The Road to Emmaus via Glendalough
William Henry Davies well-remembered poem, written over a hundred years ago, sprang to mind when mulling over our recent parents’ retreat
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows?
Last Friday, 24th April, a group of fourteen eager retreat pilgrims converged on the most beautiful of early Christian monastic sites, the valley of the two lakes, better known as Glendalough. The retreat is intended as a sort of ‘spring cleaning’ exercise for the mind, allowing room for some essential spiritual replenishment.
Tea and coffee, served with mouth-watering, bite-sized, scones provided a relaxed, informal start to the day’s proceedings. A warm welcome was then extended to all by our pastoral leader, Ms Anne-Marie Dolan (Pastoral Co-Ordinator in Clongowes), who began the round of introductions and confirmed the itinerary for the day. Several of the participants were veterans, testament to the high standard of this annual retreat. Anne-Marie introduced our hike leader, CWC’s intrepid reporter and editor, Declan O’Keeffe, who is also a seasoned mountaineer.
Each participant was provided with a retreat portfolio, which included features on Ignatian spirituality, biblical references and some homework “to do’s”. Anne-Marie asked that we retain some relevant evidence, tangible or otherwise, from our day to share on our return later that evening.
At 11.30 the group gathered for the hike and we were advised that some silent walking would be necessary so as to allow time for reflection and the first leg was easily walked in this fashion alongside the tranquil upper lake. When St Kevin’s cave came into view, on the other side of the lake, Declan donned his historian’s hat to remind us of Michael Dwyer’s daring escape from the Red Coats at this location. Our first stop was in the shell of what was once a two story stone residence in the Miners’ Village, where we broke, not just ‘bread’ but some scrumptious flapjacks too! Some of us may also have paid silent homage to those who laboured in this valley for zinc, lead and silver.
A lot more energy was expended during the next leg of our journey as we negotiated a rocky incline. We crossed to the other side of the valley and trod carefully on rain-drenched sleepers, some of us unaware that the light drizzle earlier had morphed into a ‘soft Irish day’! We trekked on, often meeting smiling foreign-national visitors who gallantly stepped off the track to allow us pass. Soon it was time to descend, but not before we stood in awe at the spectacular view of the valley and lakes below, breath taking even in its garment of grey.
After a quick freshen-up, we gathered for our final reflection of the day. Ann-Marie softly led us through a period of meditation, an effective mechanism to ease us into discussing what the day had actually meant to us. Real emotion was evident as we each shared our innermost feelings, some placing symbols on the centre table as they spoke and we were left in no doubt as to the spiritual benefits of this special retreat.
Later, in God’s Cottage, our spiritual journey continued under the gentle guidance of Fr Barney McGuckian, who reminded us of the core message at the heart of the story of ‘The Road to Emmaus’. During this simple Mass, Anne-Marie’s sweet voice led us in hymns as she plucked her guitar strings. Afterward it was time to bid adieux to those who left before dinner. Lively conversation over the meal by the nine remaining souls covered topics such as Fr John Sullivan, The Shroud of Turin and Whatever Happened to Shergar?!
And so ended a most memorable and spiritually productive time-out. The poet was ahead of his time…
P.S. Stats lovers please note: We each walked 16.3km (10.2 miles), for 3hrs 8mins, took 20,000 steps and burned off 2,595 calories. Many thanks to Ciaran for these ‘vital’ statistics!
Sincere thanks to: Anne-Marie, Declan, Paul, the Four Marys, David, Nick, Martina, Eileen, Ciaran Jim & Catherine, Jess and Fr Barney.
Aileen Saunders, Rhetoric Parent