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22nd May 2007
John Marshall retreats!
A private retreat at CSMV
You don’t have to have known me too long to realise that I don’t normally do silence! So a silent retreat was a real challenge!
I arrived before lunch, as a guest of the Sisters of the Community of St Mary the Virgin. The Convent was founded in 1848.
After a quick tour of the Guest Area by Guest Sister Elizabeth Jane – I went to the chapel for the Divine office of Sext. Lunch followed in the guest dining room – eating in total silence. There were only a few other guests in residence. The simple lunch was excellent – cuppa soup with chunks of bread and several sorts of cheese – followed by fresh fruit. During the afternoon I spent some time in the art room, the weather being quite miserable outside. I followed the instructions on how to make a terracotta pinch pot. I enjoyed moulding the wet clay and was quite pleased with the resultant candleholder! There was no-one else present – so I was easily able to maintain my silence.
At 5pm - it was back to the chapel for Vespers. After supper, an Oblate, offered to guide me to the St Mary Magdalene Chapel. Inside the chapel were the most amazing carved mahogany tablets, depicting The Stations of the Cross (photo reproduced with kind permission of the CSMV). Apparently it took Mother Mirabel 27 years to complete 14 of them. She finished the last one just two year’s before she died in 1970 aged 83yrs. Such was the standard of her work that she asked that the l5th one should never be photographed – as she was not satisfied with the result. The detail of all of the tablets is remarkable! I went to Compline and then took an early night.
I rose at 6.15am on the Saturday morning and attended Lauds at 7am. The sung plain chant was really beautiful. I just allowed it to wash both over and through me. After a simple breakfast of cereals, bread and marmalade – it was time for Terse at 9.15am, followed by a 9.30am sung Eucharist. Guests joined in with the singing of hymns and were allowed beyond the Rood screen and past the seated Sisters – to take Communion. After the service on Feast Days and Sundays - the Sisters join resident guests in the reception area – for coffee and a chat! Yes – we could talk for half an hour!
Ordinarily, there were long silences – with just the occasional faint sound of traffic to break through the peace; reminding you of the hustle and bustle of the nearby town centre.
During the afternoon I spent time in the silent meditation room – opposite my bedroom. I focused on a picture and a lit candle. I found the ‘Stillness Exercise’ (see link) helped me to relax, focus and listen to God!
After meditation it was still raining hard, so I was drawn back to the art room. I made 2 small grey clay pots, one for my wife Heather and one for her friend Liz. For some reason I shaped them into the form of a well – with stone markings on the exterior and a cross on the well floor. I managed a short walk in the garden when the rain stopped – before 5 o’ clock Vespers. As there were now only 3 guests in residence – we were invited to dine with the Sisters in the Refectory. The only noise was when the cutlery and plates were stacked!
After a Vigil in the Mary Magdalene Chapel at 7.45pm there was an 8.30pm Compline. At the end of this service the Revd Mother sprinkled the Sisters with Holy water and I reckon there was a hidden smile, as she sprinkled water over the 2 other guests before turning to me! I recall being surprised at how wet I was afterwards!
I attended the 9.30am Sunday morning Eucharist. One of the Sisters read from scripture – about the woman at the well (so that’s why I’d made the 2 extra pots).
I knew I would find it hard to maintain the silent discipline of the Sisters but had managed it - well almost for a weekend!
As a Reader - it is good to withdraw from the routine of our busy world. Jesus withdrew at the start of His ministry. He withdrew from the crowd and His disciples at other times, especially when he needed to pray and listen to God. My retreat had been spiritually most uplifting and I would certainly recommend it!