Trees are the focus in the first installment of a retreat series at Ignatius Jesuit Centre. Photo by Matthew Hendzel SJ

Retreat explores powers within our natural world

By 
  • April 7, 2022

A three-retreat series debuting on the Earth Day weekend will invite attendees to enter a more spiritual and mindful relationship with the nature God created. 

Loyola House at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ont. will facilitate The Birds and the Bees and the Trees Retreat Series to nurture “religious awareness about the sanctity of creation” by inviting attendees to “spend spiritual, scientific and experiential time with our kin-creatures.”

Trees are the marquee attraction of the first retreat, April 22-24. Fr. Greg Kennedy, SJ, will guide the weekend alongside local naturalist Byron Murray. Textile artist Lorraine Roy will lead retreatants through artistic activities.

After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic largely conditioning people to spend more time indoors in front of computer screens, Kennedy said this gathering at the feet of trees will stimulate a transformational experience within each attendee.

“One problem with our world today is we spend too much time in our heads, and not enough time in our hearts and bodies,” said Kennedy. “We all know the facts that climate change is increasing drastically and many species are facing extinction. Facts fail though to lead to conversion or a change of heart.

“To spend time outside with a tree getting to know it on different levels — its name, attributes, personality and how it communicates with different trees — can help build a personal relationship with the creation on Earth. That could cause us to wake up and think, ‘how I can I treat trees, animals and people better.’”

Kennedy considers Murray “a master at awakening people to detail” and arousing enthusiasm for “the wonder and awe of trees.” The Jesuit priest, along with Roy, was invited to appear on a recent episode of Murray’s podcast to know the land for a discussion about the Trees retreat weekend.

According to the episode’s written summary, Murray and Kennedy have “been going on many walks around the 600-acre farm where the Jesuit Centre is situated” to plan and share in their “profound respect and love for the land.”

Ignatius Jesuit Centre has been known for its silent retreats in the years since the Guelph Jesuits moved to the land in 1913. But Kennedy and his colleagues sense that one of the motives of attending retreats in the first months of a post-pandemic phase is experiencing the face-to-face fellowship largely denied to them for most of two years.

The Birds weekend retreat is scheduled the weekend of May 27-29. As participants spend time “watching, listening, contemplating and learning the beautiful freedom of birds,” professional ornithologist Matthew Iles will strive to elevate the proceedings by helping the visitors “find, identify and deepen in appreciation for our winged friends, allowing enough time, space and silence for contemplating the spiritual significance of these heavenly beings.”

Bees will get their due from June 10-12. Carrie Dohe will be the guest facilitator. She founded Bees for Peace, a biodiversity project championed by the United Nations that seeks to collaborate with faith and humanitarian organizations to establish blooming feeding sites for bees and other pollinators.

Dohe will help partakers “study the generosity, dedication and intelligence of bees to learn better how we, like the bees, can contribute to maintaining the web of Earthly life.”

For more info about The Birds and the Bees and the Trees Retreat Series, visit ignatiusguelph.ca.

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