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A labyrinth outside of the Tatamagouche Centre in Nova Scotia. Courtesy of the Tatamagouche Centre

A vacation from life

Travelling to spiritual landscapes

By Carolyn Pogue

Soon after writing a travel piece on the wonders of Newfoundland, I stayed at a retreat centre in the Ontario woods. It reminded me that there are different ways to travel.

There are many retreat centres around the country, and new ones — like the off-grid, straw bale Wintergreen Studios in Ontario — are being built. The United Church has four established retreat centres across Canada. I believe they are national treasures; sacred places where, as the Five Oaks website says, you can “listen to owls, commune with trees and foxes . . . and connect with the holy.” They offer a good variety of opportunities for the adventurous.

At the Tatamagouche Centre in Nova Scotia, you might watch the tide, paddle upriver to see an eagle’s nest and then take a writing course. Tatamagouche offers spiritual retreats, workshops on social justice, faith, spirituality, leadership development, music and the arts. Last spring, leaders Saa Andrew Gbongbor, Shauntay Grant, Liliona Quarmyne and Tionda Cain offered “So You Think You can African Dance?” to black Maritime youth.

Five Oaks, near Brantford, Ont., is on the Grand River. There, you walk among oak, walnut and maple trees, sumach and wild grapes. When my husband and I were there last week, the voices of the summer campers were long gone; one solitary visitor was staying at the hermitage. We presented workshops on spiritual ecology and child honouring. The staff was busy preparing for a new workshop by Miriam Frey, called “Listening to the Holy through Dreams.”

Calling Lakes Centre is on Echo Lake in the Qu’appelle Valley, Sask. It is an accredited education and retreat centre mandated to “nurture growth in individuals, congregations and communities through programs, retreats and hospitality.” Not far from Regina, the Calling Lakes seems a world away on a starry night. In November, Moderator Mardi Tindal will lead a retreat entitled “Soul, Community and Creation” — exactly what’s needed before the busy-ness of Advent and Christmas. A walk in the hills here offers a chance for deep listening to God.

In British Columbia, the Naramata Centre is on the shores of Lake Okanagan. Generations of families have participated in programs here, paddled the lake, gone swimming, strolled the apple orchards and enjoyed nearby wineries. Naramata is well known for Healing Touch programs as well as programs similar to the other centres: pottery, right relations with local First Nations, music, social justice and youth leadership. This fall Lois Huey Heck, co-author of The Spirituality of Art, will lead a course called “Soul Work: The Spiritual Journey.”

Each centre has great food, simple accommodation and a wonderful book and music store that will feed your soul long after you leave. Each is affiliated with Affirm United, a gender and sexual orientation justice group. The next time you want to travel, you might consider another kind of journey. No passport required.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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