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Let the wilderness bloom! A journey through Advent with John the Baptist

Watch the trailer here:


An online retreat for Advent

with Fr John Udris and Avril Baigent

John the Baptist is one of the towering figures of Advent. He chose to make his home in the wilderness – that sacred place of struggle, breakthrough and grace in the story of God’s people. In our Advent retreat we shall be exploring some of features of his chosen habitat: silence, solitude, aridity, vulnerability. We shall ponder how hope, promise, patience and resilience can blossom in these conditions. Accompanied by insights from the mystics, especially the desert fathers and mothers, we are invited to make this Advent journey towards the joy that fully blooms with the birth of Jesus. These webinars will be live on Monday evenings from 27th November at 7.30pm, or can be watched at any time afterwards.

With plenty of time for prayer and contemplation, join Fr John Udris and Avril Baigent as we seize the opportunity to switch off from all the pressures on us and just ‘be’.


There are three different ways you can take part.

  1. Individually either live on Monday evenings or at a time to suit you. If you join us live, you have the option to join in the chat, share thoughts and ask questions.
  2. Or gather a group and watch it together – again either live on a Monday, or at any time that suits. It’s a great resource for parishes or other groups to use to come together.
  3. And finally, this year we are planning to make the series available as a podcast, so you can take it on a walk with you, or accompany you through the busy-ness of Advent.

However you take part, do feel free to share this with anyone who might be blessed by it.  It’s produced by the Diocese of Northampton, but as a resource for the kingdom!

You can watch live on Monday evenings, or catch up on the same link at any time afterwards.  Videos will be posted a day or so later each week.

Last year’s retreat, Walking by Starlight, is still available here:

Week 1 – Silence

In the first evening, Fr John Udris drew on Scripture, the lives of the desert mothers and fathers, and contemporary poetry to explore silence in all its aspects. We spoke about how hard silence can be, the habits and discipline of spending time in silence, and different ways of thinking about it. Can you join our challenge to form a habit of silence this Advent?


Week 2 – Solitude

In our second evening, Fr John led us in a reflection on solitude, how it differs from loneliness, and how time alone can power us for time with others.  He shared prayers from Ted Loder’s book, Guerillas of Grace, and reflections from Michael Harris’ book, Solitude.  He challenged us to wonder: would we describe Jesus as busy?  If not, why not? We finished with a beautiful poem from the Persian poet Hafiz: “don’t surrender your loneliness too quickly“.

Week 3 – Aridity

Our third evening concentrated on dryness, using the music of Sarah Kroger to situate us in the desert, asking questions like “why?”, “when?”, and “how long O Lord?”  We followed the Israelites as they wandered in the desert, asking “why have you brought us out here to die in this wilderness?”. We reflect on our own spiritual lives as ‘like a dry, weary land without water,’ recognising our need for the Holy Spirit, who is often portrayed as being like dew fall, gently soaking into our dry, weary lives. Fr John finishes by sharing the need for patience, challenging us in the words of Hafiz:

Don’t surrender your aridity so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you


Week 4 – Vulnerability

In our final evening, we turned our thoughts to recognising our powerlessness, and even embracing it as part of our spiritual journey.  St Therese of Liseux teaches us to ‘love our powerlessness’.  She imagines Mary our Mother saying to us ”

‘If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of not being pleasing to yourself, you will provide me with a pleasant refuge.’

In all this, Fr John encouraged us to see our weaknesses and disappointments as vulnerabilities that opens us to the workings of God’s grace, becoming vulnerable as the Christ Child is vulnerable.