Photo: BG Smith/Shutterstock

A favourite Lenten discipline is the annual silent retreat that members and friends of my home congregation undertake at Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre, 25 kilometres west of Calgary. This was our fifth year. Our numbers average about two dozen. While we are fortunate to have several retreat centre choices in our area, this place, maintained by the Franciscans, serves us well.

Every year, many of us come away convinced that the four to six hours there, including a silent meal together, is a good Lenten exercise. I would like to share some impressions of our recent experience with you.

Natural surroundings, while certainly not the only important attribute of a retreat setting, can certainly add to the experience. Mount St. Francis offers a glorious location, with the beautiful Rocky Mountains in the background and scenic seasonal walking paths for humans and wildlife alike. The founders in 1949 certainly knew what they were doing when they chose this site.

Spiritual experience is meaningfully enhanced—whether one wanders in nature or observes it from comfortable chairs at the centre through large, strategically-spaced windows.

Most good retreats involve relaxing disciplines to assist meditation. Our time at the Mount comes with natural blessings that attend and nurture our spirits, even when the time spent is minimal.

Theme and guidance are important as well. The policy at Mount St. Francis is that visiting groups may invite their own spiritual director or engage the resident retreat leadership. Encountering The Sacred: Intimacy With God was the theme for 2018. Our spiritual guide not only welcomed and dispersed us with skill, but provided a helpful, prescribed frame of reference for the day that included gospel proclamation and biblical-spiritual references to guide our several hours of meditation. Some folk are independent spiritual questers, but many of us could benefit with some help.

The liturgical spiritual formation that is part of the traditional worship discipline of some churches offers structure, but many Protestants do not inherit that as part of their experience. How fortunate we are to have help from those to whom it comes naturally!

This leads to a final important gift I feel we received at the Mount. In our closing time of chapel-sharing, I commented that when I was first engaged in the church’s ministry, half a century ago, we were not yet familiar with the warm hospitality that welcomed us today. I could not help reflecting back to times when the barriers between Roman Catholics and others had been stained by centuries of violence and misunderstanding. Now we share a common language.

What a blessing it is to benefit from the inviting spirit that was freely shared with us by our hosts! This, indeed is a miracle to celebrate. It is also a hopeful sign that barriers currently separating us from others (both Christian and non-Christian alike) may fall away as we attempt to claim God’s loving purposes into the future.

Perhaps some of the thoughts shared here will remind you of similar experiences or stimulate ideas for your own Lenten observance.

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Wayne Holst
Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for 25 years. He taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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