A drive past Grafton to the Fernbrook Lodge in Dorrigo NSW is where Bill and I spent 5 days at the homestead of Glennis Johnston and her husband Craig. Built in 1909 the original country farmhouse offers visitors a restful experience of rural living away from the chaotic, fast paced city living. As Glennis grew up on a dairy farm in Queensland, she gained an appreciation and love of the country. As a social worker, crisis counsellor and Minister in the Uniting Church, Glennis now facilitates the bed and breakfast plus the spiritual encouragement for couples. groups in a retreat style approach.
We were the lucky ones who found silence, contemplation and the beauty of nature a gift. With brekky and dinner cooked each day, Bill and I felt cared for. The hospitality was above and beyond her calling. So to give you an idea of what contemplation is let me share with you some of the beautiful passages and inspiration that were ours to receive.
Contemplation requires us to take a sustained, unhurried gaze at the object of our attention – perhaps nature, a reading, a conversation or a question. It requires time. It requires space from interruptions. We cannot be open to observe fully if we are in a hurry.
Bill and I spent some time each morning observing, paying attention to the beauty of nature. Really looking, noticing and asking questions, for example, holding a leaf, feeling the bark of a tree, smelling the flowers, gazing at a tree and in silence, appreciating what was in front of us.
A loving look at a thing understands that the world and all within it is both beautiful and flawed. There may be need for forgiveness and letting go. Contemplation asks us to be gentle with ourselves and others.
In the silence away from the demands of family and all that clutters our minds, we take the time to pay attention to what is going on around us rather than thinking of what to say next, where to be, what to do.
We found this simple exercise very helpful and nurturing.
As Joan Chittister in her thoughts about spirituality and contemplation in the midst of chaos says, “one prayer at a time, the contemplative allows the heart of God to beat in the heart they call their own. Prayer is a long, slow process. First it indicates to us how far we really are from the mind of God. When the ideas are foreign to us, when the process itself is boring or meaningless, when the quiet sitting in the presence of God in the self is a waste of energy, then we have not yet begun to pray. But little by little, one word, one moment of silence at a time, we come to know ourselves and the barriers we’re putting between ourselves and the God who is trying to consume us.”
We enjoyed listening to music, hearing poems being read aloud, taking time out to read for ourselves and walk in the lush rainforest a few kilometres from Fernlodge. Letting go of our fears and anxieties.
Glennis introduced us to Rohr who reflects on the contribution of Thomas Merton. Merton wrote, ” Paradoxically, I have found peace because I have been dissatisfied. My moments of depression and despair turn out to be renewals, new beginnings… All life tends to grow like this, in mystery inscapes with paradox and contradiction, yet centred, in its very heart, on the divine mercy.”
Up at the Common, a magnificent shed that Craig built up the hill from the main house, we met in the afternoons to reflect, discuss and question. Glennis gave us hand outs on Vulnerability – Ted talk by Brene Brown. Worth watching. Patrick Oliver’s wise words and a message about the great adventure in one’s life. Richard Rohr’s dualistic thinking, Frederick Buechner and his scared space, and poems by Wendell Berry.
What we enjoyed immensely was the openness, honesty and processing that a retreat can offer. A space for silence, connection with God and without judgement. Exploring our thoughts as husband and wife was really magical too. When we arrived we had no expectation, instead we left with a renewed sense of transformation and peace.