It is a ritual completed in silence, sometimes with a glass of wine or pot of tea. It starts by leaving their phones inside and includes taking five deep breaths.
Then, they reflect internally on questions adapted from the Josephite Nun’s Prayer Book, which prompt them to consider what they are thankful for, what they are least thankful for, what can they smile over, what is stirring in their heart, how they are feeling, and what their body is telling them.“No two sunsets are alike, and we are often filled with gratitude and wonder at this moment of day's close,” Max says. “Silence, gratitude and observing whilst sitting in nature is a great tonic.”
When Max speaks, he does so gently. There is a soothing eloquence in his voice you might not expect given the boldness of his attire. You get the impression everything he says is done so with purpose, influenced by his Christian faith and love for nature, which he describes as “God’s canvas”.
It’s a love shared by Brownyn, Max’s wife of more than 30 years. Seeing them together and listening to their stories is a joy that all can experience at Fosterton Retreat.
“We like to help people in their quest to find a greater depth, meaning, peace and enjoyment in life,” Bronwyn says.
And, if their credentials are anything to go by, the couple are more than qualified to assist those seeking spiritual and personal growth.
Max has training in Choice Theory, spiritual direction, labyrinth facilitation and years of experience in welfare. Bronwyn is trained in Choice Theory as well as The Enneagram and is currently undertaking a PhD in Natural History Illustration and spiritual direction training. They are also both practising artists, with decades of experience in creative pursuits.
Five years ago, they started Fosterton Retreat, which is located 15 minutes outside of Dungog and not far from the World Heritage-listed Barrington Tops. There, they welcome singles, couples, families, work groups and staff leadership teams for retreats that can vary in focus from spiritual, to nature and the arts and even understanding personality types or, a combination of all the above.
“Our retreats, even the creative ones, are for stepping back, not running away; to take stock of the now, learn new things and go deeper within before heading forward,” Bronwyn says.
“Over the years we have found a lot of guidance from practices used for centuries within various Christian traditions.
“At Fosterton Retreat, we go through a variety of these including using imagination in prayer, Lectio Divina as we sit ‘in’ the scriptures and walk our onsite labyrinths prayerfully. We also engage our guests in more recent practices using pencils, colour and fabric as a creative way to connect with God influenced by the Celtic proverb: ‘If you want to know the creator – create’,” Bronwyn says.
The retreats range in length from a few hours to multiple days, with a variety of onsite accommodation available.
Whether it is at Fosterton Retreat or elsewhere, Max and Bronwyn’s message is clear; allow yourself to be nurtured by nature and chances are you will find yourself developing a closer relationship with yourself, and God.