Reflections Mid-Retreat

What to focus on while on retreat
We retreatants spend a lot of time in our rooms, when not participating in the prayer hours, eating, or walking. As I mentioned I brought with me about a dozen books, hoping to focus on one or two while here. Monday night I thumbed through them all, picking out chapters or passages, actively praying that God would say – “read that one, David, that’s one you need!”. But I sensed instead something different from God, perhaps a slight chuckle, then a shouted (not audible of course) suggestion – “David, don’t read. Write. Or at least do both”. This encounter changed my “plans”, so I have focused on Eugene Peterson’s memoir, “The Pastor”, and “Life on the Vine” by Philip Kennison – we read this book in seminary, and it is one of the few books I rebought after I lost my entire theological library to Hurricane Katrina, and high time I returned to it. It is a book about being, truly being, a Christian community in a culture that is becoming increasingly not at all about Jesus, and this includes many churches and church leaders. While reading I am making notes and praying about what I am learning or re-learning and how to apply it in my own life and ministry, and in the church I have been called to shepherd. And, as you can see, writing a lot. How do any of y’all feel about me trying to spend more time writing? I would love your feedback.

I told the people of St. Simon’s that I would be praying for each of them, and I am. I have a directory and have divided it up in order to spend time praying for each individual and family, for our ministries, and for our staff. Tuesday night in the chapel alone, I also spent much prayer time for Jennifer and all of my family.

Specific Prayer for St. Simon’s

Knowing our parish is going to be dealing with some challenging “opportunities” regarding our physical plant and financial realities, I spent a lot of prayer time wondering about how we can corporately pray about this. There is no need at this point to go into the challenges on this blog, but perhaps I will at a later date. I am not anxious about any of this and doing my best to trust in God and in our people. To that end, here is a prayer I offered for all of us to begin praying at our Sunday, January 1st service. Join us if you are so inclined:

“Send us your Spirit, Lord, that we may learn what you would have us do, and the words and witness you would have us offer. Guide us as we continue your work. Show us the field in which to plant, that your Kingdom may come and your power revealed in this community, to the glory of your Name. AMEN”

More on Day Two (a walk in the woods)

**Update **- I did a lot more than “a little” walking. Using a map I crossed Monk Road onto the 1500 acres the monastery owns.

I was intent on finding the statues area. It didn’t help that I was reading the map upside down, I ended up climbing a couple of very steep hills before noticing my mistake. I had a little distance to make up and I set off for the woods trail to the statues.
Once I found the marked trail I was in the woods for sure. There was a path with the occasional sign saying “To the Statues”,

to remind people like me they were going the right way. The path was very slippery due to rotting leaves on it and in some places stones which must have been there forever and were covered with moss. At one point you cross a creek on a tiny bridge, and a bit later up a set of stairs that are basically a ladder built into the hillside.

I finally made it to the first set of statues, they are small but strategically placed to give an idea of the garden.

Past these are the newer statues commissioned in honor of Jonathan Daniels. They are stunning. One depicts the 3 disciples sleeping (“can you not watch with me one hour?”).

The other is a tormented Jesus, kneeling on a stone to pray, in anguish asking God the Father to “take this cup from me”. I spent time praying by both of these statues, reflecting on Jesus’ last days.

I hiked back out of the woods and back to the monastery, over all I walked over 7000 steps and 3 miles, almost all of which was in the woods and up and down lots of hills! It was worth every minute, but I was soaked in sweat by the time I got back to my room.

My walk was timely because that night and the next day the temperatures dropped to the low 20s! No snow but too cold for walking in the woods! More to come….

Day TWO Part TWO of my silent retreat

As I said, Monday evening it all begins (the retreat and silence officially starts with supper at 6pm. Yes we eat in total silence, with a little music playing in the background. Last time I was here (2011), they played recordings of their famous monk, Thomas Merton, instructing new classes of monk novices. They have stopped that practrice as some retreatants found it annoying.) I spent time figuring out a book or two of the dozen I brought to focus on, some Brugemann, some Eugene Peterson, a few others. I finally attempted to sleep around 11 but it took a while. I had intended to rise for Vigils at 3:15, and the bell which announces every service woke me, but I decided to doze another couple of hours. So on Wednesday I plan to attend most if not all of the 7 divine hours plus Eucharist. I did make it to Terce post breakfast today (Tuesday).
After the prayers I walked a little outside – it’s a tad brisk here. But the sunrise was so beautiful. This part of Kentucky is quite pretty, rolling hills, lots of trees just past their fall colors. Seeing high hills is a different view for sure for a Florida panhandle guy! Today’s schedule will include a walk across the street on the large expanse of acreage (about 1500 acres) the monastery has. There are a couple of sets of statues I want to see, entitled The Garden of Gethsemene, one set of which was donated as a memorial to Episcopal Saint and Martyr, Jonathan Daniels, who is honored every August with a pilgrimage to Haneyville, Alabama where he, as an Episcopal seminarian, was shot and killed protecting a 12 year old girl from racial violence after he had been jailed for supporting voting rights for black citizens in Alabama. The Reverend Bob Graves, a priest of our diocese and dear friend, was a seminary classmate of Daniels.

I am reading my hero, Eugene Peterson’s, memoir “A Pastor”. As he was learning how to be a pastor, he reflected on life lessons from growing up in Montana, including an encounter with a Native American woman named Prettyfeather. The story is too long to recall here, just wanted the following quote to have some context. The process to becoming a “pastor” is different for everyone, but he speaks some truths I need to hear. Here is a quote from Peterson:

” People talk about steep learning curves. I was embarked on a steep unlearning curve. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened. Prettyfeather gave me the story that provided a text for the extensive unlearning before me, the unlearning that was necessary to clear the ground for learning that God at work—not I—was the center of the way I was going to be living for the rest of my life. Inappropriate, anxiety-driven, fear-driven work would only interfere with and distract from what God was already doing. My “work” assignment was to pay more attention to what God does than what I do, and then to find, and guide others to find, the daily, weekly, yearly rhythms that would get this awareness into our bones. Holy Saturday for a start. And then Sabbath keeping. Staying in touch with people in despair, knowing them by name, and waiting for resurrection.”

Wow. Anxiety driven, fear driven work would only interfere with and distract from what God was already doing.
In some ways I think Covid put us more directly into anxiety and fear driven work. The constant push and pull to “program our way out of this”, to go back and “do those things we always used to do” is so strong. I really don’t want to be the chief programmer of an organization. But also, what is my role in saying no, that’s not why we are here or what God is calling us to do and be, no matter how comfortable it may seem, how reassuring if everything will just go back to “normal”, which as I learned post-Katrina, normal is just a setting on a washing machine?

Day TWO (Part One) of my silent retreat

Tuesday – First Full Day

Tuesday I have broken into two parts so they won’t be so long

I have friends who tell me the first day or two of a retreat they just sleep – letting their bodies and minds catch up with some solid rest. I find that difficult, even if I want to. I was certainly sleepy after supper and compline Monday night (compline was awkward, another thing that takes getting used to is the rythmn of how they pray here. Most everything is chanted at the prayer hours (7 of those a day).

Sign in the area visitors sit, we see the monks through the glass and can participate in the prayers

The prayer hours
They start at 3:15am with Vigils (Vigils, or watching in the night, is prayer to be celebrated in the middle of the night during which we meditate on salvation history as it unfolded down through the ages. The office of Vigils consists of a hymn, psalms, readings (scriptural and patristic), and canticles suitable to the spirit of the midnight hour when one awaits the arrival of the Bridegroom (Mt 25:6; Mk 13:35). In monastic communities the concentration on vigilance begun with this office continues until lauds. Monastics spend this time enveloped in and supported by darkness and silence in lectio divina,prayer and meditation.)

Vigils is followed by Lauds at 5:45am (traditionally at dawn, but sunrise is later: Lauds is celebrated at daybreak when the sun is dispelling the night and the new day is born. The Church has always considered the sun to be a symbol of Christ rising from the dead. This prayer is called Lauds because it is a laudatory liturgy of praise in the early morning light.)

Eucharist (Mass) comes right after Lauds. We move from the closing prayer out of our “visitor seating” where we pray and observe the monks praying, separated by glass, into the beautiful altar space. We still are separated in our seating, but no longer by a glass wall.

Breakfast is at 7, followed by Terce at 7:30am (Terce, a Latin term for third hour, is prayed at mid-morning. It is a shorter prayer referred to as one of the little Hours. Traditionally it is dedicated to the coming of the Holy Spirit which took place at mid-morning in the account found in the Acts of the Apostles. One prays for light and strength as the day waxes strong and one’s work begins). 

Sext is at 12:15 pm (Sext, another of the little hours, is Latin for the sixth hour. It takes place at midday when the sun is at its apex and one has become a bit weary and mindfulness is all but impossible. It is a time for earnest prayer to resist temptation, to keep from being overcome by the demands and pressures of life. We are reminded of Christ being crucified at the sixth hour and we unite ourselves with Him), Sext is followed by lunch at 12:30.

None is at 2:15 pm (None, refers to the ninth hour, roughly mid-afternoon, and is the third of the little hours. It is a time to pray for perseverance, to pray for the strength to continue bearing fruit as one reaches one’s prime and needs to keep going. It is a time when one becomes aware of the sun’s gradual descent and the strength one needs to cope with the demands and responsibilities of life.).

Vespers are at 5:30pm (Vespers, celebrated at day’s end, takes on the character of evening. The day is almost over, our work is done.).

Supper is at 6:00pm and the monastic day ends with Compline at 7:30pm (Compline comes from the Latin which means to complete. It is the last common prayer before retiring for the night. It marks the completion of our day and heralds life’s end. It leads back into the darkness of the night, but a darkness different from that of vigils. It is not the darkness of waiting where all the possibilities of good and evil were still ahead. This is the darkness of God’s mysterious presence, the abyss of his mercy into which he let us fall. Compline may be understood as a daily exercise in the art of dying. For what is sleep if not a little rehearsal for death? But dying a death which will open the fullness of life and light. That is why the cantor sings the wonderful song of old Simeon on the threshold of death: “Now Lord, you will let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your saving deed which you have set before all: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32).). The monastery’s version of Compline is quite different from what is in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, other than the same Psalms are used.

Thanks to [] for the above descriptions of the divine hours. While they are prayed at all monasteries, the idea, especially post Vatican II, was for all believers to also pray them. The offices of Morning and Evening Prayer in our Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (BCP) are basically combinations of the above prayer hours as a way to make them more practically available to laity. But the BCP adds some simpler, shorter prayer offices as well (for noon day and Daily Devotions for individuals and families. Our BCP is a gem we need to be made more aware of….stay tuned St. Simon’s!)


Day one of my silent retreat

This is my first post written when I was on a silent retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemane in rural Kentucky, a Trappist Mono monastery and the home of Thomas Merton for all his years as a monk. I wrote the posts while there, but was disconnected from EVERYTHING (which was SO GREAT), and so I am posting them now and over the next few days. I also spent some time reflecting on my 20 year anniversary to the priesthood (December 14).

Retreat 2022 – Abbey of Gethsamane Nov 28 – Dec 2, 2022

I left home around 4pm on Sunday. Had a good first Advent at St. Simon’s, although still wondering where the people, especially families with children, are. Preached one of my favorite sermons and talked about how I am leaving, FINALLY, for this retreat and how much I need it. I think they got it. I had numerous very supportive comments after each service.
Had lunch with Jennifer before I left then hit the road, praying for her for the week as I drove away. It’s close to ten hours to the retreat center so planned to drive as far as I could then find a room for the night. With my lower back problems of the last 9 months or so, I didn’t want to chance a big flareup while away. So I stopped in Huntsville for the night – what a cool city! I was close in a search process here as our Delray Beach time was wrapping up, they ended up calling their interim (a friend of mine)! Who knew such things were possible? Well, every bishop that’s ever said no to me ended up saying “it’s ok now” to someone else. How can I not think it must have something to do with me? Anyway, would have been interesting to have been in this area, seems really nice. But certainly all worked out in wonderful ways for us.
The purpose in stopping was to sleep and to make enough of the distance up so I can get there as soon as possible Monday – best laid plans…
I failed in the sleep department, was up until almost 2am. Monday. Before leaving town for the retreat center in Kentucky, I went to Best Buy to get some cheap bluetooth earbuds as I left mine at home. Scored on that, then hit the road again.
By the way and thanks be to God and Nancy, my miracle worker Physical Therapist, my back is holding up quite well so far.
The trip from Huntsville to the Abbey of Gethsamane should have taken about 4 hours but due to construction on I-65 it took almost 5, and then I lost an hour moving into Eastern time zone. Still rolled into “Monkville” about an hour before supper and got unloaded and settled in. Let the silence begin!
It takes some time to adjust to being here, that’s for sure. We eat meals in silence, so dinner was quiet with some music playing. The monk in charge of retreatants (Guest Master), Father Carlos, has been here 35 years. He is from the Phillipines. On Monday and Tuesday evening at 6:30 he gives a brief talk (retreats are offered for Monday evening to Friday morning and Friday evening to Monday morning). Tonight’s talk was on seeking God. He made some nice points. He recommended always starting with Psalm 139:13 “I will thank you for I am wonderfully made”. Kind of resets us don’t you think? Then he reminded us where to be fed – Jesus says in John 6:35 “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, whoever believes in me shall never thirst”. Such simple reminders of the truth of God should help recenter us as we seek to listen to God and follow God’s will for us. Fr. Carlos then made this profound statement – “when we make the church our comfort zone we (the church) become just another do good organization. Nothing wrong with doing good, but seeking God should move us from a comfort zone fully into Christ, shifting to THAT comfort zone should not be scary but, well, comfortable and also so much more meaningful.”

Following the talk I attended the 7:30 Compline service. I will have much more to say about the various prayer services the monks participate in (along with any retreatants so inclined) in a later post. After supper, back to my room. The rooms are all private, just a twin bed and desk/chair with a small area for your clothes and your own bathroom with shower. All you need. Despite my lack of sleep I was too wired to get to bed early, and it takes some getting used to to the intense quiet here! It’s so nice and so different. So I wrote this post and made some notes from one of the books I brought, and I prayed. A lot. I brought a directory of my parish and began going through it, praying for each of my folks by name. It was holy time. Then I prayed for my family, for the world, and for God to speak to me this week. More to come…

Itinerant: noun. a person who alternates between working and wandering.