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What does it mean to Retreat in a secular world?

They say the beach in which my room overlooks is known for its healing qualities. If I had any doubts when I first arrived they have all been alliviated now.

The word retreat in the Christian world conjurs up so many thoughts and memories. For some it draws us back to retreat houses, talks and quiet reflections, for others it’s the thought of monastaries and convents, a quiet rule of life with common worship and meals. As retreat houses, convents and monastaries close what are we to do and where are we to go as christians to restore, refresh and deepen our relationship with God in our secular world?

There are many types of retreats and various offerings one can find, if you are willing to search and/or travel. There are health and wellness retreats, spiritual retreats, contemplative retreats and more. There are even retreats centered around one particular intrest like music, the arts or religion. There are directed group retreats and solo self-directed retreats as well. There are retreats in cities and in rural areas.

If you have the discipline and clear intention you can retreat in just about any place in the world, away from where you are right now, but be careful not to confuse retreat with vacation. A vacation isn’t necessarily restorative or focused on the awesomeness of our God. How many times after coming home from time away have we uttered the words, “I need a vacation after my vacation just to recover from vacation.” No a retreat has a clear purpose and objective. It requires discipline. Even a silent retreat in a convent full of nuns requires discipline to adhere to a rule of life. It is not passive. I went on a silent retreat before becoming ordained. Unfortunately it was the last retreat I was on before now. I don’t normally like to go this long, but much like the world around us, COVID got in the way.

Having been so long and living through 2020 and most of 21, I was long over due to sit with God away from my usual surroundings with the clear intention of healing mind, body and spirit in and with the presence of God discerning the path ahead. I was long over due in allowing myself the time and space to release, heal and restore in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The obstacle I encountered was that all of my favorite nearby retreat houses closed in recent years and another had waiting list into the new year. Upon the advice of my spiritual director who has walked beside me for many years, this time with God could no longer wait so I set out to create a meaningful self directed, solo Christian retreat in a secular world.

I share this now with you because many of you have inquired to where I was going and what I was doing. After sharing the following with my son, he said jokingly, “Ma, it sounds like a spiritual rehab.” He’s not all that wrong, I tapped into my roots, my foundation and set out to create a mind, body, spirit christian retreat in which I have found to be restorative while deepening my relationship with Christ.

In addition to the two books I’ve read, Joan Chittister, The time is Now and God’s Voice Within: The Ignatian Way to Discover God’s Will by Father Mark E. Thibodeaux SJ, what follows are some, not all but some of the modalities I used during my retreat over the course of this week.

The Artist’s Way

The Artist’s Way
Julia Cameron

Every day began with Morning pages.

In 2009 I had the spectacular blessing of sitting in class at Lincoln Center in New York City with Julia Cameron as my teacher. She is an author, artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, and journalist. Best known for her book The Artist’s Way (1992), she taught us about nurturing the divine creativity within and provided three tools that I utilized on my retreat this week. You too may find them useful in your day and or week. Below is a summary of the three and if you choose to learn more about Julia, The Artist’s Way, or any other of her works you may find her at the following link: https://juliacameronlive.com/

According to Julia’s book and website:

1) The bedrock tool of a creative recovery is a daily practice called Morning Pages.

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.

2)The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you.

The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask
yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.
Learn more about the Artist date at the following link: https://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/artists-dates/

3) Walking as Prayer

“When I wrote The Artist’s Way, I got all the way to week twelve and said, P.S. Walk. I have been teaching now for twenty years since the publication of the book, and I now realize that there are three basic tools, not two, and they are Morning Pages, Artist Dates, and Walks.”

“All large change is made through many small steps. Notice that word in there– “step.” Walking leads us a step at a time. Walking gives us a gentle path. We are talked to as we walk. We hear guidance. It comes from within us and from the world around us. Walking is a potent form of prayer.”

The Divine Office

Now empty of my own distractions I was preparred to move onto the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours, Prime-6:00 am, Terce-9:00am, Sext 12:00pm, None-3:00pm, Vespers 6:00pm, and Compline 9:00pm) I used the Roman Catholic App The Divine Office which can be downloaded at https://divineoffice.org/ I use this app alot and enjoy praying with people across the world. The readings do vary a bit from our Episcopal tradition, but I enjoy the prayers, chants and hymns that are embedded in the office.

Spiritual Direction

Spiritual direction is an ancient practice in which one person helps another to listen for the voice of God in his or her life. The first known spiritual directors were the desert fathers and mothers, the fourth-century hermits have often been considered the first Christian monastics who lived in the Near Eastern desert and helped each other as they tried to live Jesus’s teachings. Spiritual direction has been a part of the Catholic and Anglican traditions for many centuries.

Spiritual Direction does not prescribe the “right way” to pray or live one’s faith. Instead, spiritual directors are trained and experienced in sacred conversation. Through attentive Holy listening, storytelling, reflection, conversation, prayer, or silence, a spiritual director helps a directee come to better understand God’s movements, presence, and callings in one’s own life. Hence deepening the relationship between the directed and God.

Some resources you may find useful in Spiritual Direction:

Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction. Cowley, 1992.
A wise book on how to give others the gift of disinterested, loving attention.

Kenneth Leech, Soul Friend: An Invitation to Spiritual Direction. HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.

Anne Winchell Silver, Trustworthy Connections: Interpersonal Issues in Spiritual Direction. Cowley, 2003. This is one of the most practical books about the how-to of spiritual direction, addressing many of the issues and challenges that can arise with wisdom and clarity. (Ann was my teacher at General Theological Seminary)

Contemplative Prayer

What is Contemplative Prayer and why is it so needed?
Richard Rohr

The Healing Power of Water

I spent a good deal of time in the water, drinking water and gazing over the water in prayer.

Water is mentioned a total of 722 times in the Bible, more often than faith, hope, prayer, and worship. Genesis 1:2, “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Water is an essential component of life, it was created on the very first day.

In Revelation, water is mentioned again, and it is almost the last words of the Bible. Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

Water flows throughout the scripture, and this reminds us of its importance…both spiritually and physically.

“St. John Damascene summarized, “Water, then, is the most beautiful element and rich in usefulness and purifies from all filth, and not only from the filth of the body but from that of the soul, if it should have received the grace of the Spirit”. (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith– Book 2: Chapter 9). Water has the power to heal, as can be seen from the stories of Naaman – the Syrian cured from his leprosy in the waters of Jordan (2 Kings 5:1-14) and the annual miracles at Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-9). Water has the power to purify, to provide deliverance, and it can also destroy evil and enemies as in the stories of the Flood (Genesis 6:17) and the flight of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 14:1-15:21).

Christ of the Abyss–Cristo_degli_abissi 70 to 75% of the earth’s surface is covered with water. Roughly 70% of an adult’s body is made up of water, and about 85% of the adult brain is made up of water. Water is essential to life, and all living things need water to survive.”

In the waters of baptism, we are lovingly adopted by God into God’s family, and given God’s own life to share, and we are reminded that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ. Holy Baptism, which is performed through the pouring of water or immersion in, marks our formal entry into the congregation and in our wider Church. Water, therefore, is a reminder of not only life but our life in Christ through the vows we share in our Baptismal Covenant. We are marked as Christ’s own forever.

Sound Bath Meditation

I read somewhere that a sound bath helps tune the nervous system just as one would tune a piano.

What a glorious meditative experience I had with Abra at Shift Studio in Ventnor, NJ. My words alone cannot do this experience nearly enough justice. Surely this will not be the last visit.It was thouroughly healing.

Many of you inquired about this method of meditation as I eagerly shared that I could not wait for this experience. The following is what I found on the web:

“Sound baths have nothing to do with a relaxing soak in the tub, and yet more psychiatrists, therapists, and other wellness experts are acknowledging the practice as ultra restorative and cleansing. A sound bath is a meditative experience where the individual or those in attendance are “bathed” in sound waves. These waves are produced by various sources, including healing instruments such as gongs, singing bowls, percussion, chimes, rattles, tuning forks, and even the human voice itself.

It may seem like sound baths are a New Age trend, but sound therapy is as old as time, dating back over 40,000 years. Ancient Greeks used flutes and lyres to treat digestion and mental health, Tibetans used singing bowls for over 2,000 years for meditation purposes, and Australian aboriginal tribes played the didgeridoo to heal the sick.

There’s a ton of research on the benefits of sound healing, which is why many health experts say sound baths are a promising tool. The practice can have a tremendous impact on the mind and body.

Most sound bath programs last 45 to 60 minutes. The sessions are led by a sound bath practitioner trained in how to use various instruments and use vibrations — gongs, chimes, tuning forks, singing bowls — all assist to facilitate deep meditation, relaxation and, healing.”

The following is a meditative piece with one of my favorite healing artists, Ashana. This piece has the addition of Piano by Thomas Barquee. You can imagine yoursef here giving yourself to God, having Jesus wrap his arms around you, loving you and holding you. Ashana uses the Crystal bowls and her voice to bring deep restorative peace. Close your eyes and enjoy 10 minutes of calm.

Prayer through Art

Just by taking a look around this blog site you can see the artwork that I produced all through the power of prayer. No plan, no insight, no thought, just prayer that gives life through color and reflection. I took time to pray doodle and create with the Holy Spirit this week. On a side note, there were times in my life in which I had no words, I couldn’t speak, prayer through art radiated the message that needed to be heard. It simply said what I couldn’t.

We generally think of prayer as something we read, say, or listen to. But prayer can also be a visual experience. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” Images (and all forms of visual arts) can often evoke rich nuance and meaning that cannot be replicated in words. Similarly, art can bring another dimension to prayer.

There are two main modes from which to approach prayer through art: meditating on art as a starting point for prayer and creating art as an expression of prayer. While they are in some ways opposites, they both use visual means to engage in and nurture prayer, reflection, and meditation.

Art has a long history within the Christian church. Paintings, tapestries, sculptures, friezes, stained glass, and other images and icons were some of the first ways the common people could understand the stories of Christianity. It was not until the 1450s that the printing press began to make the Bible accessible to those outside of the church, and even then the majority of people in Europe and the U.S. were not literate until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (and globally not until the mid-to-late twentieth century!). For thousands of years, oral and visual traditions were the primary means through which people were exposed to the Bible and the Christian faith. The result is a wealth of religious artworks in every style and media—a treasury from which we, today, can draw inspiration.

From Retreat September 2021

Blessings+

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