A group from the parish went on a Lenten retreat last weekend. We left the noise and smoke of Manchester City for the greener and cleaner atmosphere of the Derby countryside for a parish weekend retreat at the CHN Convent.
The convent and grounds can be described simply as a place where heaven touches earth. We were lucky to come on a weekend with fantastically sunny weather just as the spring flowers were beginning to push through and bloom. Malcolm, in typically poetic language, remarked that it felt that a fissure between heaven and earth had opened allowing us to reach out and touch the heavens, whilst Toby claimed he had not heard true silence like this since coming to Manchester.
We stayed in the guest cottage for the weekend, which was cleaned and maintained by Lucie whom many of us know from her time spent in St John’s Rectory last year. We spent our time split between cups of tea and discussion around the kitchen table, personal reflection and quiet time and joining the sisters for worship and meals in the convent.
Chatting with the sisters over Sunday lunch allowed us to share life experiences, thoughts and feelings between two groups of people that so rarely get to meet, but get on so well with each other it is like an old friendship being renewed.
The question that was asked us most by the sisters was “do you have busy lives?” to which everyone in the group reluctantly had to answer yes. Be it work, personal commitments or issues to do with health we all had to admit that we did not have enough time for ourselves and for God. Sr Jean-Mary, who lead our group discussions, said in answer to this, that it was not our relationship with God that was suffering but our relationship with ourselves, and that the first step towards inner peace and solitude was to make time for ourselves, then our relationship with God would follow.
We had a great time in Derby. As we embraced our friends and said our goodbyes we all promised to come back again as soon as we could and we look forward to receiving two new sisters at the house in the parish after Easter.
One of the CHN sisters, in a book written about her life of solitude writes, “In everyone there is a solitary centre and a silent place that longs for attention and space”