Affirmation: Sacred time is an integral part of my spiritual well-being.
In February of this year a group of four women gathered to talk about holding a woman’s monthly morning retreat at our church, St. Michael the Archangel. The process actually began after Christmas during my stay in the North Carolina mountains. For me, it is a very spiritual place and during my week there, God spoke to me. Actually, I think it may have been Mother Mary but whoever wanted my attention, they got it. Oh, not at first. “No No No,” I answered but after the third morning of no, I gave up and said, “OK, if you want this to happen, send help.” Here’s the story.
I awoke the first morning and as I journaled, I got the inspiration to create a woman’s monthly morning retreat. ”NO! I do not have time. I don’t want to spread myself so thin.” There!! The second morning, the message arrived even before I sat for my quiet time. “NO! I cannot commit to a monthly engagement. I like to travel. I couldn’t possibly be available.” The third morning, I woke up with the same message. Again, I refused. “No! I couldn’t do this on my own. I would need help.” That was all the spirit needed, that tiny, “maybe.” I imagined the person I would like to help with such a project and within an hour, I received an email from that lady, even though we did not communicate regularly. The rest is history. I contacted her and she immediately answered, “Yes.” I think she has a more willing spirit than I. We asked a few other women and two more agreed to help. Then I contacted the church. It seemed like a good idea since we wanted to use their space. They agreed. We put a few notices in the bulletin and on February 15th, eighteen women showed up. It ran for two hours and the feedback was very positive. We scheduled four more sessions. The next one for March 21st.
As all of you know, the world has stopped turning. We will not be gathering for a morning retreat or for lunch or to play. We are all doing our best to follow the recent National guidelines for stopping the spread of the corona virus and yet, it seems even more important, more relevant to bring our intentions together and to invite the Holy to bless our lives, our country and the world. With that in mind, I am presenting a @Home Retreat. As of this writing, there are about two dozen of us who will take an hour and a half to pray and to listen to the Divine. I’m sharing the format in case anyone who reads this is interested in joining us. If you know me personally, you are welcome to email me for more information, otherwise all you need to know is below.
The agenda is below but I want to emphasize that it is only a model and it is not written in stone. Please feel free to adjust it to your needs and perhaps the guidance of your guardian angel.
It is very important to recognize that you cannot do this “wrong.” If you finish early or late, that’s just fine. If you decide to read something you prefer over the suggestions, that’s fine. This is a time of NO JUDGEMENT. It cannot be viewed as, “right or wrong,” “good or bad,” or “successful or unsuccessful.” It is simply time you have carved out for yourself to develop a closer relationship with Our Lord, with the Divine. It will be different for each person and that’s just fine.
There is a great power in silence.
Triangle Women’s Monthly Morning Retreat
Home Program: Saturday 3/21/2020 9:30-11:00am
*Prepare your space: Find an area where hopefully you will not be disturbed for your quiet time. Perhaps you want a blanket for yourself (or a teddy bear?).
*Gather your supplies: Timer (preferably not a phone, try to make your space – media free), note paper and/or journal, pen.
*Create an “altar”: Put a few meaningful items out, include a candle.
*Opening Song – Your Choice, sing one or listen to one.
Lyrics for Amazing Grace:
Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home
*Opening Prayers – The Sign of the Cross/Our Father/Hail Mary/Glory Be or your choice.
*Intention: This is a reflective, healing time and we ask that it be filled with the love of the Holy Spirit, the care of Mother Mary and the guidance of all our guardian angels. We are here to learn from one another and to support each other on our journey towards a closer, more intimate relationship with Our Lord.
*Write out a prayer request or a few and add them to your “altar.”
*Reflection – Think of one thing you’ve added or deleted from your life for Lent.
*Scripture Reading – Lectio Divinia – Slowly read the following daily scripture three times. Read the passage slowly and carefully.
Gospel for this day, March 21st: LK 18:9-14
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
*Journaling Time – What did you hear God sharing with you? What do you want to share with God? (10-15 minutes)
*Centering Prayer – 10 to 20 (recommended) minutes of silent time (you decide.)
*Centering Prayer – Guidelines
*Closing Prayer –
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
*Sharing a Word Exercise – choose a word from your reading or your quiet time (your sacred word?) and share it here. Feel free to share any other thoughts or insights you have gained from this sacred time.
We are presently into the third week of 2016. It’s the beginning of a whole new year. Many people have shared with me their goals or resolutions. One person when describing her expectation of the new year used the word “awesome!” Another told me she always gets excited at the beginning of a new year with all the possibilities that will be presented to her. Certainly we get to choose how we want to imagine our unknown future. I have one person in my life who says she doesn’t imagine the future at all. She simply allows it to unfold, there’s no expectation of any sort. Do you think that’s actually possible? She must be making plans for some things and she, I would imagine is planning for a good or at least a pleasant outcome. When we start out on an adventure, and yes a new year (even a new day) is the beginning of an adventure, we will normally carry in our minds and hearts some sense of anticipation. When the angels appeared to the shepherd to announce the beginning of Jesus’ life here on earth they heralded, “Be not afraid.” They were offering them a choice and guiding them to be at peace. Our response to what happens to us is in most respects what we get to choose. We may be anxious about the unknown but we can choose whether we want to be excited or filled with fear.
At this year’s Immaculate Conception women’s retreat I found myself pondering the question of how to hold the future events of my life in a positive, blessed light? I began by trying to believe that everything that will happen to me will be for my good and while that may be true, the real truth is there are some things that I would rather avoid, even if they are for my good. I guess it’s like not wanting to require medicine in order to get over some illness or even not having to eat Kale in order to stay healthy. When unpleasant things arise and someone shares with me that’s it’s probably for my benefit, I think of my husband Sandy’s expression when he says, “that’s like practicing bleeding.” It’s not anything with which anyone wants to deal. So, I began to go around asking people how they make peace with all the aspects of their lives, those we label “bad” or “disagreeable” or worst of all “disastrous.”
The Seekers, one of my study groups, usually does a year end review together and we present a few questions to help shape the vision of the future year. This year we have chosen several questions from Sarah Susanka, renown architect and author of The Not So Big House and The Not So Big Life. She actually sent out the questions to promote a workshop she was presenting in Chapel Hill. I share them here for your perusal:
What has inspired you over the past year?
Father Jude Siciliano was our retreat facilitator this year. He leads gently, not with commands but with a soft voice and reflective questions and readings. This year he opened the first session with Rumi’s The Guest House.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
What does it take to “welcome them all in?” Once I learn to do that will I have peace, will I no longer carry fear and anxiety with me into the unknown? If my faith is true and strong will I be protected and gently cared for and be spared the travails and disasters of life? If they do come is it because I wasn’t “good enough” or faithful enough? This was my question to all I met as I began this new year? I am pleased to share that I have found the answer or perhaps a better phrase would be that I have been blessed with an answer.
The answer, for me, is that life will happen no matter how strong or great my faith. Life will present challenges and disappointments no matter how many positive affirmations I create to try to avoid suffering. Pain is a part of our human existence and no one gets to go through life without it. Sometimes it’s in small things, like a festering splinter or a bad cold and sometimes it’s heart wrenching and debilitating. We all know what those events can look like. There’s a popular phrase used in the media right now, to paraphrase it it says, “stuff happens.” We may be able to welcome it all in, like Rumi suggests but it’s the challenge of a lifetime. What I have discovered is that after, yes after, not normally during, I will get to choose how I want to perceive the “stuff.” Will I see it for the blessing it can be, it may have brought, the lessons I may have received or will it remain nothing but continued pain and suffering? I began to make peace with who I am and how I have previously responded to the challenges of my life and I realized that with my faith, from all these years of practicing my faith, I have the free will to choose how I shape that experience, no matter how I labeled it at the moment of its conception. I am a strong, resourceful, loving person and I fully recognize that things will happen to me that will knock me down but I also believe that I have created the inner and outer resources to rise up again and to believe that I can,
“meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”
So in answer to Sarah Susanka’s last question, for the following year I want to focus on the fact that I can choose to believe 2016 will be exciting because I know I get to choose my response to whatever happens to me and I choose “Awesome.” In fact, I’ve decided to choose “Awesome” for the rest of my life.
The immaculate Conception parish in Durham, North Carolina held it’s annual woman’s retreat this last weekend. It was at the Baptist retreat center on Oak Island, North Carolina. Approximately fifty women attended. They were of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. There was one man, Father Jude Siciliano but as one of the women tried to explain to me, he was such a remarkable man that the women attending would be very comfortable with his presence. She was right, very right.
As you probably know if you regularly read this blog, I am very familiar with creating and presenting retreats. This year will be our eleventh Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat. At the time of this blog, our first planning session is about to take place. It takes a solid six months to get an event like ours together.
The committee for the Immaculate Conception retreat also works on their event for many months beforehand. It was very obvious. They didn’t miss a thing. It was everything I’d want a spiritual retreat to be. The design was very gentle with lots of free time. The rooms were comfortable and well appointed. The setting was originally Fort Caswell with remnants of the cement bunkers and walls in the midst of lovely houses and stunningly beautiful ocean vistas. We were able to watch the sunrise and the sunset. The theme was, Reclaiming the Gifts of Sabbath Living and we were encouraged to come with something written out that we wanted to eliminate from our lives. We were then encouraged to “take an intention” to help us accomplish our desire. I was right at home. I must admit I also felt a little smug; I mean I’d already looked at the year and I had set an intention. I was ready! I really was but just like all adventures there was so much to experience than I could even imagine.
We were a carpool of four. We were the only four from our part of the Triangle. It was a delightful ride to the beach. One of the other women took on all the driving and another coordinated our pickups. I was honored to be with these three spiritual sages. They had all worked hard at getting in touch with God, each in their own way. I couldn’t wait to see what I would learn from each of them. The simple fact that I was not in charge of any aspect of this trip, other than packing my own suitcase, was a gift in itself. What a way to start a new year, in the company of three very loving, wise women and then to share in the journey of several dozen other women all with the same desire to know God better, to find a way to be better connected to the Divine.
Father Jude led us in several ceremonies but for me the most meaningful were the two Centering Prayer sessions, twenty minutes of eyes closed and emptying the mind. How easy that sounds but how difficult to put into practice. I’ve meditated now on and off, mostly off, for over thirty years. I’m great at praying and of course, I always journal but being called upon to just sit silently, without going to sleep, for twenty minutes, twice a day, is simply something I haven’t made happen in my life, probably because I really don’t want to. I am a busy person. There is so much to do and to think about and of which to be in charge! I do fully realize, however, the multiple benefits of meditation, of resting the brain and in this case in finally being silent so that I can listen to God, not always be dominating the conversation. That’s what we were given, two twenty minute sessions to simply listen. Did God speak to me? Yes, She did!
During both sessions I received images that I cannot explain. I went into the first session with a question to which I could not find an answer and somewhere in that twenty minutes, an answer came and one I feel I never never would have arrived at using any other modality. I was actually stunned and felt a great sense of peace. During the second session I was prepared to simply sit quietly and repeat my word or “mantra” but once again I was visited with an image. It was a warm, comforting person and I was so grateful for her care. I might have stayed longer but the bell rang and she left. She left and yet I still feel her with me. I’m not sure if or when she will ever leave again.
I’m curious now, will each time in Centering Prayer bring a new insight, a warm feeling, a sense of peace and calm or was it the power of almost fifty other people sitting with me that presented me with these gifts? A few years back I took a ten week course in Mindful Meditation at Duke Integrative Medicine. I sat quietly in lotus position, crossed legs, on the floor twice a day for twenty minutes for ten weeks and then the course ended and so did my practice. I know all the benefits meditation presents. I’ve read about lowering blood pressure, increasing self discipline, improving concentration and about how the brain actually changes its state with ongoing meditation. This January there was a Sixty Minute episode that showed a computer scan of the beneficial effects on the brain during meditation. I haven’t read a self-help book yet that doesn’t at some point tell the reader to meditate. Presently, I am listening to Richard Rohr’s, The Art of Letting Go. I just began session four this week. Guess what the topic was? Contemplation or meditation and why it’s so beneficial not only to our bodies but to our spirits.
Am I ready? Can I do it? Even as I sit here and write I can feel the resistance. “Be careful what you pray for,” I’ve been told. So, I’m not going to ask God to help me with this intention. Instead I’m simply going to allow the time to unfold and present itself to me. My intention for the year had already been set before I ever got to the retreat, this is, The Year of Trusting in Christ. The quality I left behind at the retreat to honor Sabbath living was struggle. My affirmation is, I let go of struggle, even the struggle to meditate daily. I’m simply going to see how the days evolve and maybe this time, with God in the picture, my desire to sit quietly and discover His/Her message will come as a welcome gift.
Stay tuned. I’ll report back in a few months. Maybe you want to join me in this journey? I’d love to know what you might discover.
The retreat day topic presented by Sisters Mary Margaret and Judy from A Place for Women to Gather was “Oh Earth I Cannot Hold You Close Enough.” It revolved around a lovely painted image taken from The Cosmic Dance by Joyce Rupp. The morning was devoted to quiet time and reflection time for us to attune to the beauty and bounty that the earth offers us with the final intention of finding ways we as individuals will support and care for our planet.
The Sixty Minute segment presented on Sunday November, 16th of this year, 2014 was about our water consumption throughout the world. I live in Cary, North Carolina and we have had water restrictions for years, way before there was much of a visible issue and way before we even had any major problems with our water supply. Right now I believe we are at a healthy water level for our area but we haven’t always been “safe” and our community does an excellent job of encouraging people to be conservative with their water usage. They offer rebates for low flow toilettes, inexpensive rain barrels are for sale and watering for lawns and shrubs are on restricted days. The Sixty Minute segment showed that small steps like ours are more important than I ever imagined but they are not enough to keep our planet green and healthy. We are drilling for water like we do for oil and we are sucking the earth dry.
My church, St. Michael the Archangel is in the throws of putting together boxes and boxes of food to give away this week, thousands of them. We are but one of thousands of organizations who are doing the same thing. We have a “Jesse Tree” in the foyer with paper ornaments with children’s names who need a present, usually clothing. There are adopt-a-family notices in our bulletin. We are a country with an abundance of resources and from what I can see here in my community, we want to share those with whomever needs help. As a family, we aren’t ever generous enough. It seems no matter how much we donate, or step up to assist others, we could always do more, more and more. We aren’t called to be missionaries working in the really needy part of the world. We are called, however, to be compassionate and that means not just thinking sad thoughts but actually stepping up and making a difference. It means donating to the Thanksgiving Basket drive, taking at least one ornament off the Jesse tree, spending time in service. It means recognizing our bounty and our blessings and making a difference. We want to donate our time, treasure and talent to improve the condition of our world, even if it’s just our small part of the world.
I am always looking for ways to be of more service to the world. In this case, our day retreat has given me a greater awareness of the responsibility to literally give back to Mother Earth, that planet which so tenderly holds us here. I use to have the affirmation, “I treat Mother Earth gently” but now, with awareness I claim with more fervor, “I treasure Mother Earth.” Therefore, on this Thanksgiving, 2014, I give thanks for ALL things but especially for the treasures of our miraculous world.