All of the senses will be engaged in the search for the sacred at Mount St Benedict Centre this year, with the program of events featuring workshops and retreats that will include music, art, writing, and a faith-centred immersion in nature.
Director of the Centre, Natalie Acton, said the program has been carefully collated to offer people a variety of paths to deepen their spirituality.
“We believe that people have their spirituality awakened through different media,” Natalie told The Good Oil. “So we’re holding a variety of workshops and retreat experiences that will draw on art, music, scripture and writing to give people the opportunity to get in touch with the sacred through various means.”
Mount St Benedict Centre, located at Pennant Hills in Sydney, is a ministry of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan and, along with its work of hospitality for groups wishing to take some time out in its beautiful surrounds, it offers one special retreat or workshop each month.
“We’re lucky to have two important partnerships emerging in the program for 2018,” Natalie said.
“The first is a partnership with the Diocese of Broken Bay’s Office for Evangelisation, and the second is with the Rahamim Ecology Centre, an environmental education, spirituality and advocacy ministry of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea, based in Bathurst.”
The partnership with the Diocese of Broken Bay has resulted in a one-day retreat at Mount St Benedict Centre, entitled “Benedict’s Tools for Peace”. The day of reflection will be facilitated by Good Samaritan Sister Dr Carmel Posa, an esteemed Benedictine scholar and teacher, and will respond to the contemporary question “What does it mean to be at peace in this world at this time, in our hearts, our homes, in our workplaces?”.
The other partnership, with the Rahamim Ecology Centre, will see Sally Neaves, Rahamim’s Eco-Education Coordinator, lead two retreat experiences at Mount St Benedict this year.
The first, in April, is a three-day “Rockforest Reawakening Retreat” which will be co-facilitated by Sally and Pat Long, formally Coordinator of Earthsong in Melbourne. The retreat is an immersion experience in which participants will have the opportunity to deepen their appreciation of the beauty and sacredness of the natural world, hear the cry of the Earth and bring forth imaginative responses to the challenges of our time and place.
The second is the “Women of Earth Series”, an opportunity to explore the new theological questions arising in our times in response to the challenge of the Earth’s distress. It will be held in July and August, over three weeks of short morning sessions.
Natalie said the partnership with Rahamim reflects and gives action to ecological conversion, one of the key priorities in the Statement of Directions from the Good Samaritan Sisters’ recent Chapter Gathering.
“Pope Francis has called for us to establish a deep and personal connection with the natural world. Our relationship with Earth then becomes the centre from which we respond to the ecological challenges of our times,” she said.
Sally said the three-day retreat will be an opportunity to “rearrange the furniture in our minds” to explore the cosmic story that we’re a part of.
“So it begins with gratitude and awe and wonder, and introduces us to the idea that we need constant practices to remind us that ‘I’m part of this world and this world is sacred’,” she said.
Day two will see participants take a trip to the Blue Mountains to immerse themselves in nature, spend time with both its beauty and its brokenness, and experience and honour the grief felt at the destruction of the natural world around us. An ecologist and an Aboriginal story-teller will be guides for the day.
“And finally, the third day will look at responses to that grief and what that might mean going forward,” Sally said.
“We’ll be looking at how others are responding in our time, getting inspiration, and going back out into the world to see what we ourselves can do.”
Later in the year, Sally will facilitate the “Women of Earth Series” workshops, which will be interactive weekly sessions unpacking the pioneering advances of women in eco-theology which helped pave the way for current contributions in this area, including Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si.
Natalie said that along with these exciting new offerings, Mount St Benedict Centre will continue to run some of its most popular events from past years, including children’s meditation workshops, a Lenten reflection day, the popular Advent Festival and the six-day guided retreat, which this year will be led by Bishop David Walker.