Retreats / Quiet Days / Residential Weekends

A Quiet Day at Alnmouth Friary

Prayer …….with  a wandering mind
Special day exploring 'prayer with a wandering mind' at Almnouth Friary with some lovely Readers. We walked - and paddled - on the beach, doodled, journalled and took photos with God. An alternative to our quiet weekend, which was getting harder and harder for people to commit to. We'd love to know what you think about events like this, quiet Saturdays together to explore something spiritual together, and at our own pace.  (Hilary Elder)

A piece by Janet Hedley on her day at Alnmouth.

Sun …sea….sand…..Practical Prayer at the Friary.
There were gallons of blue sea…..tons of fine golden sand……and a few glimpses of the golden orb…but above all, plenty of prayer.
After coffee and the normal warm welcome from the Friars, ten of us gathered in the library at the Friary and Chris gave us a brief overview of the day, thinking of the various things which can assail us and lead to a wandering mind when we pray. We all recognised the problems very well, and were looking forward to some practical help in combating the distractions.
Chris then pointed out that we are all individuals, with very different inclinations as to how we pray.  The workshops we’d each chosen could help us to choose a method which suited us and helped us to stay focused as we pray to God.
With that, Chris read out our groups and off we went to try things out for ourselves.
Journalling with God.
     Reverend Peter shared a beautiful album with his group.  It contained mounted pictures which matched various texts from the Bible, and was obviously the fruit of  Peter’s many hours of loving labour. Fortunately for us, Peter had provided pictures, texts, scissors, glue and pencils to set us on our way.
     Choosing pictures to match the texts helps us think more prayerfully about what each text says, and linking the ideas to existing pictures helps us relate the message of the text to the world we know.  At the end of the day, it was a revelation to see some of the pictures and texts the groups had chosen. Even seeing other people’s choices stimulated my own mind to see more clearly what God was saying. I could imagine having a fruitful prayer time with people of any age, starting either from a picture, e.g. from a newspaper, or from a text. Both ways could lead to praise, thanksgiving and intercession, and doing something with our hands is a great way to keep our mind on the job.
Photography with God, led by ? “No special skill is needed” said the line on our programme; just a simple camera or phone. Very reassuring!
     As rain descended, there weren’t too many outdoor shots, but the various snaps taken all said something about God’s world.  For people feeling ill-equipped to even think of praying, the choosing of the shot and the care in getting the angle and light right could be, in itself, a way of getting ready to pray. Talking over our choice of picture with someone else could easily lead to prayer together, and I was sorry I’d not been able to try this approach myself.  Definitely something to try at home, and I think we could use it in our parish, too. We might try it in ‘Simply worship’ with our children.
After one workshop, we gathered for mid-day prayer, followed by communion with the Brothers and their guests.  It was nearly standing room only, which was lovely, and the Brother who led the hymns had a gorgeous voice.
Pause for lunch.  This was supposed to be ‘Pooled’.  A more apt word might be ‘ Oceaned’. When we saw the wealth of delicious goodies set out on not just one, but two tables, someone remarked that it was the opposite of the feeding of the 5,000!
A number of home-made family favourites were enjoyed.  Should the readers prepare a cook-book, we wonder?
Having eaten our fill, we were fortified to move on to our next workshops.
Walking with God. 
    Pam took us all down to the beach, and as we went we talked about the freedom one can feel, praying there.  Pam shared her own way of praying: ‘skimming’ a pebble to send a prayer to God.  Hilary thought we could use bladder wrack seaweed as prayer beads!  Others of us let the waves, the sand, the clouds, the happy dogs, …….lead us in prayer.
     We all felt that being outside had done us good, and that, in this case, letting our eyes guide us in talking to God, and listening to Him, was a great way to pray.
     Pam also prepared a helpful sheet of hints about prayer-walking. A key point which spoke to me was, “Do not struggle to hear God; still your heart and mind and He will come to you.” For me, the rhythm of walking is a big help in stilling my heart and mind.  God sent quite a few thoughts my way as I walked.
Doodling with God.
     Val informed us that her Art teacher would be having hysterics in Heaven at the sight of Val leading this group, as Art is not Val’s forte.  However, she need not have worried.  Armed with brand-new paints, brushes, charcoal and a huge tub of fabulous felt-tips, Val explained that we could use scripture to inspire us to sketch, paint or colour; or, if feeling less creative, but still desirous of focusing on God, we could use a colouring book to pray.  Just for us,Val had nobly dismantled her Mary Fleeson colouring book, which has designs incorporating scripture.  Again, keeping our hands busy helped us focus on the scripture itself, and choosing the appropriate colours encouraged us to think more deeply.
     Val also provided some psalms for us to illustrate. We didn’t need to be Michelangelo. Even sketching something simply and choosing colours to show how the psalmist was feeling helped us express the verses for ourselves. And there is something about making something which is special: it is something we can offer to our Heavenly Father, with thanksgiving.
There you have it: four practical ways of praying which left very little time for wandering minds. We shared what we’d done at the end, and judging by the smiling faces, everyone had found the prayer experiences worthwhile, and enjoyable, too.
Chris and Hilary pointed out that the annual Readers’ Retreat had gradually become less well-attended.  This Quiet Day was a bit of an experiment: how would we feel about doing something similar again, instead of holding a weekend retreat?  The answer was a resounding, “Yes, we’d like to do this again.”  More than one person felt that having a day away from home was much more manageable than a whole weekend.
What about you?  Which would suit you better?  Please let Hilary or Chris know, perhaps with ideas for possible themes for the day-or weekend, if you’d prefer a weekend.
With hearty thanks to our ‘Tutors’: Chris, Peter, Hilary. Pam and Val for all their preparation and to the Friars for hosting us so warmly.  May God bless you, as He has blessed us through you.
From Janet Hedley.