If I were going to write a book on my week of silence at the pines I would title it "Being With God."
That is what a silent retreat is all about and that is the gift and the challenge of spending a week in retreat.
This year I went to "Our Lady of the Pines" in Fremont and my spiritual director was Sister Breta - who was my spiritual director during the time I served as pastor in Bowling Green.
This is my third silent retreat (I have done one every other year) and I continue to learn the benefit of time away with God and the great blessings. I write throughout the day on retreat and at the end of the week this was my summary of the time spent. It is always hard to describe the "movement of spirit" and the ways in which God appears and touches my soul but this is what I wrote that last morning. And this is what I experienced:
Good Morning God
As I begin this last day I come to you in awe and gratitude. This has turly been a blessed time and I have remembered and learned much.
1. Slowing down has been a gift and a challenge. But it has been in slowing down that I was able to breate and see and taste the beauty and the blessings. We ate in silence every meal and I ate slowly and literally had space between the bits so that I could taste the eggs and the cheese in my omelet today. Wait and taste the canteloupe and the strawberries. Wait and taste and savor the bacon. So much of my life is taking it in and hardly knowing what I am tasting and eating. And that - of course - is a metaphor for every aspect of my life.
2. Time spent Gazing - walking and stopping, sitting and seeing and pondering the beauty, the freedom, the mystery of the trees. I spent a fair amount of time looking up toward the sky and watching the trees dance in the wind - it is mesmerizing and beautiful beyond description. I sat by the pool in the afternoon and just watched the clouds move and change and move some more. And realize that this is life as struggles come and go - always changing. "This too shall pass" is more than just a trite statement - it is a truth of all the events - the good and the bad, the hard and the easy. They come and go and we can enter in to everything and endure and appreciate it all.
3. God's Word - I spent time with God through reading and God's word. The very first day I was drawn through the book "Wayfaring" by Margaret Silf to the paradox of Jesus found in John
Jesus is in the Father
I am in him
He is in me.
That mystery - that ultimate mystery - is comforting to me. There is comfort a in being with Jesus. There is the call on my life knowing that I am in him and power that He is in me. And I walked and sat and prayed in that truth.
4. Touching the Wounds - I was very aware that on retreat my numbing activities were unavailable to me - no television, no I Pad activities, no eating beyond the three meals. Intellectually I know that there is a reason that everyone engages in "numbing" - it is because there are wounds that we do not want to experience. And the gift of retreat is a time and place for honest reflection and facing what I don't want to feel. God is with me to bless the encounter and redeem my life.
One of the great wounds is aging - I am 65 years old now and know that I am nearing the end of my time as senior pastor. And such a change in status - retirement - is a loss of identity and the joy of this ministry that has been my life for 29 years. Who will I be when I am no longer pastor of Karl Road Christian Church? And I was able to name that fear, enter into it in an honest, real and tearful way.
And at the same time I experienced a very real sense of God's presence in that moment - I had a "blessed assurance" of God's comfort and abiding love. One of my favorite hymns is "I was there to hear your borning cry" and that understanding was expressed to me in a very real way by God on Monday night - the first night of retreat. I cannot explain it and do not want to cheapen it - but God revealed to me God's presence and love and strength that has been with me throughout these years of ministry.
Later in the week I touched other wounds - the wounds caused by my failures, sin, pride, and shame. I went to the Labyrinth and allowed myself to see that I pretend is not there - and gave it to God in confession as I slowly walked into the center. It was a time of naming and emptying myself. And then I could stand in the center to receive grace. Stand in the center grateful for God's continual grace and mercy. And then return back receiving the spirit as I sang over and over again "Spirit of the Living God."
5. In the middle of the week I experienced boredom - or on reflection and more honestly - Resistance. My resistance was this sense of "been there done that", a dryness, an impatience. I thought "I've gotten a lot out of these few days, I have a lot to do, maybe I should just go." "Maybe this is enough" And how wasteful to do nothing. I shared this with Sister Breta and she talked about "the enemy" which was really helpful to me. And that being with God - that is being with and not doing for - is really challenging. I learn again that being with God is being open and empty and waiting and trusting - that with God there is more. But, I waited and waded through this.
6. A Deep JOY and Renewed PURPOSE. How this happened I do not know. But it did by the end of the retreat. Maybe it was as I started re reading "The Untethered Soul" and finding freedom and wisdom there; maybe it was the gift of prayer in the woods and being visited by 2 baby deer that sat 10 feet from me, maybe it was gathering with a community of saints Friday night (most of the other 20 + participants in retreat this week were nuns); maybe it was the time of silence in the prayer room on Friday night.
I do know that the great blessing of community with the "Sisters" spoke to me. I am on a silent retreat - but not alone. Ultimately I so identify with these holy women even though I am married, mother, grandmother and ordained minister in the christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We are all women who have devoted our lives to serving the Lord. And we all serve within flawed institutions but ultimately it is not the church - but the Lord who has called us from the womb, named us, formed us and is using us. It is the God who is underneath all creation, who created the pine trees and the rocks and the grass and the sky - that is calling me into new and more life. Still.
How can I express that deepening awareness of call? I cannot express it, but I have experienced it.
And so I am grateful for this week - 6 days in which I reconnected to the source of my being. I have re committed myself to be faithful to you. And I pray that I will be open to Your guidance in the future.