As we are nearing the end of 2017 we are also reaching the finish of our ‘seeds of hope’ parish retreats. This year we have presented the theme to many groups on retreat here at Minsteracres and I must say, it’s rather sad to have to let it go for it’s been such fun and a huge success as well. One participant who has been attending our parish retreats for twenty years said, “It was the best ever”. Someone else told us, “It was inspired and inspiring” and of course we are overjoyed that we seem to have hit the mark.
You might be wondering what is was that made the retreats this year into such an uplifting experience. I think it originated in the careful preparation and the link with the natural beauty of Minsteracres. The retreat team spent considerable time talking about what hope might be from a Christian perspective in connection with how we use the word it in our daily lives.
We decided that the objective of the retreat was to “to reboot minds and hearts to enduring attitudes of hope, rooted in confidence that God supports and sustains us”. We also chose the iconic sequoias which line the drive at Minsteracres as a metaphor of growing tiny seeds of hope into a mature mind-set. To quote our pope: “Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree.”
In our first session – planting seeds of hope – we set the scene with a presentation of various examples of people living in hope in spite of dire circumstances and how that attitude differs from wishful thinking or optimism. We also told the story of how the sequoias made it all the way from California to Northumberland more than 160 years ago.
Their planting as small saplings so long ago is symbolic for confidence in the fruits of a future you can’t see yet. At the end everyone was invited to reflect on the fruits they were hoping for and plant the seeds by dropping some sequoia seeds into the soil provided.
In the next session – nurturing seeds of hope – we looked at some of the difficulties in the cultivation of both sequoias and hope. What do you need? How about, for instance, some nourishment, support and patience?
In the following period everyone had an opportunity to consider how they could nurture hope in their own lives at the eight ‘stations of contemplation’. These proved to be very moving for many people. One person told us, “I am quite undone”.
In the fourth session – clearing the undergrowth – we looked at how the ground around the sequoias needs to be kept clear for them to flourish. That’s why fires in the wild are so fruitful for these trees. But what needs to be cleared out in our life so God’s nourishment and light can reach us and hope can be replenished? People took a twig as a symbol of whatever undergrowth they perceived and placed it under the cross.
Then for the last session – sharing the fruits of hope – we talked about what we were taking home and what being a witness of hope meant. Everyone received a sequoia cone as a hope-giving memory. There were also lots of opportunities to speak about the experience of this retreat. We heard people say that their perspective on hope had been had been greatly enhanced and that while they had arrived with a sense of hopelessness they were returning home enriched and revived. People also felt that the idea of hope in the diocesan programme “Forward together in Hope” was much easier to understand after all the input of this retreat.
We ended with the declaration, “We are the seeds and we take back the fruits of beauty and peace of Minsteracres”