In our continuing Synodal journey, Pope Francis encourages us to get alongside people from the margins, to walk together and to listen to their stories. The vision for this two-day retreat (21 and 22 June 2022) was to give people from the so-called margins of society an opportunity to experience a therapeutic and welcoming environment including meditation and group activities in a beautiful place far away from their usual circumstances. It was led by Terry Doyle and sponsored through the Eileen Cox Legacy Fund and Meditatio.
A coach brought 21 people from Middlesbrough, drawn from members of the North East Opera (NEO), which uses the power of music to help give disadvantaged people a voice; the Saltburn Addiction Recovery Group; and the Methodist Asylum Project MAP. In solidarity with them were about 15 self-funded people with some experience of meditation who responded to the invitation extended by WCCM Meditatio to join the retreat.
The schedule each day was carefully put together to have at the heart the mission of the event, The Joy of Encounter. Communal times of meditation and prayer were interwoven with the timetable at the Abbey including mass and mealtimes which were all taken together. With plenty of time to talk together, drink tea and coffee together and eat the delicious food provided together, as well as to take part in the prayer life of the Abbey, a trusting bond was formed very quickly between us, and we were able to relax and deeply share with one another.
Group activities throughout the retreat were chosen to reflect the theme of encounter.
The facilitators of North East Opera, Emily Smith and David Pisaro, came to lead us all in a superb session billed as ‘Freeing the Voice with The Joy of Singing’. Using a variety of songs including spirituals and rounds they encouraged us all to participate enthusiastically, often at full volume. This uplifting experience reinforced the feeling of being a family. It was so incredible to watch people flourish and totally come out of their shell as they sang their hearts out – giving full expression of who they have been created to be. Even the most shy among us felt encouraged to participate, sometimes even quite loudly!
We also had the opportunity to take part in an Art Therapy workshop, making our own mandalas – intricate circular patterns with a spiritual significance. The repetition entailed in forming a symmetrical pattern was also calming and satisfying. Someone who was very nervous about the ‘not being able to draw’ before hand stayed on for 2 full sessions and had the best time of his life!
Another of the beneficial group activities offered was Tai Chi & Zen walking with Terry. People really responded to this embodied prayer, offering us a focus, and enabling deep peace to come.
Paul Golightly came too, to lead 2 sessions on Capacitar https://capacitar.org/ which focuses on healing from trauma.
He taught us a few different helpful exercises as a group around wellbeing such as finger holding, Emotional Freedom Technique and breathwork.
After Compline in the Abbey, we all met in the Crypt and were joined by a group of sixth form students from Ampleforth College for a time of sharing. Together we listened intently as several people told us something of their story. It was so powerful to hear from an ex-heroin addict as he described laying on his bed with nothing left in the world except his mantra, repeating MARANATHA because his life depended on it. To hear also of the journey of one woman from being abused and becoming alcoholic to now, through the constancy of group work and the care and friendship of Terry and others ,was looking forward to getting married. We also heard from a refugee from Uganda who told us how meditation had given her so much peace and that she had finally been able to sleep again after years of sleeplessness due to the trauma of losing family members and being displaced. We heard too from the Sixth Formers at Ampleforth. A couple of them spoke about the importance of the community life at Ampleforth and how to feel accepted within their peer group was vital for them to flourish. We all listened and learned from each other, and left feeling encouraged and hopeful no matter what our circumstances.
Many of us were overwhelmed by the spacious and luxurious accommodation in the newly refurbished Grange at Ampleforth, as well as the beauty of the valley in perfect midsummer weather. The hospitality of the monks was fabulous and the food was delicious and plentiful. We also had the opportunity to take a tour of the Abbey and took part in a walk to explore the valley- yet another opportunity to be together and walk and talk and share.
The Joy of Encounter was aptly named. A warm and friendly family atmosphere was quickly established, and any initial apprehension was soon banished. The depth of trust and sharing was remarkable and can only be put down to the presence of God in the silence we shared.
The feedback at the end was tremendous as it had proved to be a truly joyful and healing experience all round. We hope that others will emulate this first retreat and we will be producing a video of the time spent together to encourage every country were WCCM operates to reach out creatively to those on the margins and recognise that we are all one and have much to learn together of God.