The last of our three main launch events – ‘Experiencing God’ – was our first full-day event. Providing a taste of what retreat can offer, we spent our time together beginning to explore mindfulness, contemplation and Christian spiritual wisdom.
Guiding us through a morning on ‘The Question of Mindfulness for Christian Spiritual Tradition’ was Shaun Lambert, who joined us from London. In demand for his work on mindfulness – in contexts ranging from retreat houses to counselling courses to cafes - Shaun began by considering how mindfulness concentrates our attention and how this can be beneficial in a culture of judgement and anxiety. He then took us into an exploration of how such attention might awaken us to the presence of God. With practical suggestions, including the use of our senses and the practice of lectio divina (a slow, attentive reading of scripture), the whole morning invited us to recognise how the mindfulness culture can find resonance in ancient Christian wisdom.
The afternoon drew on the contemplative practice of two rich traditions within Christian spirituality. Ged Johnson and Gillian Coxhead, both experienced retreat givers, led us through the Ignatian and Carmelite perspectives on contemplation. Ged introduced the ways in which Ignatian prayer engages with our experience – including the examen’s reflection on the day, and imaginative contemplation of the Gospel. Gillian drew on Carmelite spirituality to guide us through an exploration of how contemplation might be about union with God, who is Love, and how the ‘desert’ of silence and solitude can be a place for this encounter. For both, contemplation – far from being a private end in itself - inspires us to an attentive and loving way of living.
With material for lunchtime reflection, and the beautiful environment of the Cathedral, we were able to ‘retreat in the city’. In addition to our time together, some made the most of a visit to Chester by including a spot of shopping or a meal, some tourism or a mindful walk of the City Walls. Twitter and feedback after the event tell us that retreat in the city was a good way to have spent a day.
Delighted to have been joined by so many, and thankful to our speakers, by the end of the day Retreat House Chester was well and truly launched.