Our guests for the Holy Week Retreat started coming in on Thursday. It was a mad scramble to get all the booklets and leaflets, required for our sessions, ready and printed. But in the end we had everything sorted in neat little piles and we were all set to go.
Everyone coming in received the programme. The list with room numbers went up so each guest could see where his/her room was. It takes a lot of focused attention (from Margo mostly) to get everybody in the room they need or prefer. Some people like to be in the Retreat House, with its ground floor rooms, fancy new lift, and even fancier new bathroom units. Others just love to be in the Main House. You have to climb two flights of stairs but the reward is a fantastic view. And you might get more of a sense of the monastical roots of Minsteracres. If that was what you were looking for.
The first joint retreat activity was supper. As the retreat progressed someone was heard to say “who is making these fantastic meals? Well that would be Margaret and Theresa and the rest of the kitchen team. If you live at Minsteracres you have a hard time not turning into a roly poly with all the temptations coming your way! So our dining room is always a very happy place.
After that we joined the parish for the last supper and the footwashing. We heard that Jesus’ whole message is made explicit with this act: showing us that we should take care of one another on all levels. Clean feet came in handy for the long trek to Gethsemane, all the way to the chapel. Which had been excellently transformed into a garden so we might imagine ourselves there on that night when Jesus was betrayed and arrested.
We started off on our first session on Good Friday by singing “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” under expert direction of Monique who is in charge of the music in Holy Week and inspires us all with her beautiful voice.
We prepared ourselves for the Stations of the Cross (scheduled for later that morning) by placing ourselves among the crowd en route to the cross. We tried to get into the skin of several of those people we know were present on that terrible morning, so long ago. How did they show or receive compassion, support, love? Which one do we feel close to? What would, could, we ourselves have done?
In the afternoon we joined the parish in the sorrowful commemoration of the Lord’s Passion and that evening we relived the burial, bringing the body of Jesus down from the cross, together covering him with linen strips and burying with him all that needs to go in our own lives.
Saturday is about heartbreak. We talked about the day after you lose a loved one, a home, a job, your health. About sitting and waiting in the emptiness. We gathered at the tomb and left our written musings there in the grave.
What good does that do, you may wonder? Why dwell on negativity? Why not go out and paint some Easter eggs?
Nothing wrong with looking on the bright side of course but I do believe that taking some time to place the blows and bruises we personally experience, into the Good Friday narrative, helps us to cope better. It can speak to us of letting go, regrouping, not giving up, even when things are at their darkest.
This is what I am hoping to find in walking Jesus’ journey during this Holy Week retreat. And when I ask retreatants what their expectations are of coming here for these days they tell me it is to find the time and space to delve into the layers of life’s ups and downs that are revealed in the Easter story. Someone said they had been moved to tears by realizing how real and meaningful the Passion is to her own life.
On Saturday evening we celebrated the resurrecting in the Easter vigil. A big fire had been kindled outside, and it took some skill to transfer the flame to the new Pascal candle and keep it burning in the hard winds (symbolically apt as to how hard it sometimes is to keep the inner flame going in the wild winds of life!). But after a few tries it did reach the darkened church so all the little candles could be lit and darkness was dispelled.]
We held our last retreat session on Sunday morning after mass. We sang “take my hands and use them as your own” and talked of continuing our journey with Jesus as the risen Lord. At the end everybody received a prayer card with St. Theresa of Avila’s prayer: “Christ has no hands but ours”. And then we all enjoyed a celebratory Easter lunch, followed by sad farewells.