And we also heard how the retreat fed and nourished those who came. Some of the comments were:
It is a joy and a privilege to help create an experience that has proven so powerful in providing a supportive framework in which people can do meaningful spiritual work and exploration.
We will return to Mary & Joseph Retreat Center next year July 26-31 for our fifth SpiritRest Silent Retreat. We hope to see you at SpiritRest 2020!
Post by Rev. Stefanie Etzbach-Dale, Spiritual Director
The theme for this year’s retreat is “the journey” - and as we journey through the week together, I’m appreciating the many ways we're being encouraged to engage with that theme.
The labyrinth has been lifted up during our evening worship services as a powerful symbol for how we journey through life. Since there’s actually a beautiful one on site, we’ve been able to engage with it as a tool, experiencing our own individual and group walking meditations in the labyrinth.
Another powerful symbol and tool, found in many spiritual traditions, is the Tree of Life.
Over the course of three days, employing meditation, collage, personal sharing, and prayer, participants in the group I led were able come closer to their understanding of God and Ultimate Reality by “traveling up the tree."
Starting at the roots, representing family and culture, retreatants were asked to visually express and then share what they learned about God or Ultimate Reality as children. The resultant images portrayed God as outside of time, as creator of great beauty, but also as controlling, removed, unknowable, grouchy and craving adoration.
Moving into the trunk, representing the development of individual identity and feelings, folks were asked what they fear to be true about God. There were images of hellfire, of loneliness, brokenness, and desolation, of needing to face the truth about ourselves. We ended that session by offering prayers to one another.
Moving into the branches, representing a trans-personal perspective, participants were asked what they now believe to be most true about God and Ultimate Reality, and what truth they wish to journey into. Those images centered around beauty and joy, around nature and earth’s resilience, human arrogance and interconnectivity, and the freedom and joy that can found when we surrender arrogance and realize it’s never too late to grow and change.
What a journey!
Participants in this group expressed deep appreciation for both the questions and the process, which was described as “accessible even to those who don’t normally do creative stuff.” And I was deeply moved by the the sweet intimacy that developed among us so quickly, as we silently worked on our images, were surprised by the results, and then presented them to one another.
“Spiritual intimacy is what many people hope for when they seek out a religious home,” I thought. “Sometimes you just have to journey away from home in order to find the connections and clarity you’re looking for. The challenge then is to bring those gifts back home with you!”
May your journeys unfold in beauty, with awe, gratitude, renewed faith, and joyful purpose.
Post by Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube, Lead Spiritual Director
Walking meditation happens every day right before breakfast. We pay attention to our breathing and to the feeling of our feet pressing the earth. Massaging the earth, as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says. We do this together. When the bell rings, we all pause and take three mindful breaths. After that, if our mind has wandered, we begin again.
We notice things that make us happy. The air is perfect. The breezes are soft. We walk in a beautifully landscaped garden. There is a hummingbird! Flowers of many colors and shapes delight our eyes. We walk by the rose garden and smell the divine fragrance.
We walk past some of our fellow retreatants. Some are writing in their journals. Others are drawing and painting. Others are simply sitting, maybe with a beverage. We see a smile on their faces.
A feeling of gratitude wells up. Outside of this retreat, how often in our lives do we have time to literally smell the roses? To simply sit and enjoy being, without having to go somewhere or do something? To meditate and pray? To join with others in song and worship? To go where the spirit leads?
Post by Rev. Lucy Bunch, Director of Embodied Practice
I had forgotten the spaciousness.
This is my fourth year as one of the leaders of SpiritRest and it continues to be a blessing. When I am getting ready each year, my body starts relaxing every time I think of being here. But each time I arrive it’s different. And this year it was hard.
We have completed our first full day here and I feel like I am finally settling in. When we first arrived on Sunday I was anxious - about the schedule, about the room set up, about the food, about my room. I kept forgetting what time I was supposed be leading something, and checking the calendar obsessively. Moving, churning, flailing, struggling to settle in.
Post by Rev. Sharon Wylie, Worship Leader
It’s Sunday evening at SpiritRest, our first evening together. We’ve had dinner, gathered for orientation to the week ahead, and concluded the scheduled parts of the evening with a short worship service (“vespers”). At the close of vespers, we enter into silence.
This year more than ever, I am ready for retreat. In previous years, I have limited my news reading to designated times during the day, but this year, I feel fully ready to take a break from the news. This also means staying off of social media—where so much news gets shared—so this is a big leap for me personally. Looking at social media is a big way that I relax and have fun, but it is also where I read the most upsetting and sensationalist news stories. Right now I feel clear: the news I need to know will still be available to me on Friday, when the retreat is over.
Even though our retreat is just a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of city shops and restaurants, I’m enjoying thinking of myself as tucked away in the mountains, far away from the exhausting ugliness of the world.
Come to think of it, here at SpiritRest, I AM far away from the exhausting ugliness of the world. It’s a place and time to savor.
People who had arrived tired and frayed on Sunday left feeling rested and restored. Retreatants described themselves at the close of the retreat as:
And as in our other years, all retreatants would recommend this retreat to others! What a lovely affirmation that despite the changes from previous years, the retreat experience we have been developing is as nourishing as ever.
We hope to return to Mary & Joseph Retreat Center next August. I will send an email and update the website as soon as we know the dates. We hope to see you at SpiritRest 2019!
In silent retreat we give ourselves a gift, a separate, sacred space, where we can encounter and contemplate what is really going on with us, with one another, and with the earth. Silence is where we can feel our joy more deeply, take stock more accurately, and—this can be the more difficult part—become more fully aware of our woundedness and despair.
But why open to all that? Because the silence we share holds us. It opens us to be touched and to be taught really important things about life, death and rebirth. Under its spell, we can find a loving way through the difficulties and challenges we face. As we settle into silence, calmness comes. Liberation from the press of daily “shoulds” and “oughts” occurs. Balance is regained. Healing happens. We are kissed by the spirit of life and a sense of our wholeness is restored.
At our final vespers, retreatants gave testimony to such experiences. And among the final words spoken in our final worship were the words, “I’m ready.” Tomorrow we gather one last time, to bring our circle of silent community to a close. Ready or not, we will exit this alternate reality with renewed strength, more love, deeper insight and clearer intentions, better prepared to meet the challenges of life and the uncertainties of the future waiting for us.
A retreat in silence, under the gentle, wise guidance of experienced spiritual directors, and in the company of dedicated companions of the soul. I heartily recommend it. Perhaps we’ll see you next year at SpiritRest.
Post by Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube, lead spiritual director
Tuesday: going deeper
We are finishing our second full day of silence today. Our faces are more
relaxed and in spiritual direction participants report a settling in and deepening
peace. For some, there is clarity emerging about issues in their life. Or there is a
sense of safety and support for diving into the confusion.
It’s wonderful that the old and bitter theological arguments, such as atheists vs.
theists, haven’t shown up here. Participants are finding deepening and
broadening of their own practices, using the vocabulary of the holy must
relevant to them, but they are also willing to try practices from different traditions
with other vocabulary. Almost all of us have submitted prayer requests to retreat
leader Rev. Sharon Wylie and have consented to have prayers said for us. We are
engaging our own souls in a supportive community of others.
The sights and sounds around us enhance the inner exploration. The roses are
vibrantly colorful and sweetly fragrant. The lights of Los Angeles seem magical
at night from our high vantage point. It’s a metaphor for what we are doing here.
From on high, we have set ourselves apart for a while, but we look down on the
busy world of joys and sorrows to which we will soon return and pray for our
loved ones, our country and our world. And that we will return better prepared
for what the world calls from us.
Post by Rev. Lucy Bunch, spiritual director
Monday: quieting the mind
It is the afternoon of the first day of our retreat and a beautiful sunny day. We are scattered around the rooms and grounds - some of us reading , or doing jigsaw puzzles, creating art, journaling, walking, resting, sleeping. Or just being. I find it takes me at least a day before I can quiet my mind and restless spirit. One of the gifts of this time of silence and peace is just being. Just being here, just being relaxed, just being present. I was very tired when I got here, worn by the past year of doing, of striving. Just being is a refreshment for my soul. I drink in this refreshment and I am replenished.
needed and if I could give something to her through love and compassion that would soothe her. (When I stop and invite in feelings of fear or panic, I find that there is often something there that wants to be born; something that has been ignored, perhaps for too long.)
This is what silence does. It gives me the space to hear from parts of me I have been ignoring by being busy with life. I have found that I often build a wall around my deepest desires and maintain them with the shoulds and ought to’s that I often rely upon to get through the day.
When I am silent, my desires are amplified, and this helps me remember that all of me needs love and attention.
Recognizing and accepting my desires is not to be confused with giving myself anything I think I want or need. No, the deep listening that happens when my fears arise is an interactive play that I get to write as I open to the deepest longings of my being.
These longings take time and perseverance to find. They are the connection to Divine longings that I carry within me always. They are important and necessary for love to flourish in the world. That is why they need so much time, so much reflection, so much tenderness.
I am ready to meet these longings, here in the quiet places that live beneath the fear and panic. I am grateful for the time and space to meet all of me, and move inward with deep compassion for myself and all that is.
See you on the other side...