my weaknesses and sins; realization of my helplessness and need of God; experience of praying for longer periods; more accurate knowledge of who God really is; assurance about a decision to make; freedom from a shameful past or an addiction; honest sharing from my heart with spiritual director; a good rest.

Share with others you trust what the Lord has done for you and showed you during the retreat. Request prayer for the faithful follow-through of decisions and plans you have made during the retreat, if any. If there is none, do not kick yourself or force yourself. Get out of that productivity mode – God’s way is higher than our ways. Most times leaving the retreat feeling beloved of God, or at peace with God and people, or rested and refreshed is all you have and need.

Seek to incorporate some of the practices you have learned during the silent retreat. For example, you may want to set a time of daily prayer. Or practice silence and solitude for a half-day every month. 


Some Catholic retreat centres like Kingsmead Centre, Lifesprings Canossian Spirituality Centre, Good Shepherd Oasis have in-residence spiritual directors who can accompany you in your individual retreat. They may also offer group retreats with themes and programmes. Some centres, for example, Montfort Centre have excellent retreat facilities available but you have to arrange for your own spiritual director.

If you need individual spiritual direction or a full silent retreat you may write to Kae Ng at for more information about upcoming retreats for 2021.

For those who want retreats led by experienced Protestants retreat directors, may I recommend Rinda and Simon, my friends and ex-colleagues in the church staff. You may want to take a look at Listening Inn and click on Calendar for their years schedule of group silent retreats.


I remembered my first full silent retreat. It was about a decade back. We went to Seven Fountains Spirituality Centre in Chiangmai. I wrote what it was like for me. You may get an idea of what it was like by reading this. Click HERE.


If you have questions to ask about silent retreats feel free to put it in the comment box. God bless you.

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Awakened and blessed

I was not aware that I was tired and stressed these past eight months. Working from home, cancellation of ministry, and the imminent retirement gave me the idea that this was a less hectic period in years. But it was not. I realised that the constant changes in government advisories and directives due to Covid 19 were stressful because we had to respond to them and make decisions and changes in the midst of uncertainty. This meant more meetings on zoom, more discussion and flip flopping in response to rapid changes. It also meant we had to record our own messages from home using our handphones. We had to learn digital stuff quickly. I had thought that as it neared my retirement, my workload should have halted, but it did not. It increased. More teaching, more handholding and handover duties, even those of the deaf congregation.

Therefore, the first two days of the retreat I slept long hours and took naps after meals. I listened to my body as best I could and found myself in bed more than normal. I realised that I was tired and never noticed it while you are still at work and fulfilling your responsibilities conscientiously. A retreat forces you to listen to the cries of your body and your emotions. So I am thankful for greater awareness of the stress of this year. Grateful that the slowing down and time for reflection awakened awareness and wisdom.

The spiritual director plays a key role and has to be sensitive to the Spirit and have knowledge of the spiritual dynamics at play in a retreat ants soul during the retreat. I was glad Lance Ng, was able to discern what the Spirit was doing in my soul and facilitate what the Spirit was wanting to accomplish. I became aware of blocks that kept me from drawing near to God, and the graces for which I should be grateful during 40 years of pastoral ministry. I learned to wait on God and let Him stir emotions, inspire ideas, and surface desires. I stop brainstorming and listing things. I let the Lord surface them to consciousness. Then I sit and ponder and converse with the Lord about these ideas. Each day I shared what surfaced and the director would point me to the next thing ahead, suggesting scriptures or paths of reflection.

As a whole the director noticed the movements in my soul are towards a deeper friendship with Jesus (apart from my roles) – a friendship without benefits. without a utilitarian purpose, without strings attached. This was all part of a movement towards spiritual freedom from the expectations springing from my role as a pastor over the past 40 years. What people expect of me as a pastor have shaped me considerably and the Lord wants to allow me to be simply a child of God, and not to have my identity, security and significance tied inextricably with being a pastor.

In the end, this was a very fruitful retreat. But it did not begin this way. I was happy with the lovely room, but was grieving over the loss of the food and spaciousness of Seven Fountains in Chiangmai, or Chau Son in Dallas. Still in denial and depression. Have to accept that travel in the coming year is going to be blocked or too expensive. If I need a retreat, I have to accept the more expensive accommodation, restricted space, and less interesting meals. I must not allow these external let-downs block me from seeking what is interior, what is unseen, and the One who waits for in love and total attention for me.

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Reflection at Art Roastery Cafe

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.

The coconut cake is to die for

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.


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