This year we have had many groups coming in for the “Blessed are the Merciful” retreat. Sometimes they come just for the day. Others come for a weekend and this month (August) we are hosting two week-long retreats.
The first group came in on Monday afternoon after considerable time spent in heavy traffic on the M6. This particular group has been coming for 25 years and it’s always great fun to see them piling out of the bus that has brought them up here from Merseyside.
Though some of the retreatants have been coming for all of the 25 years and longer, there are quite a few for whom this is the first time. You can hear them voicing their surprise at the enormous trees and the general scale of the place.
Of course the most important thing you need after a tiring journey is some tea and cake. Then it’s time to settle in and admire the new lift and showers, which were completed since last summer and towards which this group has given a generous contribution..
After a delicious supper everyone was invited (if they were up to it) to a thorough overview and tour of (about) 250 years of Minsteracres history. Fr. Jeroen is a pro at pointing out all the impressive aspects of the historical buildings and providing colourful descriptions of everything that has happened here over time.
The plan for the rest of week is for every day to begin with morning prayer and holy mass. After breakfast there will be a presentation of an aspect of our retreat theme, and then in the afternoon an outing is on offer. This might be to one of the castles in the area, Holy Island or Durham, a boat trip perhaps, or even a visit to Edinburgh. In the evening they are back in time for supper, night prayer and social time together.
The spiritual content of this retreat was prepared quite a while back. In January we started making plans and considering how we could execute our theme of mercy most successfully.
We considered the meaning of the word mercy carefully and found that it’s roots in Hebrew/Greek and Latin lie close to compassion, empathy, and kindness.
What information and activity should the sessions contain? How best to convey the ways of mercy? We try to include various approaches, using visuals, art or film, music and poetry, (Bible) narratives and liturgy, but also making use of the natural beauty and peace of Minsteracres.
Sometimes all the retreatants have to do is turn up. Sometimes participation and engagement are useful. Everyone is free to take part in the way that suits them best. We find that some people are in need of peace and renewal, and especially want to find some quiet space for themselves, within themselves. Others need to share, someone to talk to, or maybe just the company and friendship that is made available. Then there are some who like to wander through the grounds and let themselves be restored by nature’s bounty.
This week’s group is invited to take part in five daily sessions. The first is an exploration of how God’s mercy has been expressed throughout the ages. We take a meditative journey through biblical descriptions of the journeys of God with mankind.
The next session looks at how Jesus reveals the face of God’s mercy. We use the work of artists to make this more visual.
In the third session we focus on merciful attitudes and together we examine the role of mercy offered or denied in our own lives.
The fourth session is aimed at receiving God’s mercy, seeking healing, renewal and transformation.
In the last session we look into how we can become effective instruments of mercy. Every session includes songs and prayer and a spirit of new possibilities.
In the course of the year we have had lots of positive feedback on the effect of the mercy retreats and we are hoping that this week will be a great blessing as well for all involved.