In Search of Families In Search of Adventure
A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005

Time to retreat

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From:       Stuart
Subject:   Time to retreat
  Date:         27th February 2005
     Jerusalem, Whanganui River Road, New Zealand


The boys chase each other up and down the stairs, skidding across polished floorboards, sliding on old patterned rugs, bouncing on the creaky springs of rows of beds lining the wooden dormitory walls. "This one's for Puppy The Wuppy" says Matthew throwing his Pup onto a shiny silver and red spotted bedspread. "NO. That's mine. I want it," says Cameron defiantly as he reaches to remove the dog.

I sit in an old armchair next to one of the beds and look out the window. The peaceful atmosphere of this place consumes me. For a moment two noisy boys disappear from my consciousness and I catch a moments respite from the demands of parenthood.

This is Jerusalem, named after the famous one, a tiny settlement on a hill overlooking the mighty Wanganui River. This Jerusalem is home to the Sisters of Compassion who look after the rambling Old Convent and pretty wooden church that sit up on the hill. The two remaining Sisters uphold the tradition of a working Catholic mission that dates back to the 1880's, working with the local community and welcoming travellers, visitors and those seeking a peaceful retreat.

The church of St Joseph watches over the Whanganui river at Jerusalem

The Old Convent is a special place, a rabbit warren of plain wooden rooms, simply but comfortably furnished. Downstairs, quiet rooms, altars, religious icons and shelves of spiritual and theological books provide constant reminders of a spiritual purpose. Upstairs, the dormitories tell stories of community living as a school, orphanage and convent, each bed with its own crucifix, lamp, cupboard and curtain.

You can feel the history in this place

Now the place is silent, empty, powerfully tranquil. We're the only ones staying here and I'm ready for a little retreat. I think we all need it. We've been travelling together for fifteen weeks now; 105 days, 24 hours a day, eating, drinking, sleeping and living together on the road. It's a pretty intense experience and moments of peace and tranquillity can be few and far between. So, when you find a place like this, you stop, do nothing and soak it up.

Doing nothing is hard. The boys don't want to. They want to play games, make noise, fight, consume your attention. The idea of quiet time, reflection or meditation is of no interest; they're already full of spirit and it needs no further nurturing. But as parents ours do. So Kirstie and I take turns to take the boys away so we each get some 'me-time'.

I wander around the church and listen to its old wooden bones creak in the wind. I sip tea in the kitchen and watch bees buzz into window panes. I sit in the quiet room and read about the miracle worker Padre Pio. I listen in the silence and try to hear my calling. I love 'me- time'.

Catholic and Maori influences meet in St Joseph's church

"Daddy, Daddy I want to show you something really, really amazing. It's absolutely amazing. Come with me. Come on Dada." Matthew hauls me up from the chair and out into the bright afternoon sunshine. "You know those seeds we found the other day. The ones we got from the pods. I've found the tree they come from. Look. See. Here." He points excitedly to the seed pods hanging off the tree, a perfect match for those we found on the ground a week ago. "They're absolutely the same Dad," he adds with wonder. I'm filled with the joy of his amazement in discovering something about the world for himself and reminded how while 'me-time' is great, kids are great nurturers of spirit too.

The Rosary Way Garden where Matthew made his miraculous discovery



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