(Photos to follow shortly)
The train ride to Rhyll was reminiscent of our journey to Drumalis at the beginning of the year. People were tired but sociable, curious about what the retreat would entail and speculation about the next phase in all our lives was rife.
From the train station we took taxis further into the middle of nowhere, eventually arriving at St Beuno’s Jesuit retreat centre. On route, the taxi driver had reassured us that, yes he did in fact collect people who had survived their stint of silence.
We met Fr Dave Stewart SJ and Eric, a seminarian from Texas currently studying in Rome, who would be leading our retreat. After a tour and surprisingly good dinner we were relieved to find out that we were not doomed to miss out on the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games. We gathered in the AV room to watch the spectacle unfold and fell into bed that first night exhausted from a day of travelling and apprehensive of our ability to shut up for 3 whole days.
Each morning began with breakfast, like all other meals this was taken in silence, before a one-to-one spiritual direction session with either Fr Dave or Eric. Lunch was served around midday and the afternoon was ours to fill as we pleased before Mass followed by dinner in the evening.
We were each given different passages from the Bible to read and pray and encouraged to consider Ignatian spiritual exercises to help us.
The beautiful grounds of St Beuano’s certainly provided a peaceful atmosphere in which to contemplate the many experiences this internship has given us. Manicured lawns encircled scented rose bushes, with gravelled paths leading to a labyrinth and prayer garden as well as fields and a small forest in which the rock chapel nestled on top of the hill.
The complex itself included an art room with loads of resources (some of us made better use of these than others… Daniel’s clay farmer with a sheep, Michaela’s clay swan candle holder and Marie’s watercolour paintings in particular) several chapels and prayer spaces, meeting rooms, a dining room and accommodation for over 60 people.
Most of the interns had wisely been given accommodation away from the main building; Michaela, Marie and I were in a cute stone cottage whilst Dom and Matthew were banished to the other side of the (badger ridden) forest to a cottage on the ‘main’ road.
This provided us all with the opportunity to be sociable as well as to take time out for ourselves. The silent nature of the retreats at St Beuno’s created a deep sense of calm and tranquillity that seemed to either seep from or be absorbed even by the study grey stones of the main building.
Being quiet was hard. The Olympics were on and leaving the buzz of London to be submerged into the quietness of this retreat centre in North Wales felt somewhat unnatural and uneasy. Maybe those ‘retreatants’ who do the hard-core 30 day or 3 month retreats get into more of a routine and are able to entertain themselves better, they didn’t look that happy when we saw them at meal times or Mass but their inner peace must have been strong.
On the last night Charles, Fr Dave and Eric joined us all in the girls’ cottage for some drinks and we debated the night away in heated and determined tones, until we realised what time it was and that we had to be up for a train in a few hours!
The retreat was a fitting end to an incredible year, which has not been without it’s challenges but which has also been absolutely invaluable in the breadth and depth of the life lessons we’ve all learned along the way. It put prayer back firmly at the centre of our day to day lives and forced us all to take some time out amidst a really hectic few weeks for us all.
Thank you to Charles for accompanying us and to Fr Dave and Eric for being our spiritual directors at St Beuno’s, yet another interesting and unique experience to bring the year to a close.