To retreat is to withdraw to a quiet or secluded place. I found both at Bethlehem Retreat Centre near Nanaimo. All the buildings and rooms at the Centre are named after Biblical place names. My room was named Ein Karem - which means the spring of the Vineyard. According to Christian tradition, Mary stopped by this spring to take a refreshing drink on her way to see her cousin, Elizabeth. Like Mary, I had come to my own Ein Karem to take a refreshing spiritual drink. It did not disappoint.
Because of the pandemic most of the group retreats had been cancelled and so I was the sole retreatant during my three night stay. I relished the solitude! I did not have access to a spiritual director or program, so I needed to provide myself with an anchor that would ground me spiritually. I decided that Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation, a 4-week daily prayer guide, with Scripture, hymns, poetry, and prayers—both ancient and contemporary—would provide me with a rhythm of prayer and meditation that I was looking for. I have never adopted the practice of praying the Liturgy of the Hours, but the Earth Gospel with its abbreviated format and focus on Creation spoke to my soul and helped me mark the hours and sanctified my days with prayer, much like praying the traditional breviary does. Since coming home, it has continued to be my companion at the beginning and end of each day. (Here is more on the daily office or liturgy of the hours from a Lutheran perspective).
After praying with the Earth Gospel, the other practice I engaged in before turning in for the night was to look back over the day and ask myself, “What am I grateful for? Where did I experience God’s presence today?” This practice helped me appreciate the abundance of blessings that came to me especially in “aha” moments and unexpected encounters—like the herd of six deer who caught me by surprise one late afternoon. They had come to feast on the tender grass of the front lawn as was their usual custom. I was walking—head to the ground—back to the building for dinner. I looked up from the path and there they were—not more than 10 feet away from me! Deer are normally skittish, but I was the one who startled—the visitor from away—while they, the permanent residents, felt right at home on their feeding grounds and not so much as gave me a passing glance.
The retreat center is situated on Westwood Lake with a lovely 5.6 km walking trail around it which I enjoyed in its entirety on my third day. It took me through wooded paths and up some bluffs as well as boardwalks along the waters edge. I experienced once again how a walk or hike in nature can be a wonderful way to clear the spiritual streams of communication and open one’s soul to the divine.
I am grateful for the Continuing Education Program which made this retreat possible as well as to Gloria Dei for supporting it through your contributions. I came back with a renewed connection to God and to Creation as well as feeling refreshed and restored in my passion for the work God has called me to do.