A Spiritual Retreat
May 25, 2018
People often think the basic command of religion is… “do this, do that”. It isn’t… it’s look and wonder. Learn to give attention to the world around you.” Phillip Toynbee
I have always wanted to go on a spiritual retreat. My first choice would be the Trappist Monastery at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. However, it is intimidating that it is a silent retreat with 3:15 a.m. Vigils and 5:45 a.m. Lauds. I have heard about retreats like “The Monastery of the Holy Spirit” in Conyers, Georgia, and “The Cove”, the Graham retreat in Asheville, North Carolina. Actually, “The Art of Living Retreat” in Boone, North Carolina may be more my speed; they have silence and a Spa. At this time I am looking at another option… a home retreat.
My friend Mona, gifted me with a book by Esther De Waal entitled, “Lost in Wonder, Rediscovering the Spiritual Art of Attentiveness”. Esther De Waal is a British writer, gardener, and grandmother who is recognized as an educator and spiritual leader in the Benedictine, Cistercian and Celtic traditions. This book is, “A guide to awaken us from the drift and drowsiness into a deep sense of attentiveness to the world around us and the presence of God in that world.” She has such a way with words; I would love to continue that conversation over a cup of coffee (or tea). She emphasizes how time apart is not a luxury or simple…but essential for more balance, harmony with self and harmony with God. Her chapters include silence, attention, change, mystery, dark and light, and gift.
I especially like her many references to Thomas Merton who frequently said, “open your eyes and see”. He was given a good camera and film by a friend, John Howard Griffin, while at Gethsemani. This gift included processing of the film. His photographer friend was surprised that Thomas took such great pictures of simple things… the things in front of him: a chair, a fence, a shadow. He approached everything with attention. He saw people the same way.
Esther beautifully describes using all your senses to be in the moment. The flow and peace of her words reminds me of Dallas Willard’s advice to John Ortberg in “Soul Keeping”, about the vitality to live in the present moment. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” He later talks about not outpacing God who moves slowly.
As I continue my faith journey and look at the benefits of a spiritual retreat, a prayer Esther wrote speaks to me:
Uncrowd my heart, O God,
until silence speaks
in your still, small voice;
turn me from the hearing of words,
and the making of words,
and the confusion of much speaking,
A Big Amen!