This is going to be a very long post. Feel free to move right along, but here it is for any who might be interested. And if you want to come to the So Cal iteration of the retreat next year, I just might be there again (unless I have a pesky job or something).
I’m not sure what or how much to say about the retreat. It was a pretty incredible experience. It was unique. On the way home my pastor asked what I would want to have known before I went (with the idea of trying to encourage more people to go in the future). I haven’t really answered her question yet, but I’m working on it. I’m not sure it’s something one can know about ahead of time, except maybe that it really is contemplative. So here are a few random reflections:
The rhythm of the days was quiet breakfast, morning session with the speaker, “integration,” lunch, free time, worship with Eucharist, dinner, small group lectio divina, compline, “quiet” time from compline through breakfast.
Sunday and Monday I was feeling things out. It was okay, but I was still sort of coming down from life and trying to grasp what I was doing there. I was also frustrated by the talk Monday morning. The topic of the week was Sabbath and the talk seemed to me to focus on the extreme busy-ness of our culture of work. While I acknowledge that, it is not my life. There was also an anti-internet, anti-facebook sentiment that, again, I understand, but I find frustrating. So I liked the woman and her style which was thoughtful and deep and smooth and almost monotonous, but I didn’t feel like she was talking to me.
The rest of it was fine. I was happy to have a partner in my roommate who is a gregarious woman who has been helping lead the extended new members’ class at church with which I’ve been involved. The worship was pretty wonderful and being served communion, called by name, given the bread, presented with the cup–well, as intimate as I mentioned in a prior post that it was to serve and be served by my AP, this felt almost the same. Every day. All week long. The liturgist for the week (and I think the man who holds it all together) shows up as Swami Jeff in Sara Miles’ book:
Jeff was a Presbyterian minister who said things like “My goodness!” in a sweet voice; he was handsome and trim with a perfectly groomed little beard and had chintz pillows arranged in rows on his sofa. He had a New Age streak (“Woo-woo,” he explained helpfully to me, the first time he “invited” me to “visualize” someone “wrapped in light”) and was very gentle, in a kind of classical-music-loving, sweater-wearing, great-cathedrals-of-Europe way; he was profoundly devout, really smart, and utterly unflappable. (Sara Miles, Take This Bread, Kindle edition page 162 location 2445) [Two notes: my pastor says he says there were never any chintz pillows and he takes umbrage if someone brings them up and he actually regularly leads a “Great-Cathedrals-of-Europe” tour.]
So Jeff is just cool, and really so is the whole staff. I had more and less contact with different members, but all the moments of contact I did have were pretty grace-filled. And just by being there, I was included in some of other people’s big conversations, and that felt good.
The lectio group was the hardest part for me to settle into. It’s such a foreign concept to me. It’s individual and communal at the same time. And I somehow felt awkward with the group, though I felt very comfortable with the leader of it. If we hadn’t touched on this kind of lectio divina in our formation class, it really would have freaked me out. As it was, it still kind of freaked me out. That kind of got harder and harder for me to go to until the very end.
The evenings make me laugh. We’re supposed to be quiet from Compline through breakfast–it is, after all, a contemplative retreat. Our church–not so much. After compline we met in the most hospitable room (on the end of the building on one side and no one in the room on the other) and had wine and snacks and chatted as a church. That part was pretty great. I learned a lot about the church and the people in it. And our pastor tried to get us to talk about Important Things. She was somewhat successful. After the group time, my roommate and I chatted up in our room and some questions I had had about church dynamics were made very clear to me. So, not so much early nights with lots of quiet. We did stick with quiet breakfasts, though.
Monday night, or really tuesday morning, I woke up at 4-something and couldn’t get back to sleep. I let myself get up just after 5:00. I put on sweats and walked outside and waited for light to dawn. It was a little spooky wandering the retreat center grounds in the dark. I got coffee (24 hour coffee–woo-hoo!) and sat and read and wrote and thought. I wandered the Stations of the Cross. I walked the labyrinth in the dark which turned out to be a little awkward and difficult which was how I was kind of feeling about everything right then. Once the sun was up, I did some walking and felt better for it. It was a long morning waiting for 8:00 breakfast, though. The rest of the day I was suffering from sleep deprivation and I suddenly started missing the kids something fierce. I finally called them after dinner and talked to my mom and Squeak (Bubble hadn’t returned from swimming) and that helped, but it was an uneasy day.
Wednesday I continued to feel restless and unsure of how much I wanted to open myself up and how much I even wanted to be there even while enjoying parts of it very much. And then we had the Service of Healing and Wholeness. I debated for awhile, but finally gave in and allowed myself to be prayed for. It was intense and beautiful and God-filled. I ended up with the staff member I had had least contact with up to that point, yet his prayer, based on a couple broken sentences of mine, was totally appropriate. I was kind of overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy. The service ended with all of us singing Laudate Dominum while Jeff and two other staff members danced with utter joy and freedom in the center aisle. It was an amazing way to end the evening–that movement from the strong emotion and the deep grief of the prayer time to this great joy. When we talked about it, my pastor compared it to the movement of Holy Week. It was an Easter moment.
The next day, the morning speaker’s message could have been just for me. She was talking about moments of exaltation that come from turning to God in true Sabbath. Everything she said just absolutely struck me. And then–Every day she had ended her time with a poem as a benediction. We’d gotten Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov, Derek Walcott–but on Thursday it was William Shakespeare and not just any Shakespeare, but Sonnet 29, “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…” which is just about my favorite sonnet ever and which my Indianapolis cousin read in my wedding. Yep. That’s the one. So it was all about me that day. It really was. And I let myself open up to both the other group members and the presence of God later in the lectio group in a way I hadn’t been, and that was good, too.
And then it was Friday and time to come home. At that point, I would have liked a little more time, but maybe it’s just as well I ended on a high note. And now I’m trying to carry some of what I received with me. It’s so easy to slide back into the every day. We’ll see.