A couple of days ago I came back from a retreat at Launde Abbey, in Leicestershire. I have been on several retreats over the past few years, but most of them have been silent ones, with almost all the time spent on prayer, meditation, reflection. Even on these, though, retreatants are usually encouraged to spend some time being creative, in whatever way they feel appropriate, and I have written the odd poem or attempted drawing or painting.
This time I wanted something different, something where the creative side has a greater focus. The retreat I’ve just been on was run by the Creative Arts Retreat Movement (CARM), and was on Photography, Poetry, and Prayer. I was encouraged by the option to do a bit of both photography and prayer, although I learned that this is not CARM’s usual practice when there are two artistic themes at the same time!
The week was excellent. Launde Abbey is a beautiful place, with lovely buildings and grounds (although because of my health I didn’t explore all of these – see later), and we were looked after well, with lovely food. The retreat leaders (Richard Belsham, Jock Stein, Paul Hunt) were supportive, encouraging, and very patient. My fellow retreatants were a diverse lot, as they often are, and we all had a lot of fun, and hopefully both learned something new and deepened our spiritual life.
So first, what did I learn? I started on the photography side, where we looked at composition, light and shade, some of the technical points of controlling the camera, and some special effects. While I still have a long way to go, I’m starting to feel a bit more adventurous!
I have written a few poems in the past, often on earlier retreats, but these tended to be very personal, closely related to my reflections at the time, and perhaps not particularly interesting to anyone else. I’ve started to expand my fhorizons a little, and hope to post a few of them here, so people can judge for themselves.
Sadly, my health didn’t let me do everything I wanted. The photography course in particular was quite energy-intensive, and rather ignored the ‘free afternoon’ on the programme! After the first day my legs and arms were aching more than usual, which is one of the reasons I switched to the poetry stream. I then picked up a throat infection, which didn’t help. On the last morning, I sat out the walk round the Stations of the Cross in the Abbey grounds; this was disappointing, but I would not have been able to cope with an hour’s walking and standing.
There were some specific sessions of prayer and reflection, and there were themes for each day which gave some focus to both phoptography and prayer. These were based on the idea of gardens: the Garden of Delight Abandoned (Good Friday and the Cross); the Garden of Silence (Holy Saturday and the Tomb); the Garden of Surprise (Easter Day and the Resurrection).
The whole week has helped me to reflect on these themes, and to grow in understanding them. I hope that these thoughts will be with me and continue to grow this coming Easter season and betond.