Bukidnon Retreat

2011 April 17

Just got home from Malaybalay, Bukidnon. A tiring but fulfilling trip! Haaay finally I can stretch out my tired feet.

This is one of my best retreat experiences so far. I just love the place, never mind if I have no picture :-( I will treasure the best moments I spent within the monastery. I have no plan to spend the rest of the Holy Week fretting why I didn't own a camera to take my personal shots, life is fabulous and great memories linger. 


We left Davao last April 14 for our four-day retreat at the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Benedictine Monks. The annual retreat of the non-teaching personnel of UIC is one of my favorite institutional activities because it feels like all my weariness in life disappear temporarily, it also provides a great chance to reconstruct my spiritual journey and offers an opportunity to go out from the workplace and unwind.  

So what made this year’s retreat different? Aside from holding it on top of the mountain, the tranquil environment strongly reminded me of my happy childhood in the province.
 Spending precious moment at the monastery, making some of my worries disappear

The monastery is located on the breathtaking mountain of San Jose, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, surrounded with lush green forest and verdant plants, it is a welcome respite from the sordid life in the city. The rooms where we stayed are all located on the hills with trees cascading on each side of the stairs and lobby. 

At first, I was appalled with the fact that our room is positioned on the edge of the slope --- a climbing trek is not my life's definition of fulfillment and happiness, I am acrophobic so a mere sight of the ground from atop made me want to throw up--- but when I go downstairs and saw the cool and green surroundings, all inhibitions disappeared.

The place, well minus the slopes, reminded me of my life in Surigao. I grew up in a farm surrounded by rice fields, streams, beaches and thick vegetation, thus, the scenic environment of the monastery left a wonderful mark in my system. The tweeting of the birds at night, the soft breeze of the fresh morning air and the rustling of the leaves at sunset, are some of life's natural relief.

It was a fabulous experience at the monastery, I was able to sort out some important things in my life. Finally, I was able to find strength and courage to go to confession after so many years. It feels like all my guilt vanished, anxieties and worries (though not all) were lifted too.

The details of the trip...

April 14
We left Davao at 8:00 on a beautiful sunny Thursday morning, I chose to sit near the window of the UIC bus to get a perfect view of the terrific vistas and green environment of Davao and Bukidnon provinces, the sceneries were superb and spectacular, the scallop mountain reclining below the horizon exudes serenity and peace of mind, reminding me of the picturesque mountains of Switzerland which I only saw on several glossy posters.

But the moment we approached the narrow highway dividing the cities of Valencia and Malaybalay, the ghastly road construction greeted us with so much annoyance and irritation as several vehicles stuck up on the street waiting for its turn to pass the dilapidated area, it terribly drained my tired body thoroughly. We finally arrived at the monastery around 1:30 pm with a confused mood, why I say this?Hmmm because we did not know exactly what to do, haha! We jammed on doors, went downstairs then climb upstairs again carrying our bags while looking for rooms, I found myself literally exhausted towards the end of the hide-and-seek process.

The monastery countryside with its magnificent scenery. We just walked on its rugged road going to the New Church and back to the slopes. The walking trek reminded me so much with my life in Surigao where we would often walk by foot when going to another barangay

In the past venues of our retreat, we were received in a reception hall or counter to choose for a room, but at the monastery we were told to just go around and look for our room. Because my mind was still floating elsewhere due to fatigue, I was not in my correct senses to absorb the instruction, luckily, one of my colleagues who already went downstairs, reserved three rooms, so I got one which I shared with Ester. 

I had no time to stretch my tired muscle as we were instructed to go upstairs for an orientation. While sitting at the farthest corner of the chapel, my ears were not cooperating, so the words uttered by Dom Martin Gomez and Fr. Elias, just flew somewhere, my eyelids seemed ready to close and when Fr. Elias told us to form a group for an affirmation activity later, his words flung like pieces of dust to the horizon. 

Finally at 4:30, we were told to have our snacks downstairs, Oh God! Again, I will be compelled to drag my tired feet on the concrete staircase, I gripped on the banister hardly and told a colleague, I would never take part to any mountain climbing expedition.

After dinner I joined my group at the lobby of the chapel, I didn't change my outfit so I was a bit uncomfortable when we had our activity, it felt like my skin was thickly covered with dust, the soft evening air did not help soothe my mind and I was eager to end the activity to rush to the bathroom, but the manner of the discussion made me lurk in amusement, gosh! You could just imagine how much amount of discomfort and awkwardness crawled in our bodies while blurting flowery affirmation words toward each other, and felt like I was running out of adjectives to describe my colleagues, haha! It was our first time to do such activity, actually it felt good because we were able to see ourselves beyond our station, through the eyes of our colleagues..Uhmmm! But God, oh please, I never dreamed to repeat that delicate activity...it's so uncomfortable. I would prefer to write it in a piece of paper, it's more sincere, more natural and spontaneous.

April 15
I woke up at 6:20 in the morning, our breakfast call time was at 7:00. I have less tolerance in chilly environment, so I squirmed inside the bathroom as cold water streamed in my body, usually, I spent 40 minutes in the bathroom, but this time I just finished it less than 15 minutes.Argggh!

Our first session started at 8:30 in the morning and everything went smoothly because our retreat master, Fr. Elias, wrapped his lectures with funny anecdotes in life with tons of humor, it was a wonderful session indeed. 
with Josel at the chapel lobby before our first session started

Before taking snacks, he told us to undergo a silent prayer. We were told to choose a certain area where we could be alone to concentrate what to pray. So I went downstairs near our room and stood under the tree, rolling my eyes above the horizon and darting it back again to the slopes but my mind was tousled with many worries and questions that I was not able to compose a single prayer, so I just wrote several descriptions of the trees, the flowers and other stuff I saw in my surroundings.hehehe!

In the afternoon, he told us to halt the session to devote the rest of the time in praying and confession. Well, this is what I always like about the Benedictine Monks, their approach in facilitating a retreat is more on praying and deep solitude,and not a dreadful sharing activity divulging our best kept  secret locked up in our closet. Finally, I mustered some courage to go to confession after so many years, it was incredibly nice as I talked to one of the monks because I was able to unload several concerns and anxieties in life, he listened intently and gave me remarkable advises! Our day concluded with a mass at the chapel.

April 16
I had a nice sleep!Hmmm..maybe because the burden of guilt for not going to confession for several years finally lifted from my system. Haaay! I love the magnificent sunrise and the soft breeze of the morning air in the mountain as always.
Standing on the high staircase

Fr. Elias opened our morning session with a great chapter in the New Testament, the event where the Disciples saw Jesus Christ walked on the Sea of Galilee. It was great as Fr. Elias explained clearly the value and worth of having "storms" in our existence. Then he told us to ponder on our lives and reflect what level of "storm" we are currently traversing by going to the front and stomp on our choice. Without battling an eyelid, I chose "after the storm", and I know it reflected exactly what's inside my system.
Individual blessing from Fr. Elias

In the afternoon, we concluded the session with personal reflection, silence confrontation with ourselves where we are now in our faith, Fr. Elias let us differentiate the term religion and faith and as usual injected several humors which made us burst into laughter. 

For two days, we always attended the monks' evening prayers and hymn at the church. There was something in the church that I find very pious and solemn, maybe because of the environment but each moment we entered the place, it felt like holy spirit dwells from heaven that we were really behaved and super silent, we just whispered and never talked loudly. That's one thing I love about the whole thing, the place's sacredness. 
At the spectacular ground of the Transfiguration Church, this super neatly- trimmed ground is covered with Korean Bermuda and surrounded by soothing plants and flowers. I want to go back there one of these days to just sit in the ground and feel the stillness of the mother earth, it will really make me very happy

In the evening after dinner, I joined my colleagues in the lobby facing the high mountain and open fields, the softness of the night penetrated deeply in the environment that I felt lightness in my body and mind. We laughed on top of our lungs and shared funny conversation our voices tearing the stillness of the calm night echoing hardly on the mountain. We went to bed at 10:00 in the evening.

April 17
Oh this is it!We were told to wake up at 5:00 in the morning because breakfast will be served at 6:30. Haaay...Effort!!I am not really a morning person God!Luckily for me, I was able to do it anyway hehehe. 

At 7:00 am we went to the church to attend Palm Sunday Mass. I found out also that the Monks provide palms--I mean real palms--to the parishioners, so we got one and joined the rest of the people at the foot of the staircase leading to the church's ground for the blessing. The Holy Mass was solemn and quiet that it felt like my heart was ready to burst with emotion. It was truly amazing.

After the mass, we proceeded to the monastery museum where Dom Martin Gomez introduced us to his world-class Filipino Liturgical Vestments collection. It was a fine masterpiece of art and talent, Dom Martin was able to show his unique skill in fashion designing even inside the monastery. This collection reflects what Filipino cultural heritage is all about. You can read here my detailed blog about the Monastery Museum

After the museum tour we went back to our area in time for lunch. We passed at the Gift Shop, I bought Trappistine food bags of Oatmeal Cookies and Mango Bars primarily because I was fascinated with its fabulous packaging. hehe.We left Bukidnon at 1:00 pm and arrived at Davao at 5:30. It was truly a wonderful spiritual experience with the Benedictine Monks. I would love to go there once in a while to relax and feel the calmness of the environment. I love the simple and quiet life in the monastery. Well, life in the farm is absolutely fantastic, nothing compares. In fact one of my greatest dreams is really to build a house in the farm with a beautiful landscape of flowers, trees and wild plants. When I retire, I will definitely go back to a farm life, well beach is another great option.

Now I am back again to the chaotic environment and sordid life in the city. Hahay!

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