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  • Writer's pictureToni

Tree of life at the heart of our retreat

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

On Saturday 26th October 2019 a parish retreat was held at St Joseph’s Hall in Port Melbourne. This was a spiritually enriching day where 16 of us from the parish came together to reflect, talk, listen, share, collaborate, meditate, delve and reach into our inner selves.

Fr John facilitated the retreat’s activities with the help of Christine Mitchell, our Pastoral Associate. After our usual introductions, Fr John began the day’s proceedings telling us about his recent visit to Christchurch New Zealand. He spoke of a wonderful mural project called, “The Grove of Intention” located near the Christchurch transitional cathedral. The Grove of Intention is a series of seven graphic trees painted in metallic gold on a dark blue background. Each tree has a specific title and an inquiry which the artists who created them have been asking members of the public to respond to in a one-word answer on a paper leaf. There were many themed trees such as The Wish Tree, The Peace Tree, The Well-being Tree, The Connection Tree, The Wisdom Tree, The Witness Tree and The Gratitude Tree. The one that attracted John was the Connection Tree and it asked the question: Where in Christchurch is your favourite place of conversation? The public responses on the leaves of the tree inspired John to think about the parish and our own individual connection to one another. The Connection Tree became the impetus for many of our retreat activities.

Fr John asked us to contemplate the photographic image of an expansive tree which he projected and invited us to share our observations. The image aroused much discussion. The metaphor of a tree was a focal point for our day’s endeavours.

We looked at some big questions individually, then split into pairs to discuss / share our responses. The questions varied and included ones such as:

· What are you most grateful for today? What are you least grateful for? If you were to ask yourself every day, what pattern would you see?

· When have you felt most alive, especially in your body? What were the times of most life you would like to repeat?

· What is your special way of receiving love?

· If you had one year to live, what would you do?

This gives you a taste of some of the profound questions we were asked to ponder for ourselves. There were seven others, all of which we reflected on for ourselves and then discussed with our partner. There was some time to share our reflections with the whole group. It was wonderful that we felt comfortable with those around us and in this space to share personal stories, experiences and journeys. Many of us really opened up and I think this is the power of a day like this.

Staying with the metaphor and the themes that we brought to light, Fr John prompted us to consider the call of the heart that connects us to the tree of life. Christine distributed two sketches of trees that urged us to cognise our “root” desires and to reflect and write about what these might be. On the other sketch of the tree, we deliberated on what our “branch" desires might be. We retreated into our own spaces having this quiet time to be with ourselves and our notions around these themes. Afterwards, in the large group, conversation flourished as we discussed these deeper aspects of ourselves. It was a discussion rich in ideas, possibilities and emotion.

A meditation session followed where we embodied the metaphor of the tree and considered our place in our own world; what aspects of our root and branch desires we could revisit at a later time.

All this spiritual nourishment required some physical nourishment too! So it was lovely to have a spot of lunch together and chat and catch up with fellow community members.

In the session after lunch, Fr John gave us some significant questions related to our own parish. He named this the tree of community. In small groups we brainstormed ideas about what nourishes us in the parish, what is our favourite place in the parish, how we help to improve our parish, what we are grateful for at Sacred Heart and St Columba and the one big wish that we have for our parish. We wrote these ideas on leaves and placed them on the branches of Jim Finlayson’s wooden tree which he constructed for our liturgical celebrations some time ago. This tree became a centerpiece for our ongoing conversations around the desires for our parish community life. Here you’ll see a photo of us beside the tree. Fr John has taken the tree to our churches to share with everyone. This concurs with one of our key desires to foster inclusiveness and equity in our parish community. We completed the retreat with a poem and a prayer. The poem was written by Fiona, one of the participants. She felt inspired to write it during the course of the day and was kind enough to share it with us. It was a fitting way to end the retreat. I include it here for your own contemplation:

Holy Limb of God…

Let me be your legs,

your arms, your spine.

Whisper in the wind

so I feel the divine.

Let me be a petal,

your stamen, your stem.

May I see your face

when the storms descend.

Let me be your bark,

timeworn, weathered.

Course through my veins

with joy, unmeasured.

And like the seasons you time,

not one of us the same.

May peace come to us—

each a leaf, in your name.

(Fiona Lynch, 2019 with kind permission)

This was my second retreat in 26 years of being a member of our parish. The first one I went to was at Angelsea in the late 1990s with Fr Terry Kean and many of our parishioners. Equally a fulfilling and joyful experience. I thank Fr John and Christine for facilitating this year's one and giving myself and others this opportunity for renewal. We all reflected how good it was to have the leisure of letting go of our usual Saturday commitments and enter into this contemplative space. I would encourage anyone to participate in any future retreats as this one was personally rewarding and beneficial to my life in the parish community. If you'd like to know more, feel free to come and chat with me after mass over a coffee.

Have you been to a retreat that inspired you? Tell us about it in the comments section of this blog post.

Antonietta (Toni) Vatta

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