I had this idea about three years ago that it would be wonderful to take a group of women out with me for a weekend at what I affectionately know of as ‘Carmel’ – especially those mums with young children and babies who really need a break from their homes and families in order to enjoy and serve them better.
Who best to give overwhelmed mothers a respite than the one who said: “Come to me you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest for your souls?”
And where best to meet him than at a place where I have always found him waiting to speak to me in any measure of silence and solitude I have been able to give him?
So around this time last year the first Mothers@Carmel weekend was held at the Mt Carmel Retreat Centre in Varroville, in the southwest of Sydney. And the second one was held just last weekend.
Fr Gerard Moran, one of the community of Discalced Carmelite friars there, and the retreats director, accompanied us, said Mass and heard our confessions. He gave us a talk on God’s mercy and justice in the Old Testament scriptures, and some women saints who can inspire and encourage us.
A mum friend of mine, a member of the retreat centre board, came for the weekend and facilitated a special session on the Saturday evening. I led an introduction on the Friday evening and a wrap-up on Sunday morning, but mostly the weekend is a gift of many hours of free time to rest, reflect, read, pray, roam the green paddocks,enjoy the beautiful chapel, or the intimate prayer room with the Blessed Sacrament, and some great conversation over cups of tea.
I can’t believe I forgot to take a photo of the ladies all weekend! Or the little baby girl who came with her mum and who seemed to be taking everything in with her big, wise, hazel eyes.
Though I was only there myself in June for my own annual retreat, it was so good to be back and seeing the gardens in their springtime bloom.
There were two other groups running a retreat or workshop on the same weekend, and our group was allocated 10 rooms which were filled with 10 mums, one husband, and that very cute baby. After joining them for Night Prayer of the Church in the chapel I would leave them to sleep at my own mother’s house nearby. She was delighted to have me over and would have a cup of tea and snack ready, which was cute.
This week a few other women have told me that they would have loved to go as well, so I guess this retreat idea really does ‘has legs’ and could maybe become a bit bigger next year. We will see. Small is beautiful, and being a small group gave us plenty of time to get to know each other, chill out together, and share stories as it wasn’t a silent retreat.
Hopefully it will be held in spring again next year – I’ll let you know in advance and please come if you can! One of my blog readers was there this time and it was such a nice surprise to meet her in real life.
If you’re a mother – and really, all women are mothers, whether spiritual and/or biological – I would love to invite you to come with me there next year when the wisteria is in bloom and Jesus waits so patiently in the quiet chapel.
I do still feel a bit ambivalent about the Mothers@Carmel weekend and need to pray about it and process it a bit more. The ladies seemed to enjoy it and I certainly always benefit from the peace and beauty of the place and immersing myself for a time into the rhythm of prayer that is lived by the friars. But I feel both inadequate and presumptuous to be assuming the role of a retreat facilitator at such a holy place. Perhaps this discomfort is a gift – so I can never forget it is Jesus people are coming to spend time with, not me.
At the same time I am deeply happy to have been the catalyst for these wise and gifted women coming away on a retreat – some of whom had never been on one before, or not since they were at school.
Still, that bit of discomfort is probably the real reason I forgot to take photos. Also, I was so busy in the lead-up to last weekend that I forgot to call the nuns of the same order in their convent up the road to ask for their prayers for the duration. Something for next time.