POINTS OF LIGHT RETREAT AT CLARE PRIORY - EASTERN SYNOD
Having just returned from attending the one-day retreat at
beautiful and historic Clare Priory in Suffolk, I can’t wait for the
next one! The sad thing is that there are only two per year!
This time around – and this is my third - we explored ‘Reflections
on the Cross’ via contemplative prayer. You might imagine that
this would be silent, intense and somewhat frightening to those
who are new to retreats, but you would be so wrong.
Let me try to paint a picture for you, beginning with Clare Priory
itself. The buildings are simply stunning. It is one of the oldest
religious houses in England; situated in the shadows of Clare Castle
on the banks of the River Stour, Suffolk. Established in 1248 at the invitation of Richard de Clare it
was the first house of the Austin (or Augustinian) Friars in England. Following its suppression in 1538,
the house passed through many hands and uses until the Augustinian Friars purchased the house in
1953 and returned to their origins in England.
It is the home of a small mixed community of Augustinian friars and lay people, open to both men and
women, seeking to live the Christian life according to the Rule of St. Augustine which emphasises the
need to search for God together in order to achieve oneness of mind and heart.
There is great benefit in arriving during late afternoon of the day
before and to stay overnight and take part in the daily worship of
the community in their beautiful oratory prior to the start of the
retreat proper on the Saturday. There is accommodation of a very
acceptable standard (en-suite) plus one wheelchair accessible room
with a wet room, in what used to be the stable block plus other
family rooms in the main house. The evening meal is eaten in the
large kitchen with the Community.
I find this preparatory time precious, in that it gives one the opportunity to wind down, put aside the
issues that have surrounded me, and to quieten the clamouring voices in my head by taking a late
evening walk in the stunning grounds where the old priory ruins can still be seen. The gardens and
immediate surroundings are full of the signs of new growth and new beginnings; the walk takes me
along the bank of the river (less than 5 mns from the Priory) and I am reminded immediately of the
title of this retreat – ‘Reflections on the Cross’, as I gaze at reflections on the surface of the slowly
moving water, disturbed only by the occasional mallard with a brood of young.
And so we come to the day itself, following on from a self-service breakfast in the community kitchen.
Revd Mary Irish begins by explaining the plan for the day, which is divided into sessions and led by
either herself, Revd Karen Knight or by Mary Handforth – a lay member of the Community. All of the
sessions are quiet, prayerful, instructive and thought provoking. The session led by Mary Handforth
involved taking a very slow walk down by the river and back. What is so remarkable about that, I hear
you say! Mary began by asking us to stand outside in the beautiful gardens in the sunshine, and feel
the light wind on our skins. After a couple of minutes she brought to our attention the smell of the
wild garlic and other flowers. We were instructed to note the different greens, the splashes of colour,
the new shoots forcing their way through undergrowth, the bees and other insects, the texture of the
many tree trunks. She asked us to be aware of the different surfaces that we walked on and to feel
and notice the changes – and to notice and hold in our minds all of the wondrous things that we see
and to give thanks to God for them all. We live our lives at such a pace and never stop to stare and
see these things, nor do we remember our individual and collective roles in our destruction of the
planet. It was a special 30mns for me, and I offer to God a promise that I will do this for at least 30
mns every week.
The day ended with Holy Communion in their very contemporary but extremely beautiful Oratory,
presided over by Mary Irish – and so we concluded with prayer - tea and cake.
Each retreat has a different feel but each time I come away with a sense of ‘oneness’ with God. This
may be something that you have not considered taking part in before, but I really do urge you to try
the Points of Light Retreat as an introduction. There is help and support in abundance both from the
leaders and from the Community itself. It is aimed at beginners and those who are more experienced
at making retreats. There are some faces that you will see each time, and others that will be new to
you. That’s the joy – and believe me, it is a joy! Try it.
Ann Barton 21/04/2011