In her book, Quiet Journeys – Finding Stillness in Chaos, Good Shepherd Sr Elizabeth Lim says that “the burdensome restlessness that plagues most of society” boils down to a lack of reflection.
Good Shepherd Oasis, established in 1998 by Sr Elizabeth, hopes to bring one to experience contemplation in silence and be rested in God.
People who go on retreat at Oasis, now located on Level 4 of Good Shepherd Place, Lorong 8 Toa Payoh, have told her, “I don’t know why I don’t know where I am [in life’s journey].” Sr Elizabeth says this is in the heart of various individuals.
“It is so important to help individuals understand the real meaning of who they are... what it is that they love, what God wills in their lives.” This is why, she adds, “retreats and days of quiet and reflection have to be considered a little bit more.”
Value of feeling and sensing
To those who are uncomfortable with silence and insist on hearing the sharing of others in a group retreat, she offers a challenge: “There is so much to learn from your own experience. Maybe there is greater wealth in your experience that brings you to a relationship with God.”
She adds, “Many people need to understand what they sense or feel. Feelings are indicators of how far or how near you are to God, in a sense. Out of those feelings, if you are not aware, you react, say in anger. That shows you do not have the presence of God in you.”
For first-timers of directed retreats, Sr Elizabeth usually initiates a phone conversion to sense their need and for the retreatant to articulate the need. Following that she would recommend a retreat of between three and five days.
A retreatant may be asked to bring a particular scripture text that resonates with him or her, or if the person has deep concerns, that could be the retreat’s starting point.
“A retreat is a time where the silence of the environment, or the silence of your own heart is a great help in bringing you to an experience of God’s presence in your life,” remarks Sr Elizabeth.
Spiritual direction vs spiritual counseling
Having a spiritual director (SD) is a “very necessary thing. It is highly recommended,” she says.
“In spiritual direction, we try to move with directees. The journey will help them have a mindset that will settle them. They will know deep down, ‘This is what is really inside of me’ and they feel free, experiencing everything as lovely.
“Spiritual direction is really a listening of the heart, not a listening of the mind. Catholics, especially, would understand this because we speak of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
The relationship between a directee and spiritual director is one of companionship, “one which is always directed towards the deepening relationship between the Creator God, and the self”, she adds.
Ms Christabel, a retreatant, says, “When I went for my first silent retreat, I was worried that I would be bored out of my wits by the silence. How wrong I was! I discovered that instead of empty and mindless nothingness, the silence was filled with God’s loving presence – full of promise and possibilities for renewal and growth.”
A minister in a non-Catholic Church, who gave his name as SJ, notes, “While at the retreat, I began to see my ordination as an important part of my service and witness of the Gospel of God’s grace… I began to accept the ordination as something more than a formality.”
Ms Corinne Cheok, who has been a directee since 2007, shares: “I can hear much more clearly the Spirit speaking, and follow His promptings to whatever I am seeking guidance or enlightenment on.
“I am often amazed at how God knows things about me that even I have forgotten. Spiritual direction helps me to shed the false confidence I have come to rely on, from all the reading and knowledge. It helps me to encounter God as He is. It is an incredibly personal and intimate encounter which deepens and enlarges my faith.”
By Mel Diamse-Lee