The Carcoar Camino – an Ignatian Walking Retreat

The Carcoar Camino – an Ignatian Walking Retreat

The autumn weather made for a beautiful Carcoar Camino retreat last weekend. The retreatants were taken on both an inner journey using the Ignatian First Spiritual Exercises and an outer journey, walking the Shalom labyrinth as well as tracks along the beautiful Carcoar valley.

John and Bernadette began the retreat on Friday night, setting the scene for the weekend with some interesting slides and short videos on the history of pilgrimage and Labyrinths.

The next morning our first walk focused on our life’s journey as we walked the labyrinth, and on our second labyrinth walk, we found Jesus on the road to Emmaus.


After a scrumptious lunch (cooked by our chefs for the weekend Nick and Fran), we headed down through the village of Carcoar. In the dark of the old railway tunnel we experienced coming alive with our contemplative meditation on the raising of Lazarus.

The highlight of the weekend was definitely our night labyrinth walk. With fire pits to warm us and hundreds of candles to light the path, we sat with Jesus in the Mary and Martha story.

Sunday morning we woke to another glorious day and headed off, following the ridge above the village.



There were plenty of photo opportunities along the walk, with the mist burning off Mount Macquarie and the views across Carcoar valley. The hills were dotted with kangaroos and a swamp wallaby hopped along the track beside us.



At the end of the walk we sat on logs beside the beautiful Belabulah River. Ignatius says that we should “pause wherever fruit is found” – a very useful suggestion for there was much to be found, as we listened to the gentle babbling of the water, it was easy to contemplate the joy in our lives as we went with Mary to visit Elizabeth and experience the joy of the new.

Over Sunday lunch, we overheard comments from the retreatants such as “depths of richness in happiness”, “feeling gratitude”, “joy in the scenery” and “joy of renewal“. 


It was lovely to see that taking this journey away from their busy lives helped them find the fruits of joy and peace; And with their souls nourished, the retreat came to an end. 

By Bernadette Collins

Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO speaks at Shalom

Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO speaks at Shalom

Father Frank Brennan’s credentials as priest, politician and advocate of human rights were in full evidence as he spoke at the long lunch at Shalom House of Prayer on Tuesday May 24th on the topic of ‘Human Rights and Religious Freedom in Australia Today’. 

A fluent speaker, whose depth and expanse of knowledge and insight across the terrain of human, religious and legal activity in Australia in relationship with the rest of the world today, Father Brennan explained and expressed the need for further necessary conversations and legislation that shape protection of individuals and groups working within the environment of religious establishments. 

Also included is the need for protection of the rights of these establishments to retain their traditional, specific ethos in Australian society. There was a vigorous question time that followed regarding the topic as well as questions surrounding the perceived inadequate address of refugees by the Australian government. 

A superb lunch prepared by Shalom Community member and cook, John Hansen ably assisted by friends of Shalom Julian Carsens, Gareth Pickett, Kay Fowler and Cathy Griffiths, was served afterwards.



If you were not able to attend but would like to hear Fr Brennan’s talk you can listen on Soundcloud at:

By Frannie Hansen

Bread of Life Retreat and the First Spiritual Exercises

Bread of Life Retreat and the First Spiritual Exercises

Shalom House of Prayer facilitates a rather beautiful retreat called the Bread of Life that focuses on the metaphor and method of learning the ancient craft of sourdough bread baking.

The metaphor of course is how we are stretched, moulded and transformed in our life’s journey towards God. 



Although this very practical retreat begins in the Shalom Kitchen under the tutelage of master bread craftsman John Hansen, its flexibility and metaphor makes it very compatible with the  giving of the First Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.

Recently, from Monday April 30 to Thursday May 3, The Shalom Community gave several exercises from the retreats of Inner Peace and Divine Love and Inner Peace in Service of God to 15 Anglican Ministers and workers from the Bathurst Diocese as they discern where and how the Holy Spirit is leading them at this point in their lives through their work for the Lord in the Diocese.


An interesting feature of this retreat is the use of the Shalom Labyrinth combined with the metaphor of the Parable of the Leaven. As the retreatants walk – they reflect upon their life’s story so far with the gifts they have received from God as the leaven in life. This was a lovely exercise before the First Spiritual Exercise of Fruits of the Spirit (Inner Peace in Service of God: Week 4).


At Shalom House of Prayer, we notice that each retreat group brings their own spiritual personality that permeates the house. The attitude of the Anglicans was one of deep quiet and prayerful enthusiasm as they entered into and participated in the exercises.

An outward joy was observable as they discussed, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company over the 3 days in the peaceful atmosphere of slow paced, country environment, beautiful food and deep rest in the Lord.

As givers of the First Spiritual Exercises, we are always encouraged and amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit at work through the giving to people who come with open hearts and minds to experience them.

Apart from reflections and gratitudes expressed, discussed and shared by retreatants – we, as givers of the First Spiritual Exercises, find great consolation in our own faith journey in the giving of the exercises to help others in theirs.

Frannie Hansen

Bread of Life Retreat

Bread of Life Retreat

On the last weekend of February, at Shalom we had a small but enthusiastic group of retreatants enjoying some great weather and wonderful food, while they learnt how to make ‘Pane Shalom’ our signature sourdough bread as well as some meditative prayer styles using the Ignatian spiritual exercises and our Shalom stone labyrinth.

For me this retreat was special because I had the opportunity to come out of the kitchen and help Nick & Fran rewrite and present the retreat into what the weekend proved, is a much better format and experience for retreatants.

We began Friday night after a nice dinner, with a brief introduction and film on bread making which really set the scene well, by looking at the history of bread and how it has become such an important symbol for life and the presence of God in the world. The benefits of the slow fermentation method of sourdough bread making was also highlighted as well as the transformational/spiritual aspects of the processes involved in turning the potential in wheat grains into this amazing food that has become known worldwide as ‘the staff of life

The evening was finished off with a very relaxing breathing  meditation that helped everyone begin to practice mindfulness, before we went to the kitchen to refresh our ‘sourdough starter’, sometimes called the ‘mother’ to prepare for mixing up our bread dough in the morning.

Saturday after breakfast we mixed up our dough with our starter (leaven) and put it away in the fridge to rest. The theme of our retreat was transformation, as bread is a transformational food.

The morning was spent considering the parable of the leaven as we moved from the method of bread making into the metaphor of the leaven working in our dough… as we are ‘enlivened’ by the spirit of God.

During this session we watched a film clip about bread from Peter Reinhart’s fabulous 2008 Ted Talk where he talks about the symbolism occurring during the bread-making processes and explains that,

“all things can be understood on four levels: the literal, the metaphoric or poetic level, the political or ethical level…. and ultimately, the mystical or sometimes called the ‘anagogical’ level.” 

After morning tea we returned to our parable of the leaven and considered it’s meaning while undertaking a meditative walk along the beautiful path of the Shalom medieval christian labyrinth.

During our walk we remembered our life’s journey, our own story and the gifts we have received; the leaven of our lives. Prior to lunch we learnt about other aspects of Ignatian prayer techniques to build upon the prayer experience and to recognise the fact that the Spirit is within me and can talk to me directly and that the Spirit is in those around me and can talk to me through them as well. We are all part of the same vine.

The practice of using our listening books for journaling was explained as well as sacred listening and the art of spiritual conversation that we will be practicing later in the day. Just before lunch we pulled our dough out of the fridge and began the first in a series of hourly gentle stretching and folding…., to build character and strengthen the dough.

Lunch was a lovely meal which we ate in the shade, under the apple trees. After lunch we again folded our bread dough before undertaking an Ignatian exercise called ‘Gifts of the Spirit’. This exercise was about remembering how we are loved by God and reflecting on the gifts that we have received. The gifts we focused upon were love, patience and generosity…so that, as we were putting our love, patience and generosity into our bread dough; Transforming it, … by gentle folding and stretching, ….we were also using this exercise to consider and reflect upon in prayer, how we are blessed with many gifts that we can slowly discover, respectfully nurture and gently stretch to transform us into something greater.  

We finished the day with more folding and then dividing our bread dough, before shaping it into loaves. The shaped loaves were placed into cane bannetons and put into the fridge overnight, ready to bake first thing in the morning.





On the last day we all practiced slashing the top of our loaves before placing them into the oven,  onto the hot baking stone. The slashes make sure the bread rises evenly in the oven and don’t burst open while baking.





Before morning tea, while waiting for our bread to bake and cool we undertook another Ignatian Spiritual Exercise where we considered how God works in creation as well as within each of us. This was followed with time for journaling, sacred listening and spiritual conversation.





After morning tea the final session was conducted with a lovely imaginative contemplation exercise where we use our imaginations to re-create the scene of the last supper and entered the scene to take our place at the table to share the breaking of bread with Jesus.




This was a great way to finish our weekend as we then moved outside and broke our freshly baked bread together under the trees and enjoyed each others company over a long lunch.

John Hansen

What it means to “hold space” for people

What it means to “hold space” for people

Heather Plett, gets to the heart of what it means to ‘hold space’.

As she describes it:

“What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome.” 

When my mom was dying, my siblings and I gathered to be with her in her final days. None of us knew anything about supporting someone in her transition out of this life into the next, but we were pretty sure we wanted to keep her at home, so we did.

While we supported mom, we were, in turn, supported by a gifted palliative care nurse, Ann, who came every few days to care for mom and to talk to us about what we could expect in the coming days. She taught us how to inject Mom with morphine when she became restless, she offered to do the difficult tasks (like giving Mom a bath), and she gave us only as much information as we needed about what to do with Mom’s body after her spirit had passed.

“Take your time,” she said. “You don’t need to call the funeral home until you’re ready. Gather the people who will want to say their final farewells. Sit with your mom as long as you need to. When you’re ready, call and they will come to pick her up.”

Ann gave us an incredible gift in those final days. Though it was an excruciating week, we knew that we were being held by someone who was only a phone call away.

In the two years since then, I’ve often thought about Ann and the important role she played in our lives. She was much more than what can fit in the title of “palliative care nurse”. She was facilitator, coach, and guide. By offering gentle, nonjudgmental support and guidance, she helped us walk one of the most difficult journeys of our lives.

The work that Ann did can be defined by a term that’s become common in some of the circles in which I work. She was holding space for us.

What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome.

“When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.”

Sometimes we find ourselves holding space for people while they hold space for others. In our situation, for example, Ann was holding space for us while we held space for Mom. Though I know nothing about her support system, I suspect that there are others holding space for Ann as she does this challenging and meaningful work. It’s virtually impossible to be a strong space holder unless we have others who will hold space for us. Even the strongest leaders, coaches, nurses, etc., need to know that there are some people with whom they can be vulnerable and weak without fear of being judged.

In my own roles as teacher, facilitator, coach, mother, wife, and friend, etc., I do my best to hold space for other people in the same way that Ann modeled it for me and my siblings. It’s not always easy, because I have a very human tendency to want to fix people, give them advice, or judge them for not being further along the path than they are, but I keep trying because I know that it’s important. At the same time, there are people in my life that I trust to hold space for me.

To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.

Holding space is not something that’s exclusive to facilitators, coaches, or palliative care nurses. It is something that ALL of us can do for each other – for our partners, children, friends, neighbours, and even strangers who strike up conversations as we’re riding the bus to work.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned from Ann and others who have held space for me.

1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom. When we were supporting Mom in her final days, we had no experience to rely on, and yet, intuitively, we knew what was needed. We knew how to carry her shrinking body to the washroom, we knew how to sit and sing hymns to her, and we knew how to love her. We even knew when it was time to inject the medication that would help ease her pain. In a very gentle way, Ann let us know that we didn’t need to do things according to some arbitrary health care protocol – we simply needed to trust our intuition and accumulated wisdom from the many years we’d loved Mom.

2. Give people only as much information as they can handle. Ann gave us some simple instructions and left us with a few handouts, but did not overwhelm us with far more than we could process in our tender time of grief. Too much information would have left us feeling incompetent and unworthy.

3. Don’t take their power away. When we take decision-making power out of people’s hands, we leave them feeling useless and incompetent. There may be some times when we need to step in and make hard decisions for other people (ie. when they’re dealing with an addiction and an intervention feels like the only thing that will save them), but in almost every other case, people need the autonomy to make their own choices (even our children). Ann knew that we needed to feel empowered in making decisions on our Mom’s behalf, and so she offered support but never tried to direct or control us.

4. Keep your own ego out of it. This is a big one. We all get caught in that trap now and then – when we begin to believe that someone else’s success is dependent on our intervention, or when we think that their failure reflects poorly on us, or when we’re convinced that whatever emotions they choose to unload on us are about us instead of them. It’s a trap I’ve occasionally found myself slipping into when I teach. I can become more concerned about my own success (Do the students like me? Do their marks reflect on my ability to teach? Etc.) than about the success of my students. But that doesn’t serve anyone – not even me. To truly support their growth, I need to keep my ego out of it and create the space where they have the opportunity to grow and learn.

5. Make them feel safe enough to fail. When people are learning, growing, or going through grief or transition, they are bound to make some mistakes along the way. When we, as their space holders, withhold judgement and shame, we offer them the opportunity to reach inside themselves to find the courage to take risks and the resilience to keep going even when they fail. When we let them know that failure is simply a part of the journey and not the end of the world, they’ll spend less time beating themselves up for it and more time learning from their mistakes.

6. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness. A wise space holder knows when to withhold guidance (ie. when it makes a person feel foolish and inadequate) and when to offer it gently (ie. when a person asks for it or is too lost to know what to ask for). Though Ann did not take our power or autonomy away, she did offer to come and give Mom baths and do some of the more challenging parts of caregiving. This was a relief to us, as we had no practice at it and didn’t want to place Mom in a position that might make her feel shame (ie. having her children see her naked). This is a careful dance that we all must do when we hold space for other people. Recognizing the areas in which they feel most vulnerable and incapable and offering the right kind of help without shaming them takes practice and humility.

7. Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc. When people feel that they are held in a deeper way than they are used to, they feel safe enough to allow complex emotions to surface that might normally remain hidden. Someone who is practiced at holding space knows that this can happen and will be prepared to hold it in a gentle, supportive, and nonjudgmental way. In The Circle Way, we talk about “holding the rim” for people. The circle becomes the space where people feel safe enough to fall apart without fearing that this will leave them permanently broken or that they will be shamed by others in the room. Someone is always there to offer strength and courage. This is not easy work, and it is work that I continue to learn about as I host increasingly more challenging conversations. We cannot do it if we are overly emotional ourselves, if we haven’t done the hard work of looking into our own shadow, or if we don’t trust the people we are holding space for. In Ann’s case, she did this by showing up with tenderness, compassion, and confidence. If she had shown up in a way that didn’t offer us assurance that she could handle difficult situations or that she was afraid of death, we wouldn’t have been able to trust her as we did.

8. Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.      Holding space is about respecting each person’s differences and recognizing that those differences may lead to them making choices that we would not make. Sometimes, for example, they make choices based on cultural norms that we can’t understand from within our own experience. When we hold space, we release control and we honour differences. This showed up, for example, in the way that Ann supported us in making decisions about what to do with Mom’s body after her spirit was no longer housed there. If there had been some ritual that we felt we needed to conduct before releasing her body, we were free to do that in the privacy of Mom’s home.

Holding space is not something that we can master overnight, or that can be adequately addressed in a list of tips like the ones I’ve just given. It’s a complex practice that evolves as we practice it, and it is unique to each person and each situation.

If you’re looking for a pdf version for printing and/or passing around to others, you can download it here. You’re welcome to share it, but if you want to re-publish any part of it, please contact the author.

Original Article link : What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well                           – By  on March 11, 2015