Sonia Blakesley talks about her experience with retreat

I first took time to retreat at Iona Abbey around 10 years ago.   A group of 25 from my home church in Moffat made the journey to Iona to stay at the abbey for a week.  It was a time spent joining the routine of abbey life, living in community together, sharing the chores, and worshipping twice a day in the beautiful abbey, whilst building relationships and getting to know friend and stranger, better.  A second visit, a few years later, was where, during the weekly pilgrimage around the island, I gave in to a calling into full-time ministry of word and sacrament, having previously been trying to argue with God that I could drop to part-time work as a GP and give him extra time squeezed out of my weekly schedule!

During my final year as a full-time GP, I went on a three-day silent retreat at The Bield, in Perthshire.  I’d been accepted as a candidate but needed a year to leave my medical practice.  I was stressed by the process, and went to ‘recharge my spiritual batteries’, and I did.  During three days, having conversation only with God, and my Spiritual Accompanier, focussing on that vitally important connection with God, with what was within and without me, taking time really to “be still and know that I am God”, using art, nature, and the labyrinth to aid prayer.

During candidate training, we went each year to Braehead Christian Centre near Lanark, a less scheduled, and more companionable time on retreat, building relationships with fellow candidates.  I supplemented this with Lent retreats from the Ignatian Spirituality Centre in Glasgow, using art and music to supplement God’s word in a daily reflective pattern.  My nearest group (geographically) was with the Comboni Sisters in Bailleston, so I met with them weekly through two Lents, learning to use the Ignatian practice of stilling, and reflecting together on our progress through the retreat.

I was ordained into my first charge of St Mark’s in Paisley in January 2020, only a few weeks before lockdown started.  Life changed dramatically, and the Lent retreat changed too, moving online, and I joined clergy from Scotland, England, and Ireland, for the weekly meeting.  Later I signed up for the GPRL course run by the Ignatians in Glasgow, (Growth in Prayer and Reflective Living), meeting weekly online through September 2021 – May 2022.  We learned about prayer, deepened our relationship with God, and spent time in silence. In early summer, I joined a silent retreat organised by Glasgow Presbytery, at The Bield.  This time sharing together with others, in a strictly observed pattern of silence, broken only by worship services, and twice daily reflective meetings.

Retreats have, for me, taken a variety of forms, always time out of the normal working schedule, time focusing on God and my connection with him.  Always sitting in silence, although variable amounts of time, waiting for him to speak to me.   Some are structured, with regular meetings, readings, and reflections focusing my thoughts and my spirit in a certain direction, others more free-flowing, as I wander barefoot through a labyrinth, climb Dun I or float in a swimming pool meditating on a verse from the Psalms.  Some involve close connection with people, getting to know others better and staying friends for years; some involve short-term connections with fellow believers, parting at the end of that season.  Always I come away with a deeper sense of connection to God, revitalised in mind, body and spirit.

Now, what am I going to do next year?