“Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin” (George Herbert)
I arrived at the Jesuit Spirituality Centre of St Bueno’s. Tucked in the beautiful valley of Tremeirchion North Wales. I arrived a little late, there was an accident along the M54. So I feared I would be receiving a telling off. How could I keep people of God waiting?
I drove up to the castle, grand, cast in darkness; it reminded me of Hogwarts. A little trepidation and excitement. I was surely coming for a Catholic party once I received my telling off. I bundled my suitcase into the hallway. Building works were ongoing but I could see beneath the coverings on the floor the beauty and majesty of this building.
I was warmly greeted by a middle-aged bubbly woman. She didn’t even comment on my late arrival. I breathed a sigh of relief. Following this, I was shown my bedroom, on the first floor, opposite the chapel. I see your game God, I have no excuses now. We were to meet downstairs in the foyer for introductions and a tour. After which we would meet our spiritual guides. Spiritual guide? I thought, was that like a therapist, a friend, what?
The tour was breathtaking, along the winding halls with its peculiar yet fitting sculptures dotted around. The carpet, a royal red with gold dotted patterns. The kitchen, yes note taken! We were to have three meals with a morning and afternoon tea provided. Thank goodness! I had worried about going hungry on this retreat. We had come to the end of the tour and were divided up into groups. With two groups to hold their meeting with their two spiritual guides. We sat in the library in darkness, I glanced around the room hearing the flow of different accents. An American, he seemed friendly, a Scottish woman, I was certain we would be friends. The two men who would be the spiritual guides for our groups introduced themselves, they went on to explain what to expect over the next 8 days. Wait a minute did he just say “silent retreat”. What does he mean we will go into silence following this meeting. Silence as in no talking? That wasn’t possible, no phone encouraged also! I felt like standing up and saying “I think I am in the wrong place”. I came to sing, dance, and read a few bible passages but not silence! I was here for a jolly time, wasn’t that what retreats were about? And so I continued to plan my escape and wondered if I would lose heavenly rewards if I also asked for a refund.
In Silence, we heal
We were sat in a smaller room, I, the Jesuit Priest, and the retired priest. We three would go through this journey with the same spiritual guide. I had decided to stay, slightly curious but more afraid of God’s wrath if I ran from this silent retreat. Our guide explained we would meet every morning to talk and reflect on the day. He wished us goodnight and smiled as though knowing my fear of eight days of not exercising my voice.
My room was small but warm and comfortable. The table to the corner had a bible, I had brought mine which frankly hadn’t been opened much. I showered and wearily got under the duvet, “Well God here I am”.
Over the next 8 days the silence at first that frightened me became so comforting. Such so that when the locals came in for mass and wanted to talk I quickly excused myself to continue my silence elsewhere. Dinners were a grand affair, of opera music playing whilst we all sat deep in our thoughts. I soon bonded in the silence to the Jesuit and the retired priest. Each day being sat next to either was a warm embrace and assurance of everything being well. Each morning I met my guide and with it uncovered bruises that I had either believed were buried or I hadn’t even realized were there. I discovered I harbored resentment towards family responsibilities I felt had been burdened and forced upon me. I came to see that my restlessness was as my new friend the Jesuit Priest told me at the end of the retreat was in fact “holy restlessness”. I like the woman at the well had been yearning for God. I had been longing for me also but always too afraid of being her instead, attempting to be what I was expected to be. I rediscovered my love for writing, no longer worried about sharing my work or it being criticized. I was a poet, I soon learned also! I found joy in the pages of the many philosophical and theological analysis of St Ignatius’s works. And was moved by the artwork of Sieger Koder. I went for walks and fell in awe with the fields and river on the walk to Rhault. I recalled a childhood song long-forgotten “why river following so quickly past me, where are you going and where will you be.” A song sang to me as a child in Nigeria, a memory I thought lost.
I spent my final morning in the Labyrinth- a maze of beauty with the virgin mother above her. There I spoke to my grandma and the tears that came I was able to see that I had been upset that she had left without saying goodbye. A woman who had been so present in my childhood, whom I sat with for hours watching Bollywood movies. I felt that she had been taken from me before I could fully appreciate the beauty of a grandparent. At that moment I was able to say thank you and give her soul permission to rest.
A New Beginning
My final day at St Bueno’s was painfully beautiful. We all burst into conversation over breakfast, able to confirm that the friendship formed in silence was real. I knew I had found a kindred spirit in the Jesuit priest and had also been shown love and kindness through my spiritual guide. As I drove out of the majestic grounds I knew I was forever changed. I was unafraid to pursue my purpose and be authentic. I also believed that I, as I was, deserved love and was good enough. I had always been loved, I was love and had much more love to give.
“You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat” (George Herbert)