The Bible is full of passages of God’s love and tenderness. The way they are written conjures up beautiful images. With Psalm 23 ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’, it is easy to see the green pastures and quiet waters, but sometimes you have the experience where you feel the Shepherd’s embrace.
In late August I attended a five-night, four-day retreat at Melbourne’s Campion Centre. I’m not sure what prompted the urge for a retreat but a JISA email detailing its retreat program for the year had me considering a time that would fit in with work schedules. Work encourages professional and spiritual development, and on a personal level the family dynamic had changed post-pandemic. There was much to consider, and four days of contemplation to do it in seemed ideal. I booked a suitable time and was looking forward to it, ignoring family and friends’ mirth that I was going on a ‘silent retreat’.
However, as the time neared, I became more ambivalent. The thought the time might be me playing all the worst selections of my life on loop in my head, was beginning to worry me.
It was with some trepidation then that I arrived at Campion, but from almost those first moments my worries seemed to become smaller, more manageable. There were six of us on retreat with two spiritual directors. The first meal was together and with conversation, followed by a short service and then an explanation of the program for the next four days, before we became silent. We were to have Mass each day, a service in the evening, an hour’s conversation with a spiritual director, and the rest of the time was to be spent in quiet thought, prayer, reading, walking, sleep, and contemplation. Meals were provided and the food was plentiful, nutritious, and delicious.
For me it was a wonderful experience. On a secular level, it was a chance to ‘stop the world and get off’, but the spiritual component meant so much more. Being silent did not mean there was no meaningful conversations, being alone did not mean being lonely, and being by oneself did not mean being deprived of contact – I did feel the Shepherd’s embrace.
I returned to the world rested and a little more enthusiastic and joyful.
Michele Frankeni is editor of Jesuit Communications’ Australian Catholics magazine and associate editor of Madonna magazine. She believes all good movies will have been good books first, and most of her conversations will be peppered with the phrase ‘I read somewhere recently’.