Sunday, August 2, 2009


Our retreat is half-way through now. We began last Wednesday and we finish on next Saturday morning. I thought I'd just peep out long enough to tell you what it's like.

As far as the schedule goes, it's simple enough: lots of space & lots of time. We say the Office of Matins together in the mornings and have the Eucharist. We sing Vespers in the afternoon. We have our meals. That's it. Silence reigns. Much quiet, and everyone fashions the time according to what he needs.

I have a simple and pretty basic organization of things for myself: the mornings are for prayer, the afternoons are for work and the evenings are for study. It works nicely.

For the prayer time, I do a classic meditation retreat sort of schedule: Sit (45 minutes)- walk (15 minutes), sit,walk, sit,walk. I do that between the Eucharist and lunch, and cap off the afternoon with another little go-round. And what happens when you spend that much time just sitting? Well everything, actually. Joy and sorrow, interest and boredom, happiness and gloom, engagement and "isn't this ever going to end!!!!!" But over it all is a deep feeling of rightness. And occasionally I penetrate to that level which Catherine of Genoa referred to as "that in myself which is not myself", and John of the Cross talked of as "the Beloved"; the place where the divine and yourself are one. And every now and then I also glimpse the blessed truth that what is inside is much more vast that what is outside. And that is when I know why I want to use all this energy just sitting.

The work I do for retreat is cleaning out. I've chosen a couple of spaces that are overloaded with stuff and I'm sorting and cleaning and pitching. It's good retreat work. It's physical, and it's necessary and it's the sort of thing that you can do slowly and attentively, if you do it right it deepens the silence. And of course there is always incense stuff to be done - blending, and packing and shipping.

For study I am working with the Book of Revelation, guided by some scholars who are working on what First Century Christianity was really like. It's so often assumed that Revelation was written to people who were in the midst of persecution, but recent historical and sociological study makes it clear that the persecution of Christianity so early was very sporadic and not at all consistent. It seems likely that Revelation was addressed largely to Christians who were well-off and comfortable in the world of the Roman Empire, and it was meant to jolt them out of their complacency. Not too different from right now, which brings up a lot of stuff to think about.

I'm also reading Toni Packer, who is an ex-Zen radical for whom nothing is more important than awareness of the present moment and what is happening to and for you right now. I tend towards radicalism myself, so I find her perspectives pretty attractive, even if I can't follow her all the way. But it's good basic stuff, and it helps integrate the prayer and work of the day.

There it is - prayer, work and study. What more could a Benedictine want for a retreat? Now I'm going back to it. See you next week.

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