Spirit of Beguines: Retreat Itinerary
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In the Spirit of the Beguines

A Retreat and Pilgrimage in Belgium


Deepening Love, Courage & Community

September 18-27, 2015


The Beguines of the Middle Ages created new communities of spiritual companionship and service at a time when the only options for women were marriage or taking vows to the church.  Their movement flourished for hundreds of years and inspired an intimate love for the Divine that was expressed in their relationships, writing and service.  How can the Beguine movement inspire our own spiritual companionship and communities?  What can we learn from their courage, innovation and commitment?





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Friday, September 18, 2015 Depart from your home destination for arrival in Brussels, Belgium by 9:00AM on Saturday, September 19th.


Day 1: Saturday, September 19th, Be greeted by retreat personnel at the Brussel Nationaal/Bruxelles-National Airport  (if applicable) and travel by bus to Hotel Novotel Brugge Centrum  Enjoy lunch and introductions before stretching your legs and beginning our immersion into Beguine spirituality with a six minute walk to the Brugge Begijnhof .   At the Begijnhof we will explore the peaceful grounds, visit the museum and meet with one of the Benedictine nuns. Return to the hotel for dinner and optional Evening Song* before turning in for a good night’s rest. 


Day 2: Sunday, September 20th, Experience the beauty and energy of this city by walking to a nearby church for services. We suggest a fifteen minute walk to the Basilica of the Holy Blood but you might enjoy returning to the Begijnhof for their intimate service.   Enjoy lunch on your own before returning to the hotel for our retreat time and dinner, included in your retreat fee. During our retreat time we will explore our own yearnings for community and spiritual companionship. 


Days one and two are intentionally planned to help participants experience the environment that influenced the Beguines. While those traveling from abroad get their ground-feet and recuperate from jetlag we engage physically in our environment and allow cobblestone roads, the cloistered dwellings, canals and medieval architecture nourish us.


Day 3: Monday, September 21st, We will spend the morning with the leadership and wisdom of Rev. Matthew Fox as he highlights the impact that the Beguines had on individuals, communities and the culture and how their creativity, courage and mystical spirituality might support our own desires. After lunch we will engage in creative writing practices led by Stephanie Raffelock that shine light on the gifts, voice and beauty of each participant.  Lastly, before dinner we gather salon-style, first with a dialogue between Matthew Fox and Susan Coppage Evans and then with open dialogue and sharing within the group.  Dinner will be on your own with options of staying at the hotel or venturing out in the beautiful town of Brugge with its canals reflecting the evening life and light.


Day 4: Tuesday, September 22nd  We hope you got to bed early because today is a full day and is rich in experiencing the lives of the Beguines. After breakfast we put our luggage and ourselves on our private bus and head off to Ghent, Belgium approximately one hour away.


We will visit two Beguinages, one of which is the “The new St. Elisabeth Béguinage and the Experience Centre. The 'béguinage' phenomenon has been interpreted afresh with a mixture of authentic heritage and modern media techniques. It looks beyond the traditional image of the beguines and instead depicts one of an autonomous community of strong, independent women, who balanced on the edge of the worldy and the divine” The second is the Small Beguinage Our Lady of Ter Hoyen founded in 1235. Today, it is one of the best preserved and most attractive beguinages from before the French Revolution. The last beguine that lived here passed away in 2005. Now the houses are leased and the larger buildings have become artists' workshops. Both of these Beguinages are listed as Unesco World Heritage sites. 


We will also visit the most famous site in Ghent, the Altarpiece - Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, “considered one of Northern European art's masterpieces and one of the world's treasures.”   And to complete our journey into the culture and experience of the Middle Ages, we will visit a textile museum - The Texture, and learn about the use of flax to make beautiful textiles and lace. This will help us imagine the work that supported so many Beguines: making lace, weaving and working with textiles. It was this work that helped the Beguines be financially independent and offered hours of “art as meditation”.  After a full day, including a stop for lunch, we will board the bus and head for the Begijnhof Congres Hotel in Leuven Belgium, just one hour away. After we check into this lovely hotel, we will enjoy a three-course meal with a taste of a local wine at The Faculty Club which is adjacent to the hotel and housed in part of the Grand Beguinage of Leuven. Included in retreat fee.


Day 5: Wednesday, September 23rd, After a leisurely breakfast, we take a stroll through the Groot Begijnhof of Leuven. It was on one of these cobblestone roads, in April 2013 that Susan looked up, saw the adjacent hotel and dreamt of this retreat. Only later did she learn that in that very month the very last Beguine of this Medieval European movement died. Was there a baton being passed?  Could a retreat inspire the next iteration of innovative lay communities?  Might there be someone, or many, who attend the retreat and imagine different ways to engage in meaningful companionship and service?  After our tour we will spend the afternoon in retreat at the Faculty Club with Rev. Matthew Fox and guest lecturer, Dr. Rob Faesen, SJ.  Dr Faesen is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, The Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU), and Lecturer at the University of Antwerp. His research focuses on the history of the Middle Dutch mystical literature. Once again we will engage in writing as our own art as meditation and share our voices on paper and in community.  Lunch and dinner at the Faculty Club included in retreat fee.

Faculty Club

Day 6: Thursday, September 24th,  A day of retreat at The Faulty Club, sinking into the Beguine movement (which is at times called “the first women’s movement”) and their mystical, inspired and down-to-earth teaching.  Today we take time to rest, to read, to walk and write, and to engage in spiritual intimacy and contemplation. Lunch provided at the Faculty Club, dinner is on your own - perhaps to discover a brew-pub in this city that hosts some of the largest and oldest breweries in the world or enjoy a quiet dinner at the hotel followed by time in the sauna.


Day 7: Friday, September 25th, If we lived in Europe during the Middle Ages, we would likely participate in a pilgrimage; walking to sites such as the Aachen Cathedral.  During the Middle Ages, Aachen (the oldest cathedral in Northern Europe) became one of Christendom’s most important places of pilgrimage. The Aachen pilgrimage, which has been taking place every seven years ever since 1349, is devoted to worshipping the four Holy Relics collected by Charlemagne.


We will participate in this pilgrimage within a pilgrimage and take a bus to Aachen Germany to visit the cathedral and city.  On the way there, we will stop at another holy site in the town of Verviers, Belgium and visit the miraculous Black Madonna at Eglise Notre-Dame des Récollets. We will have lunch together in the quaint town of Verviers and visit a textile museum that highlights the region’s special production of wool.  After our tour of the Cathedral in Aachen, enjoy dinner on your own at one of the little cafés nearby. Everyone is one the bus at 7:00PM, returning to our hotel in Leuven at 8:30PM


Day 8: Saturday, September 26th, Our last retreat day at the Faculty Club in Leuven, we finish up our retreat together with a focus on inspired integration. How do we “Take it to the streets”? What bubbled up during our retreat and pilgrimage that is asking something of you?  Little or big, personal or global, action or non-action: what did the lives of the Beguines inspire in you?  We will share our intentions with one another and identify the tender and bold ways in which we can take our own delicate handiwork back into our communities. 


We will conclude our retreat time by 3:00PM and leave at 6:00PM for a special farewell dinner at Het Anker Brewery, a Flemish brewery in Mechelen (30 minutes away), originally founded in 1471 by the Grand Beguinage of Mechelen where it still resides.


Day 9: Sunday, September 27th, Check out of the hotel in time for your flight from Brussels. See details HERE. Enjoy a day of travel and transition to home.


* Evening Song: In keeping with community life, early each morning and in the evening after dinner there will be an option to join others for a time of prayer, meditation, and song.


Retreat schedule subject to change as needed according to the leadership of the facilitators and local leaders/vendors.







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the kingdom of god does not come if you  

watch for it. nor will anyone be able to say,  

“it is here” or “it is there.” for the kingdom of god is within you.  


jesus of nazareth   from painted prayers by jody uttal