Your prayers are really needed.

The third Preview (ie, free but you are a glamping guinea pig) has just ended. What a fun week we had! Eleven of us in the house, just as the weather decided not to be quite so nice.  Rain in the mornings - so there were work parties on the stairs and landing and in the hall, sanding and filling and painting and decorating. The angelic sounds of singing voices  came wafting down the stairs where they intermingled with the iPad playing worship music. There was a plastic shower cap on one head to avoid paint splashes; rubber gloves on various hands; much fun and laughter. One bedroom door (Stamford) even has its first coat of gloss - which is a first for the whole house! There are miles and miles of skirting boards yet to be glossed ... And in the afternoons we set off to walk.  5 miles across the fields to Surrendell and back; 6 miles round trip to gloriously pretty Castle Combe; and a mere 2.5 miles to circumnavigate historic Malmesbury before investigating the ancient Abbey. And on the feedback forms inevitably a mix:  we walked too far - or not far enough; we walked too quickly - or not fast enough. But Gracie the dog loved it all and enjoyed whichever walk we did.

There was Compline by candlelight in the Library; Lectio Divina one evening, Ignatian Contemplative prayer another. And we finished by sharing in Communion together on Friday morning. The days had flown past and the Lord had graciously met with people in various ways and at various times. Farewells were made with hugs and hugging as email and contact details were exchanged. The Lord brought people together in extraordinarily deep ways in such a short time.

"A strong sense of God's blessing on this place already."

"Three full days was too short!"

"Appreciated being involved and playing a small part at the outset."

"Would definitely like to come back either on my own or to bring a group."

"God really spoke to me in that meditation - I've never experienced Scripture like that before!"

"God was certainly blessing me over these few days and I hope to continue feeling blessed as I take Mays Farm back with me to my life at home."

"Thanks for the quiet times spent together getting into God's Word - very helpful."

"Loved Gracie!"

 

And so the work continues. And the retreats keep going - we are just starting the Preview cycle again, of individual retreats, then a Guided Silent Retreat and then another Walking Retreat. And next weekend, the first time that a small group will be here - 7 or 8 of them coming together, building their friendship and fellowship through being here, working on a project . The Courtyard is currently being re-laid and we are down to 2 or 3 builders and decorators a day - very quiet after the 8 -10 men we had each day at one stage!

We are now taking bookings for the autumn, and the house will be almost finished. It won't be completely finished   - there isn't the finances to do it all right now, as we have not been able to  sell  our cottage so the money is running out . There's no refurbishing and finishing of the office or the chapel, and we are sad about the chapel as it will be such a vital part of the ministry. The lovely Drawing Room, also for the use of guests, will not be usable yet either. There's no summer house to sit in - just the foundations; but that can wait for another year; and the decorating will not be finished .. we shall sit and paint gloss work for days to come, but that's all right.

It's the Chapel in particular we are concerned about.

Might you pray that the money will be provided for this? That somehow, from somewhere, the Lord would enable the Chapel to be finished and fitted out, so that we can have it for services and celebrations, for devotional times and for spiritual direction times. For groups to use and for individuals to sit and pray. And if you are able to contribute financially that would be amazing too, either for the finishing of the Chapel, or to establish a bursary fund to enable those to come who might not otherwise be able to - such as younger clergy.

But most of all we would love for you to pray for this new ministry and for those coming who need this place of spiritual sanctuary, a place of refreshment and renewal, a of retreat and restoration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How you can help:

Please pray

Please come -  and enjoy a retreat at Mays Farm

Please tell others

Please bring others

and maybe begin by sharing this blog post?

THANK YOU -  You are MUCH appreciated!

 

 

An invite to join us as our guests

Winter is coldly here  ... spring is on the horizon ... and  already unbidden thoughts about going somewhere different or special in the summer flit across our minds. Somewhere to allow ourselves the space to BE; to soak in some peace and quiet; maybe some time focusing on the Lord and on our relationship with Him. We know the very place, and this summer we would like to invite you to join us, as our guests.

In late September, Ministries by Design will be opening The Vine@Mays Farm, offering a place for retreat, a spiritual sanctuary from noise and bustle, with visitors taking part in various types of retreats, or coming for a private visit, whether for a day or for a longer period.

At the end of the building project, and before we officially open, we are offering a few preview retreats at no charge (although we will welcome any offers of help with paintbrushes, brooms etc! and any donations are always acceptable, as MbD is a registered charity).

Why are we doing this? Several reasons!

-  We have been blessed already by many many people as we launch out into our new venture. (If you missed the announcement about our moving to Mays Farm, you can read the article hereAnd we want to bless othersWe want to bless you. Come and experience the peace and the quiet, the  opportunity to draw aside from a busy life and enjoy a few special days.

But also, honestly, we need some 'guinea-pigs!'  A few people who will come on retreat and then tell us how it was and what is good and what might be improved.

Some people like to have something to do manually for an hour or two during a retreat; and there will be gardening or decorating, or tidying once the builders have gone; or curtains to hem or raspberries to pick .... and if you wanted to help in that way for a couple of hours each day, it would be much appreciated. It's not compulsory - although it would be an enormous help!

 

The house will have 5 bedrooms, each with sitting areas, and with private ensuite facilities. You can relax in your room, in the Library or the Drawing room, in the chapel, the walled orchard and grounds, the local countryside ...

All retreats are full board - breakfast, lunch, dinner are all included, tea and coffee making facilities in each room.

There are 2 different retreats and each will happen at least once in July/August/September

1. A WALKING RETREAT - get fit spiritually AND physically!

Arrive on a Monday afternoon, settle in with a cup of tea. First session, then supper. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, after a buffet breakfast,  Penelope will lead you on one of several local walks, each of about 6 miles, with opportunities for spiritual reflections and meditations as we walk. Return for lunch and spend the afternoons as you wish to make the most of this time - praying, sitting in the chapel, journalling, sleeping; and hopefully helping out manually for a couple of hours.  There will be a short session  each day before Supper, which  will be followed by compline and early nights. Final session on Friday morning, and leave  after a light lunch.   Maximum of 10 people, in en-suite twin bedded rooms.

2. A GUIDED SILENT RETREAT - to concentrate on your relationship with God

Arrive on a Monday afternoon, settle in, enjoy tea. First session, then supper, compline and early bed, after which we will move into silence. Breakfast will be served in your room to allow time to rest, reflect, be renewed. Each day there will be individual time with a Spiritual Director, and there will be guidance if required as to how to get the most from this time. There will be opportunity to help manually around the Centre for a couple of hours each day. Meals will be taken in communal silence or you may take your meal to your room if you wish. Leave after a final time with your Director on Friday morning followed by a light lunch if required. Maximum of 5 people, in private en-suite rooms.

Of course, we risk a lot doing this - you might sign up, then as you haven't paid anything, pull out at the last minute! Or you might come and not like it at all and write us a bad review. Or you might not help out manually as needed. But we believe that the Lord is calling us to this, blessing us with so much in this new home and with opportunities for ministry, and in turn we want to bless you. We hope you will know the Lord's richest blessings when you come, and that you will then want to come again, and recommend it to others to come, too. We hope and pray that The Vine@Mays Farm will be one of those 'special places' for many of us, a place where one slips easily into a different rhythm with God, a place to hear His Voice and seek His guidance.

Oh, did I tell you that Mays Farm is just 1hr 40 mins drive from London (M4 jct 17) , easily accessible by mainline trains (Chippenham), near to Bristol, Cheltenham, Oxford, Birmingham, and on the edge of beautiful Cotswold countryside?  Come and enjoy!

If you would be interested in being invited to one of these special retreats for free, as a guinea pig, then email me! (see below) and DO PASS THIS ON TO YOUR FRIENDS TOO! (men and women all welcomed, but we will take care with room allocation!!!!!)  

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO COMMIT NOW - just express your real interest and ask for an application form. If you are accepted you will be sent the details and the dates soon, and then you can sign up to come.

If you would like an application form for an invite to the free retreats, please email me now:

penelope@ministriesbydesign.org

stating why you think it would be good for you to come and which of the two retreats you would prefer.

WHY I AM GLAD FOR RAIN TODAY

"God sent a rain today

to show how miracles are made.

The trees and grasses looked and listened,

the hills did likewise.

Only man put up his umbrella -and grumbled and grumbled." - anon.

 

But I was determined to walk again this morning, in spite of the heavy rain. I donned wellies and raincoat, set off for Ally Pally, put up my umbrella.

It was wholly and completely different to yesterday. Then, the sun shone warm on my face, the sky blue to my gaze. The crowds were out, taking gentle exercise on a pleasant autumnal Sunday morning.

I dodged through groups of runners and cyclists, passed the greyhound owners club as they lined up their dogs, stepped out of the way of Bugaboo mummies as they hurtled their offspring along the footpaths. All around me was noise - dogs and babies, shouts and song, a veritable Babel of  mid-European languages (and occasionally some English.)

In spite of the crowding, I tried to listen for the Lord's voice, to find Him in the walking and rhythming of my pace. I laughed at the sun and gloried in the warmth and rejoiced in the time away from family and friends for a while. Round and up and down and round, until 12,000 steps registered.  Then I left the trees and the grasses to the people, whose Palace apparently it is.

Today, there was no-one. Just me and my umbrella, the rain and the falling leaves. And God. In the silence of the falling rain there was just Him and me. No other distractions. No dogs or people, no babies or Babel. I splashed in a puddle, gloried in the autumn colours still radiant in the rain.

And wondered afresh at the contrast. In the rain, the gloom, the damp, it was easier to listen to the Lord. No other joyful distractions.

I thought again of the gratitude in the brokenness, of the eucharistic moment of giving thanks when the bread is broken, of the miracle that comes from much brokenness.  It was hard to hear Him in the happiness of the Indian summer; in the rain and aloneness, He seemed much nearer.

Had you offered me a choice, I would have chosen sunshine over shadow, richness over rain. But I would have missed God's voice.

I am glad I walked again today. It was a Retreat: under my umbrella was God - with me.

When God drills deep, He always strikes a fresh new spring.

 

Over to you - when do you find it easiest to listen to the Lord, to hear that still small voice?

 

Can I live by faith? The first hurdle arrives.

The initial excitement of finding a house that can be our family home as well as provide a place of peace and sanctuary for others has lasted for a while! Feeling called by God to pursue that dream is exhilarating. If you missed the 'formal announcement', you can find it here.

And for a while we have known blessing upon blessing. Not just that the sellers chose us in spite of ours being the lowest offer; or our London flat going under offer within a few days for more than we had imagined it might be worth; or the sense of the house being the 'right' place every time we walk in.  But more than all those, the 'sixth sense' type of feeling or knowing, that deep imponderable, that the Lord is in this and is making it happen.

So we smiled and accepted the most amazing offers of help - this person doing all the legal work to set up the charitable Trust for us, that kitchen design person offering their services for free, this one who knows how to get grants for insulation doing the ground work, that one offering to put together a little group of initial donors to the Trust. And the kind comments, tweets, emails, letters, cards -  from friends and acquaintances, family and congregation - the sense everyone has that this is 'right,' this is what we are meant to be doing. And people we haven't even met offering to come and be praying labourers when we need them; a member of a youth group we ran 30 years ago writing out of the blue offering to come and help. The couple we asked to be Chairperson and first trustee of the board saying yes  .... blessing upon blessing. And we can't quite believe it's all happening and that there are less than 90 days until we leave the church here.

But.

And there was bound to be a first but.

The mortgage company we used for the London apartment have refused to 'port' the mortgage. We hadn't counted on that. We took out that mortgage years ago when we were first in the States, both of us on the generous salaries that clergy there often enjoy. Now we are stepping out into the unknown, really living by faith as we take on this new project;  there is no provable  income in the future. The mortgage company don't like that!

So here is the first stumbling block.

Can I trust the Lord in this? Do I believe He can sort it out? And if I say, yes I do - do I mean it or is it just that I can hide behind my husband knowing that he is making phone calls and filling in forms and doing his best to find a new mortgage provider?

Because if I can't trust now, if I can't keep praying AND trusting, in this first hurdle, what of the next? And the next?

So here is my prayer request:

Will you pray with us that the Lord will indeed provide what is needed?

That we will learn to trust in God's provision and God's timing?

 

Listen to these children singing one of my favourite songs from Isaiah, a song we sang a lot on the first Cotswold Pilgrimage; click on the link for the music to play while you continue reading:

Surely, it is God who saves me; 
I will trust in him and not be afraid.

For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior.

Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing 
from the springs of salvation.

And on that day you shall say, 
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;

Make his deeds known among the peoples; see that they remember that his Name is exalted.

Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, and this is known in all the world.

Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

(Canticle 9 The Song of Isaiah)  

Attempt something so great for God that it be doomed to failure unless God be in it.

 

 

Halfway to heaven

Tanya Marlow is passionate about teaching the Bible, answering tricky questions of faith and training others to do this.  In the past she has done this in student and church ministry and as Associate Director of the Peninsula Gospel Partnership (PGP) Bible training course in the UK. Right now she does it by reading Bible stories to her gorgeous toddler, as she learns what it means to be a stay-at-home mum who is also currently housebound with an autoimmune illness. Her blog, Thorns and Gold, can be found at http://tanyamarlow.com where she writes about many things, but mainly the Bible, suffering, and the messy edges of life. We sat back in the airplane seats and exhaled, half- triumphantly, half-exhaustedly. We had done it - somehow we had managed to get a suitcase, a rucksack, a disabled and chronically ill wife (me), a restless toddler and an exhausted husband onto the flight. Below us, we could see them throwing the bags onto the plane with a certain degree of carelessness. We felt the relief of no longer having anything to carry.

My mind ran over the chaos of the past few days: the packing, the writing of lists, the resting in preparation, the phone calls, the last-minute shopping for essentials, the researching of the symptoms of sunstroke in under-fives, the rush of the deadline to finish remaining work.

There are times when life is a whirlwind and we are whirling within it. Our days had been full of flurry and preparation and whirlwind and now we sat, waiting.

**********

The plane took off, and I just watched the landscape change from the window. With a sleeping toddler on my lap, there wasn't much else to do. People, cars, trains, were reduced to busying insects. There is always more countryside, more space, it seems, when viewed from the air - acres of land that I am not aware of when on the ground.

As we went higher I seemed to slow down. People and the small scurrying movements were no longer visible, just the twinkling lights of cities. It's strange to just have the sound of the plane and the murmur of passengers' conversations whilst watching a whole country spread out beneath you -  like watching a movie on mute.

There are so many people in the world, living their lives while God watches.

*********

We were above it all, and now into clouds, white and soothing.

This is the in-between.

When we landed, there would once again be a flurry and frenzy. For now, everything was still. We were journeying, but in a place of quiet and stillness.

***********

This is the value of a retreat.  It is not the destination, and we do not spend our lives there. It is the in-between. It is a journey in quiet and stillness. It is the chance to leave some of the baggage we have been carrying, to view our lives from above, at a distance, to see the whole world and reflect on the creator who holds it.

We can close our eyes, we can exhale. We can watch the clouds and think on the glory of our Redeemer. We can listen for the whisper of God and pray that we might see our lives through His eyes.

Over to you: How have retreats helped you see life from a different perspective? Reflecting on the size of the world helps me to remember God as creator and sustainer. What things help you to reflect on the nature of God?

How to learn one thing about blogging

I am writing a daily blog (Monday to Friday)  on preparing spiritually and physically

to lead a Pilgrimage of 100 miles in September.

for details of the Pilgrimage, click on the dropdown Cotswold Pilgrimage bar at the top of this page 

 

 

How are your blogging skills?

Have you thought about writing a blog?

Last September, as part of my Happiness Project (http://happiness-project.com/books/the-happiness-project/about-the-book/) I decided to learn to blog and tweet.

According to Livehappier, “When we stop learning we stop living. Most people are happier when they learn new things” (http://www.livehappier.com/life-arenas/learning) and I needed more happiness. So I began to engage more with social media.

I did it my way. Learned a little from family and friends. Picked up hints and tips from people I met. Copied what others did.

And to a certain extent, it works.

Then yesterday I decided to take a day to read and research about blogging. It’s never ending – there is a lot of information available out there to help you on your way.

But what was most noticeable was the reaction to my blog posting yesterday morning.  I asked for comments and suggestions and help in my day’s project.  And people have been very kind and very helpful.

One friend, Anita, whom I met through social media and had lunch with last week,  has even written a whole blog post to help me.  http://dreamingbeneaththespires.blogspot.co.uk/

The best thing I have discovered about social media is the sense of community, the relationships, the help and the generosity.

Whether it’s meeting with people (and I’ve met a number of twitter friends face to face, both in the UK and the USA, over the past three months - what joy!)

or downloading freebies

or even a free webinar tonight (http://blogthatconverts.com/webinars/jeff-goins-derek-halpern/)

there is a spirit of reaching out and being generous that I have not really experienced anywhere else.

Not even in church.

* * * *

So I’m glad that I blogged my resources for retreats because I want to help people to be able to spend deeper time with the Lord.

ideas for a 24 hour retreat

http://www.ministriesbydesign.org/2012/06/12/refresh-renew-recreate-retreat/

thoughts on a 10 day silent retreat

http://www.ministriesbydesign.org/2012/06/13/bubbles-and-silence-a-10-day-retreat/

special places to go for a Retreat

http://www.ministriesbydesign.org/2012/06/20/760/

A one minute retreat anywhere anytime

http://www.ministriesbydesign.org/2012/06/21/a-one-minute-retreat/

 

And today I want to urge you to do one or more of those - 

To spend some time alone with God.

To BE in His Presence.

Even if it’s just a minute.

 

It’s my gift to you.

* * * *

And I want to learn this lesson.

To give.

Not expecting anything in return.

Just because it is more blessed to give than to receive.

* * * *

 

Thank you for what you are giving me.

I hope I can give a little in return.

 

 

A ONE MINUTE RETREAT

I am writing a daily blog (Monday to Friday)  on preparing spiritually and physically

to lead a Pilgrimage of 100 miles in September.

for details of the Pilgrimage, click on the dropdown Cotswold Pilgrimage bar at the top of this page 

 

 

THE ONE MINUTE RETREAT

 

I’ve been posting about retreats recently –

ideas for a 24 hour retreat http://www.ministriesbydesign.org/2012/06/12/refresh-renew-recreate-retreat/

thoughts on a 10 day silent retreat http://www.ministriesbydesign.org/2012/06/13/bubbles-and-silence-a-10-day-retreat/

special places to go http://www.ministriesbydesign.org/2012/06/20/760/

Now for something which is easy and do-able, whenever you need it. 

 

Right now?

 

THE ONE MINUTE RETREAT

Do anything meaningful in just one minute?

Yes.  You can – YOU can.

Take just a minute, anywhere, anytime, and RETREAT into God and His promises.

Here’s a suggestion:

Stop. Do something different. If you are sitting at your desk, turn away from the computer, put down the pen, move your hands …. You might like to place them palms up, resting gently on your knees, then close your eyes and take a deep breath.

And another deep breath.

This is a retreat. In your mind’s eye, go somewhere beautiful, peaceful, life giving, that means something to you – a favourite beach, a mountain top, a woodland track ….

As you do so, give thanks to the Lord – for He is good and His love endures forever. (Ps 118:1-3)

Allow yourself to BE in His love. Accept it. It’s always there for you, surrounding you and holding you and accepting you. Relax into it. Drop the shoulders, ease the neck, straighten the back …. relax!

Another deep breath.  And as you breath out, cast all your cares on the Lord – for He cares for you. (1Peter 5:7)

Imagine throwing something – a stone into the water, a rock over the edge of the cliff, a heavy branch hurled away from you. Mentally turn your back on it and thank Him that He can deal with all of that as long as you leave it all with Him. So leave it with Him.

A deep breath. You are continuing in His love, your cares are left with Him, you can relax.

Now think about what you are returning to. It lies ahead of you. But you know that you are in His love, your cares have been left with Him. And now He tells you, Don’t worry about the future. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life …. Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
(Matt: 6:25-27)

Commit what lies ahead to Him, for “I know who holds the future, and He holds it in His hands…. I do not know the course ahead,
What joys and griefs are there.
But one stands near who fully knows,
I'll trust His loving care.”

Another deep breath. And as you breath in, take in the power of the Holy Spirit. I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you ….  For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:6-8)

As you gently come back to whatever you were previously doing, thank God for what you have just experienced of Him.

Take it with you as you continue today.

And know that a one minute retreat can be made anywhere at any time. It’s free, quick, easy – and soul restoring.

Thank God that there are so many minutes available each day!

 

What do you do to keep in His Presence regularly? What might you do in a moment of retreat?

 

 

BUBBLES AND SILENCE: a 10 day retreat

I am writing a daily blog (Monday to Friday)  on preparing spiritually and physically

to lead a Pilgrimage of 100 miles in September.

for details of the Pilgrimage, click on the dropdown Cotwold Pilgrimage bar at the top of this page 

Yesterday's blog was full of suggestions for a Day Away with the Lord.

Today's is a longer posting - an account of a 10 day silent retreat.

SILENCE IS GOLDEN

Getting away from it all

 

“Ten days of total silence?” gasped my family in disbelief. “You’ll never do it. Won’t you be bored - or lonely?  What will you do all day?”

I had to do (‘make’ is perhaps the more correct term) a Silent Retreat as part of a Course, so it was not something I had specifically chosen, and I went in some fear and trepidation.  The website promised:

“Each day of an individually guided retreat (IGR) you will be meeting with your own retreat guide, who is a member of the team at 'The Centre', to share what concerns you most deeply at that point of your journey with God. The retreat provides a time for:

-       Finding a space for personal reflection, prayer and meditation

-       Exploring with your guide different ways of praying

-       Making the connection between your prayer life and daily living.

Although the retreat is lived as a group experience it will be made in silence as an aid to prayer and personal reflection. Gardening and manual work is available for those who wish.”


Gardening feels like outdoor housework, so I packed some good books (Christian spirituality and Christian biographies), a kettle to make coffee/tea in my room if I needed to, and my own duvet and pillow for comfort –just in case!  I also took my walking boots, my laptop, a beautiful new journal – and provisions as I had elected to selfcater, just wanting to have a simple, light diet.

Arriving at the Retreat centre was a little scary – but I was greeted by a warm smile and the aroma of baking: homemade cakes for tea each afternoon! My room was far better than I had feared; there was a remarkably comfortable single bed, a wardrobe, handbasin, desk and chair - and a lovely large comfy armchair.  As usual in a strange place I hastily rearranged all the furniture to suit myself – with the comfy chair positioned so that I could sit and read and pray looking out of the window towards the beautiful gardens. The laptop was plugged in and to my joy and dismay I discovered there was internet access.  What a temptation!  Did I give in?  Read on ……

A group of 16 retreatants gathered somewhat warily later that evening, for an introductory session with the 4 Spiritual Directors. Then we were into silence!  I went to bed with a sense of excitement and anticipation as to what God might have in mind for me. And so began a routine which soon seemed to be my new way of life.  It was remarkable at how soon my time was happily spent reading, praying, meditating.  I made myself a routine: it included the Divine Hours – saying the daily office with its prayers and Bible readings on waking, at midday and late afternoon, with compline at bed time. (I used Phyllis Trickle’s book which has it laid out for each day in a very easy to follow way).   That gave a structure to my days. The mornings were for Bible readings – lectio divina, or Ignatian, or even reading an entire book of the Bible in one sitting, not something one often has time to do. The walled garden of the convent was a haven of late roses in the September sunshine; or the bench looking over the valley and on to the North Downs was a therapeutic resting place. I was blessed with a week of sunshine and enjoyed meeting with God whilst sitting enjoying the beauty of his creation.

After lunch each day, I donned my walking boots and strode off to explore the Kent countryside, using the walking maps provided in the Retreat Centre.  Speaking to God is easier for me when I am walking alone and able to look at nature in all its glory. I walked several  miles after lunch each day, before meeting with my Director for 30 – 40 minutes. He listened to my descriptions of what was going on between me and God,  made suggestions of verses in the Bible which might be helpful, and then on one occasion he encouraged me to use the craft room.   I hesitated; I can’t draw and have never found it a useful exercise.  But one afternoon I went in – and found sugar paper and poster paints, reminiscent of primary school.  Instead of painting, I tried a little calligraphy, using a verse which had been especially meaningful the previous day. I tried writing it out in different versions of the Bible – the internet was very useful for looking them up!  - and found it remarkably insightful.  As I was leaving, I suddenly noticed a box full of tubs of bubbles.  BUBBLES!  Suddenly the inner child was released and I ran out into the garden and blew bubbles  - rejoicing with God, just enjoying the freedom and the fun and the enjoyment.  Later, I found the piano and appreciated having the time to play.

Evenings were spent enjoying long deep bubble baths, relaxing, going to bed luxuriously early to read and to journal about the day, and then to sleep deeply in the silence and dark of the country.

There was one wet afternoon, and I withdrew to the prayer room in the Tower, a peaceful little eyrie with helpful books and pictures and objects. It served well enough for a while, but personally the beautiful grounds and countryside were preferable.  I also attended the daily service just prior to supper, and was glad to be able to worship God with others – even though we couldn’t speak afterwards!

The silence was only uncomfortable for me at meal times.  It was a strange feeling to be at a table with 3 others, eating yet unable to converse in any way.  Music was played whilst we ate, and the members of the Community withdrew to their own dining room – presumably to be able to talk!  And washing up and laying tables with others but in silence was strange at first; but then it became companionable and we got used to one another and to the silence – and learnt to communicate in other ways.

God spoke to me in ways I would never have imagined – there was time and space and silence in which to listen, unlike in normal life.  It was salutary to be reminded of how seldom I stop to listen to God, allowing him time and space instead of rushing around in my busy-ness. No, I didn’t hear a specific voice, but I sensed his Presence, had things confirmed in my subconscious, and had several ‘day dreams’ where He drew near.  Everything is gift. By the end I was sad to be leaving, and ‘normal’ life seemed strangely unalluring!

I did remember to return my room to its former state before leaving!  And the laptop? Well, yes, I did Skype with members of the family once or twice.  Perhaps it was cheating; but for me it was real, an important part of my life, and it in no way detracted from the silence and solitude of my Retreat.  Will I go again? Yes.  But I have also learnt to take smaller, regular times out to Practice the Presence of the Lord. There’s nothing quite like it.

 

The Revd Penelope Swithinbank attended a Retreat at the Sisters of St Andrew, Eden Hall,  Edenbridge, Kent.    Sadly the Convent has had to close this year.

 

Have you enjoyed an extended time away? How did you get on? What did you do? How good a time was it?

RE:FRESH RE:NEW RE:CREATE RE:TREAT

I am writing a daily blog (Monday to Friday)  on preparing spiritually and physically

to lead a Pilgrimage of 100 miles in September.

for details of the Pilgrimage, click on the dropdown Cotwold Pilgrimage bar at the top of this page 

Physical preparation is good: Spiritual preparation is even better.

It's all to easy to concentrate on the former and forget the latter.  

It's time to put a date in my diary for a day spent with the Lord.

I was asked on Sunday how one fills a day of time with God when you don't really know where to start. She is off to Harnhill for a week; plenty of prayer but plenty of free time too.  What to do all day?

So, for her and for others, today is all about ONE DAY with the Lord.

Tomorrow will be about an EXTENDED TIME with the Lord - based on a 10 day silent retreat.

And today is to remind myself joyfully to anticipate my own upcoming day away - in the diary for the week after next!

A DAY FOR RE:FRESH, RE:NEW, RE:CREATE, RE:TREAT 

Sometimes (often, most of the time) we need rest – physical, emotional, yes, but mostly spiritual time away from normal everyday busy-ness.  I need to make time for meeting with God over a longer period, time for spiritual renewal and self-examination.

In Jesus’ time, long walks were part of everyday life – when one could presumably reflect and pray and think, although it was probably no easier than it is now.

Jesus certainly 'drew aside' from everything for quiet moments, often climbing the hillside to do so.

And so I need to build in times of quiet, times of enjoying God’s creation.  At least once a year (and three or four or five times is better) it helps if I go to a place of quiet and beauty and just BE.

If you've never done this before, it may be strange at first. Maybe start with just a few hours – a half day; or maybe only an hour for the very first time. Start small and keep adding. Don’t wait until you feel you can take on a whole day or you may never begin.

And if after a while you have had enough, don’t feel guilty.  Either push on through to see what happens; or leave it there and try again another time. Or try something entirely different.

Here are some suggestions which I have personally found work for me and for many others; feel free to add to it, experiment with it – find what works for you, what draws you closer to the Lord, refreshes and re-energises you.

 

PLANNING A DAY OR HALF DAY RETREAT

PLANNING: there’s the start. If I don't plan, it doesn't happen. I have to PLAN when to do this and write down the date and time, and the place, otherwise I'll procrastinate and never start. Then I begin to look forward eagerly to this special time, asking already for the Lord to meet with me and refresh and renew me.

SUGGESTIONS OF THINGS TO TAKE: Bible, journal, pen; family photos or special momentoes; praise worship (CD, iPod,etc); candles (& matches);  post card of a painting. Light, easily prepared food. Comfortable clothes and shoes for walking. Nice soap and bubbles for the bath.

-      I like to get away, head for the countryside, a retreat centre, a friend’s country cottage. If you can’t, make a special area at home with some of your favourite things, maybe a rocking chair, a large cushion, scented candles. Get it ready in advance and every time you pass, be excited in anticipation. Check if you need to remove a ticking clock or anything else distracting.

-      When going away, it's good to get there the night before.  I love to have a long relaxing bubble bath and allow the cares and stresses to begin to slip away and thenretire early to bed with a relaxing drink (Horlicks?!?!?!?! Camomile tea …) and I do love a hot water bottle at night!  Snuggling in, I read the Scriptures planned for tomorrow - but just read them, nothing else, and then put the light out early. Bliss!

MORNING: PART ONE

BEING WITH GOD

Awake whenever – no alarm clock! And I don’t DO anything, for at least half an hour. Breakfast: taking a mug of steaming coffee and sitting on a sunny rock, or under a tree, or by a log fire and just sitting and BE-ing with God.

Then it's time for an extended praise and thanksgiving toGod, focusing on all the things and times and people I'm grateful for. If Ineed a reminder or a prompt, I can look at the photos and momentoes I brought with me and praise and thank God for what they each mean to me.

And then a fun form of gratitude:  listing 10 things in my journal for which I'm grateful and thanking God for each of them, with the focus onblessings, not problems. Then another 10 and thank Him; and another …. And so on.  Sometimes I will set myself a minimum, say 30 or 50 or …. and see where I end up.   No pleases, just thanks!

A Psalm. Not a difficult one, but one of my favourites, such as a praise one; and I read it out loud.  Slowly.  Twice.  Then I put the Bible down and reflect on it, maybe recall words or phrases that stood out or leaped at me, or meant something.  Then write them down.  Read aloud again – slowly. Maybe learn by heart one of the special verses. Write it down. Ask the Lord if He is saying something to me through it.

After all of that, I turn to either my normal daily Bible reading, or to a special Bible passage; or perhaps to a whole smallbook (eg Philemon or Jude, or one of the Epistles).

I can spend at least an hour or even two on this:

read it aloud, slowly;  not something there is normally time or inclination to do. But it's revelatory.

relish the phrases;

repeat it until the meanings truly sink in.

 

Listening – letting God speak to me through it. Mark/write/record what happens.

What does it mean?

Is there a promise, a command?

Something I don’t understand which I need to look up another time or ask someone about later?

How will affect my life today, tomorrow …?

Reflect and pray it through.

MORNING: PART TWO

 

GETTING OUT

One of my favourite things is then to go for a long leisurely walk and enjoy an extended time of praise.  And when I am far away from civilisation and anyone who could possibly hear I sing praise songs aloud in the glories of creation (the psalmist recommends making a joyful NOISE to the Lord so then I don’t worry that I am not an opera singer!) Then I can envision God looking at me with love and walking beside me with His arm on my shoulder - like a friend accompanying me on the journey, in love. I either sing unaccompanied or I have some things on the iPod to sing along to.

Prayer: Then and only then, either whilst out or on my return, I pray   and probably write down my prayers -

- for my family, my friends,   my loved ones. Their situation and things they are coping with.

- And for my self,  spiritually, emotionally, physically, socially,   intellectually:

God, when you look at me, what do you see?

Lord, how am I doing?

What do you want to change in me?

I pray about my dreams, my challenges, my diary.

LUNCH TIME

I can enjoy a leisurely lunch at some point (or I may want to fast for the day) and listen to some worship music – of whatever type I prefer or happen to choose for this moment.

AFTERNOON: PART ONE

After lunch, I take a nap; rest and put my feet up. I do nothing for a while, with a cup of tea.  And if I fall asleep, that’s fine too. He gives His Beloved rest!

With the second cup of tea, I mightlook at a religious painting or a picture that speaks to me of God and meditate on it and put myself into it and allow the Lord to work in me through it.

What is it about this picture which touches something in me?

What is God saying to me in this picture?

What do I see of God?

Where is HE? Where am I?

What will I take with me from this time?

AFTERNOON: PART TWO

I enjoy reading through the late afternoon -  a helpful but probably fairly light book – maybe a Christian biography – a book which will bless, inspire, enthuse me.

Finally, almost regretfully, it's time to return home listening to my favourite Christian praise music on the car CD player.

Sometimes it's hard to return to the noise and bustle of home, family, pets, etc. But I know that often happens, and so I pray about it on my return journey, asking for grace  - and lots and lots of patience, and for the fruit of the Spirit as my loved ones crowd around and normal life resumes. And I hope I remembered to make sure supper was prepared either before I left or by someone else!

If you are returning to an empty dark flat, ask for the love of Jesus to be there to welcome you home, for His light to shine in the darkness and for His presence to surround you.

Finally, I remember to write the date in my diary for my next retreat.

 

I would love some of your ideas too -

What do you find helps you the most when spending time with God?

Where do you go?

What do you do? 

 

 

Re:FRESH Re:NEW Re:TREAT

A DAY FOR RETREAT

ideas for what to do!

Sometimes (often, most of the time)  I need rest – physical, emotional, yes, but mostly spiritual time away from normal everyday busy-ness.  I need to make time for meeting with God over a longer period, time for spiritual renewal and self-examination.  In Jesus’ time, long walks were part of everyday life – when one could presumably reflect and pray and think, although it was probably no easier than it is now! Jesus certainly 'drew aside' from everything for quiet moments, often climbing the hillside to do so. And so I need to build in times of quiet, times of enjoying God’s creation.  At least once a year (and three or four or five times is better!) it helps if I go to a place of quiet and beauty and just BE.

If you've never done this before, it may be strange at first. Maybe start with just a few hours – a half day; or maybe only an hour for the very first time. Start small and keep adding. Don’t wait until you feel you can take on a whole day or you may never begin!  And if after a while you have had enough, don’t feel guilty!  Either push on through to see what happens; or leave it there and try again another time. Or try something entirely different! These are just suggestions which I have personally found work for me and for many others; feel free to experiment!

 

PLANNING A DAY OR HALF DAY RETREAT

PLANNING: there’s the start. If I don't plan, it doesn't happen! I have to PLAN when to do this and write down the date and time, and the place, otherwise I'll procrastinate and never start. Then I begin to look forward eagerly to this special time, asking the Lord already to meet with me and refresh and renew me.

SUGGESTIONS TO TAKE: Bible, journal, pen; family photos or special momentoes; Praise worship (CD, iPod, etc) post card of a painting

-      I like to get away, head for the countryside, a retreat centre, a friend’s country cottage. If you can’t, make a special area at home with some of your favourite things, maybe a rocking chair, a large cushion, scented candles. Get it ready in advance and every time you pass be excited in anticipation! Check if you need to remove a ticking clock or anything else distracting.

-      When going away, it's good to get there the night before.  I love to have a long relaxing bubble bath and allow the cares and stresses to begin to slip away  and then retire early with a relaxing drink (Horlicks?!?!?!?! Camomile tea …) and I do love a hot water bottle at night!! Snuggling in, I read the Scriptures planned for tomorrow - but just read them, nothing else, and then put the light out early. Bliss!

  1. Awake whenever – no alarm clock! And I don’t DO anything, for half an hour. Breakfast: taking a mug of steaming coffee and sitting on a sunny rock, or under a tree, or by a log fire and just sitting and BE-ing with God.
  1. Then it's time for an extended praise and thanksgiving to God,  focusing on all the things I'm grateful for.  If I need a reminder or a prompt, I can ook at the photos and momentoes I brought with me and praise and thank God for what they each mean to me. Then a fun bit:  listing 10 things in my journal for which I'm grateful and thank God for each of them, with the focus on blessings, not problems. Then another 10 and thank Him; and another …. And so on.  Sometimes I will set myself a minimum, say 30 or 50 or …. And see where I end up!!!  No pleases, just thanks!
  1. A Psalm, (Not a difficult one, but one of my favourites, such as praise one) and I read it out loud.  Slowly.  Twice.  Then I put the Bible down and reflect on it, maybe recall words or phrases that stood out or leaped at me, or meant something.  Then write them down.  Read aloud again – slowly. Maybe learn by heart one of the special verses. Write it down. Ask the Lord if He is saying something to me through it.
  1. Then, and only then, I turn to either my normal daily Bible reading, or to a special Bible passage; or to a whole small book (eg Philemon or Jude) I can spend an hour or two on this:  read it aloud, slowly; relish the phrases; repeat it until the meanings truly sink in. Listening – letting God speak to me through it. Mark/write/record what happens. Was does it mean? Is there a promise, a command? Something I don’t understand which I can look up another time or ask someone about later?  Reflect and pray it through.
  1. One of my favourite things is then to go for a long leisurely walk and enjoy an extended time of praise.  And when I am far away from civilisation and anyone who could possibly hear I sing praise songs aloud in the glories of creation (the psalmist recommends making a joyful NOISE to the Lord so then I don’t worry that I am  not an opera singer!!) Then I can envision God looking at me with love and walking beside me with His arm on my shoulder - like a friend accompanying me on the journey, in love. I either sing unaccompanied or I have some things on the iPod to sing along to.

6   Then and only then, either whilst out or on my return, I pray and write down my prayers. - for my family, my friends, my loved                      ones; for my self,  spiritually, emotionally, physically, socially, intellectually; God, when you look at me, what do you see? Lord                    how am I doing?  What do you want to change in me? I pray about my dreams, my challenges, my diary.

  1. Enjoy a leisurely lunch at some point (or I may want to fast for the day) and listen to some worship music – of whatever type I prefer that day!
  1. After lunch, I take a nap; rest and put my feet up. I do nothing for a while, with a cup of tea. I might look at a religious painting or a picture that speaks to me of God and meditate on it and put myself into it and allow the Lord to work in me through it.
  1. I enjoy reading through the late afternoon -  a helpful but light book – maybe a Christian biography – a book which will bless, inspire, enthuse me.
  1. Finally, almost regretfully, it's time to return home listening to my favourite Christian praise music .

Sometimes it's hard to return to the noise and bustle of home, family, pets, etc. But I know that often happens, and so I pray about it on my return journey, asking for grace and lots and lots of  patience, and for the fruit of the Spirit as my loved ones crowd around and normal life resumes. And I hope I remembered to make sure supper  was prepared either before I left or by someone else!

If you are returning to an empty dark flat, ask for the love of Jesus to be there to welcome you home, for His light to shine in the darkness and for His presence to surround you.

Finally, I remember to write the date in my diary for my next retreat.

 

© P Swithinbank

 

www.ministriesbydesign.org

@minstriesbydsgn