TV vicar leads desert retreats

A new desert retreat with ‘Extreme Pilgrim’ Peter Owen Jones in the Sinai wilderness offers the chance to get a different perspective

Peter Owen Jones, who spent three and a half weeks living in a Sinai desert cave for the filming of BBC TV’s Extreme Pilgrim series, now offers a condensed eight-day taster of this remarkable, life-changing experience.

Jones will be running two eight-day retreats back to back in March, which are being facilitated by the Makhad Trust, a UK charity working to sustain the heritage and traditional way of life of the Sinai desert’s Bedouin tribes. Sixty percent of all proceeds from the retreat journeys will contribute directly to the local Bedouin economy.

The Sinai desert has long been a hallowed place for contemplation and connection; in this spectacular and dramatic landscape, alive with astonishing colour, the prophets of three major world religions have emerged.

The silence of the desert has a quality that supports deeper inquiry, Peter believes. During his cave retreat for the Extreme Pilgrim series, Peter relished the hard earned gift of self-reflection that arose from solitude in this wild open space, away from life’s usual distractions like TV, internet and other technology.

“The desert is the greatest teacher I have had,” Peter reported. “I have returned faced with the truth that knowing ourselves is an intensely difficult thing to do because we always seek our reflection in others. But the desert is a clear, almost unblemished mirror. In the desert, I realised I could not go on making excuses and I realised how I had embedded these excuses in the fabric – in the very pattern – of my existence.”

The retreats are led by Peter and hosted by local Bedouin, and include: sleeping under the stars protected by a nomadic tent; a day of desert exploration; the opportunity to spend two to three days alone in solitary retreat; group celebrations; and travel through the desert for two days, trekking by camel or walking in the footsteps of the nomadic Bedouin hosts.

Writing about his Sinai cave experience in his book Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim, Peter concluded: “God I loved the desert. It allowed me to see to what was broken – with all my hate, with all my love, my unknowing, my unbeing – and gave me the time to begin to mend.”

The retreats run from 1-8 or 9-16March 2012, costing £850 excluding flights and including road transfers from Sharm El Sheikh.