Rachel’s Vineyard Healing Retreat is designed to address this confusion and pain through a healing process that acknowledges what has happened and invites women and men into a safe space to tell their story, acknowledge their child’s life and find self forgiveness, God’s forgiveness and love.
The retreat offers encouragement to see things through the eyes of Jesus’ love for them. Just as Jesus loved the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well and the woman with the haemorrhage, Jesus loves all people and especially those who are hurting and in pain. Through the sacraments, participants are invited to address their pain and take action to restore their lives to full health. They are invited to become aware of themselves and their place in the world, to respect themselves and others and to honour their child as a member of God’s family.
A Participant’s Experience
Retreat participants normally experience a sense of healing and connection to God, themselves and their baby. Here is ‘Clare's’ story.
Raised in a very active Catholic family, I never could have imagined that I would one day have an abortion; but it did happen and from that dreadful day I believed myself to be lost forever in the eyes of the Church and worse still, in the eyes of God. I felt resigned to silently carrying a heavy burden of shame and guilt for all time, never being able to forgive myself or be forgiven by others for the awful thing I had done. The turning point for me was reading about the founder of Rachel’s Vineyard in Australia, Julie Kelly. Hearing her story helped me to see that forgiveness was possible, that there was hope beyond the seemingly gloomy horizon.
The retreat was a wonderfully liberating experience when I told the story of my abortion for the first time, publicly named my lost child and honoured him in ritual and song. I began the long journey towards healing through my encounter with the healing Gospel stories of Jesus, carefully guided by compassionate people who showed me the merciful face of God. Hearing the stories of other retreatants was also a very privileged experience and assisted me to begin to make sense of my experience and to chip away at the burden of guilt and shame.
Some years after my retreat I still carry feelings of regret and sadness. Grief never really ever goes away completely, but I have been able to forgive myself and the others in my story, and to turn my terrible experience into a positive one by helping others in their journey of grief and shame. My lost child is an important part of my life that I hold within, and Rachel’s Vineyard has enabled me to bring dignity and acknowledgement to his life. Never fully healed, but well and truly in a much better place with the knowledge that my God understands, loves and forgives.
Reflecting on a Sydney retreat
John Bosman msc reflected on his experience of a recent retreat.
Within every pain is a truth. Where two or three are gathered there, something, someone special, happens. Hearts are softened and transformed.
At the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat at Mount St Benedict’s in Sydney, we entered the stillness of our hearts. Together we entered those hidden recesses, harbouring loss and regret, rejection and shame-filled isolation as well as tenderness and hope. We listened and understood in words and gestures that sometimes were, and at other times were not, our own. They were from beyond us.
The process of the retreat is gentle and effective: naming our hopes and fears, thus fleshing a gentle, urgent invitation to go through and beyond the portals of darkness to new togetherness and belonging. The mothers named themselves to be mothers and thus named their children with compassion, even joy. Contacts once broken grew into deeper union.
St Paul says that “sharing one another’s burdens is the perfection of the Law”. In word and silence, in symbol and the bare, eloquent facts of our lives, we did that. We listened and found words for the stories of our hearts. We discovered not condemnation but acceptance and forgiveness and a throbbing resilience. We found that ideals or expectations must not be burdensome, but rather inspirational. We experienced healing in voice and face and attitude. We welcomed the space and time for healing in heart-filled prayer, silent and aloud, in ritual and reflection.
We came to realise that we are loved and cherished. We have nothing to fear. “For everything is well and all kind of manner is well.”
Peter Maher, a Sydney priest and John Bosman, MSC priest, are members of Rachel’s Vineyard Healing Retreat Team, Sydney. The next retreat will be 22-24 July, 2016. Please visit www.rachelsvineyard.org.au. Anyone who may benefit from a retreat or support after an abortion can also P 0400 092 555 or E firstname.lastname@example.org.