St Beuno's, residential retreat centre

A young retreatant walks through St Beuno's

Silent retreats – a space where God can take you by surprise

St Beuno's Jesuit Spirituality Centre in the foothills of Snowdonia has been a Jesuit house of learning and prayer since 1848 and a residential retreat centre for 30 years. Tim McEvoy is a new member of the spiritual direction team.

Tim’s spiritual journey began as a student at Warwick ten years ago when he participated in a week of guided prayer led by the Jesuit spirituality outreach team.  Whilst doing further studies at Oxford he encountered the Jesuits who run the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy, and took part in another week of guided prayer.  This experience led Tim to spend a year as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Community in Liverpool, working with two charities who served homeless people.

During this time he made an eight day silent retreat with his fellow volunteer community members.

“It was a profound experience, a time of real discernment – I knew I didn’t want to go back to the world of academe but I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  The retreat helped me to decide to return to Liverpool and work with L’Arche community for two further years.” 

How did Tim and the other members of the group cope with the eight days of silence? “The silence was a real challenge, but inside it I found an invitation to intimacy with God, I was able to pay  attention to the noise within me, not run away from the present moment, and keep concentrating on God.  I had never before been aware of how much I wanted to be distracted.  My spiritual director helped me to stick with the challenge.  The freedom and the permissiveness of the silence was overwhelming, especially as it was combined with a bit of a culture shock - the beauty of the landscape around St Beuno's compared with the gritty urban environment I had been living in.  I was doing the retreat with ten other young adult members of JVC, and although we never talked to each other,  there was a certain solidarity in the shared silence which was quite powerful.  When, at the end of the retreat, we did have a sharing session it really helped to focus on the deep meaning of what we had gone through.”

One person who was sharing a cottage with one other on the silent retreat observed “it is a different kind of companionship in the silence, you get to know each other without talking. You get a sense of people and notice things that would be submerged by the noise if you were talking”.

Claire, who also did an eight day silent retreat commented, “I didn’t realise it but I had become spiritually constipated! My spiritual director encouraged me to be creative, to pray through moulding clay, and this released me from self-absorption. I found God in the process of moulding, as the  design artist.”

If you are interested in learning more about Ignatian prayer at St Beuno’s

consider attending our School of Prayer in September:

Find out more about School of Prayer

St Beuno’s outreach, coming to a university or parish near you

Now, ten years on, Tim is working on the St Beuno’s outreach team leading weeks of guided prayer in universities and found himself back at Warwick earlier this year:

There is something appealing and safe about having a team of prayer guides come to you” explains Tim, “it makes a big difference, the students feel safe and able to take the risk of opening themselves to God, it is a position of vulnerability and even those who feel more secure are often surprised.  Often students will never have experimented with prayer, or will have been taught only intercessary prayer.  Using imagination and all the senses to pray with scripture or poetry often has a powerful impact.  One student said  “I never before thought that God would be interested in the detail of my life”, another commented “I never would have tried different ways of praying before, it was as if I needed permission.”

Roger Dawson SJ

Roger Dawson - Director, St Beuno's

Roger became a Jesuit in 1996. He has a diploma in clinical psychology. He became Director of St Beuno's in April 2014. Roger is active for the charity Help for Heroes and is known as the pedalling padre.

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One of the most famous former St Beuno's residents is Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ. Gerard Manley Hopkins was a convert to the faith who took his first vows as a Jesuit in 1868. He wrote music and sketched, but is best remembered for his innovative poetry.

Discover more about Hopkins >>

The Examen

The Examen is a prayer of review - a short reflection back over the day, recalling events and taking note of your feelings.

The purpose is to become more aware of the ways in which God has been present to you, the times when the Holy Spirit was drawing you towards life.

Although coming from an older monastic tradition, St Ignatius recommended it to his earliest followers.  It was the key prayer for Ignatius.  When early Jesuits found themselves too busy to fit in all their usual prayers, Ignatius gave them permission to pray less, but told them to keep up the examen.

Examen is Spanish for examination, an examination of your day and how God was at work.

The Examen Prayer of Ignatius Loyola; From St Beuno's, narrated by Sr. Renate OP

Tags: 
St Beuno's, Ignatian Prayer, Retreat, Silence, young people