Saturday, February 06, 2010

retreat snapshots

When you enter St. Mary's Center in Sewanee you are welcomed by a modest, warm reception area. Painted in a warm golden-peach color, the room is dominated by a comfortable seating arrangement positioned around a square coffee table in the center of the space. At the far end of the room are door-length glass windows that offer a peak of the Center's lawn that stretches out to a bluff overlook with a view of the valley below.

I am always drawn to the view, but on those occasions when I have more time to pass I find myself choosing a spot in one of those seats around the coffee table. The main attraction of that seating area is one of several "coffee table" books that live on the lower shelf of that table. At first drawn by the vibrant and inviting colors of the cover of a particular book, I have since returned to this selection because I love the stories, photographs and descriptions of prayer that fill its pages. It is Talking to God: Portrait of a World at Prayer, edited by John Gattuso.This book is on my wish list.

Though it relies heavily on narratives written by Christian and Western writers, the photographs and stories take the reader around the world and into the hearts of the prayer lives of other traditions and cultures. I value this particularly because it leads one to the inescapable conclusion that the world is a praying people. No matter the tradition, the god or God, or the manner by which one prays or raises one's heart to the divine, the human tendency is to seek the sacred in the world, and to express its longing for connection. The pages are full of power.

One of my favorite pictures in the book is this one. I love the gentle focused look on the boy's face as he prays, but even more I love the posture of his hands (mirrored in the hands of his classmates). Clearly a posture of prayer, the position of the hands suggest to me that they are open to allow themselves to be filled by what is holy, and that what they hold is tender, like a fledgling bird, and is to be treated as such. By contrast to the pressed hands common in our culture, these hands seem to know something that eludes the rest of us who put our hands together to pray. Something as simple as hands have opened my eyes to another way to see and experience God.

That's just one of the pleasures of St. Mary's. The grounds are quiet and the view iconic--the weather changeable! I don't know how someone can be here for any length of time and not be drawn out of their own world and concerns for long enough to feel transported to a holy realm. I have a rare experience as a guest here. I know some of the people who live in the valley below the bluff, so when I look out at the sweeping landscape it is not simply beautiful and anonymous, but personal and invitational. I am reminded of lives that toil, families that struggle and laugh and put their best foot forward to make a difference at home and in the world around them.

Our retreat was silent, a detail that had somehow escaped my notice until the bishop made reference to it during opening remarks following our first meal together. Well, all-righty then! Lucky for me I'm an introvert with a deep comfort zone for quiet and solitude. My only lament is that those days with my colleagues couldn't bear the fruit of building relationships. Still, we ate, breathed and prayed in community, and the pattern of worship shared anchored us to our common lives and love for God.
(click on photo for a closer view of the images)
I slept. A lot. And I read, reflected, wandered, and opened my heart to the questions posed to us in meditations. I listened. A lot. I cannot say that there is a singular thing that emerged for me from this time away, but that pieces appeared that bear signs of connecting to each other. Perhaps those connections won't form immediately, but as a mix that will reveal, in time, a life and ministry more focused and cohesive than the one I live at present (which is not to say there chaos reigns right now, it doesn't).

For all that the retreat was and wasn't, I came away from it feeling blessed and open. Whatever transformation is to take place, the path to that continues to unfold.


Mompriest said...

I LOVE St. Mary's....I stayed there for a few days/nights in July of 2005 (I think) when I attended Sewanee for EFM mentor training. I'll never forget that beautiful bluff nor the frogs calling at night..nor the drive from St. Mary's to the University...what a great place to go on retreat...thanks for sharing!

The Bug said...

It sounds like a good place to recharge batteries. I wonder how well I would do with no speaking? I think that would be easier than no internet!

Jayne said...

I really MUST get up there at some point. It's one of those "when I can..." things that I need to just act upon and GO. :c) Glad it was good time away for your spirit and soul.


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