A week ago Marge Richards and I led a retreat at Clare House and the hermitages. There were ten of us so it was a small intimate group. It was an introduction to the early wisdom traditions passed on to us by the early desert fathers and mothers. We looked at how they might relate to our contemporary spiritual practices. We followed a pattern similar to what Cynthia Bourgeault describes in The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming An Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart. On the first day we set the stage with prayer and shared where we wanted our time together. We introduced the theme of midwife acknowledging that something is being born within each of us and we have the potential to midwife that birth for one another. We introduced ourselves to one another and, in the introduction, we also named those who have been midwives for us in the past. Many remembered a parent, a grandmother, a teacher, a spiritual director, or someone other but the one thing they all had in common was that they took us to another level and spoke deep wisdom to us. We shared the wisdom. In chant and quiet meditation we welcomed the retreat into our lives and created together the sacred space by the names of our wisdom figures. At 7:30 PM the first night we shared our evening meal and allowed ourselves to get at home with one another.
We arose early the second day and, outside under a tree watching the sun rise, we did some T’ai Chi Chih movements and allowed the Sacred to awaken in our entire being. We ate a simple breakfast in the old farmhouse kitchen of Clare House and throughout the day we allowed time for sacred chanting and for silent meditation. We had an hour long class on the Wisdom Tradition and how our time together might model that transformative experience within us. . We created prayer flags which were displaced on the porch for all to ponder as the day went on; they reflected the desire of what we wanted to reflect to the world and the gifts we found within us. We did a little hard physical labor together by clearing the path from Hermitage A down to the stream and then the area in the back by the prayer platform. As we finished we sat on the platform and took turns letting the rhythm rise within us and play out on the drums Cathy had brought for us. Drumming became the common pulse that united us with the woods all around us and all that nature could gift us with. We also added a little singing and dancing just to make sure we were “all in” – body, mind, and spirit. We ate a simple lunch together, provided some individual rest and relaxation time and then some additional chanting, and meditation before another hour long class which this time was focused on Jesus. We looked at how he was in many ways a midwife birthing deep faith and self-compassion for Peter from the three denials to the three affirmations of love on the Galilee shore and how he transformed the journey to Emmaus by allowing their story to be told, sharing his wisdom, and enabling them to recognize him in the breaking of the bread. Our invitation was to allow Jesus to be a midwife for us and to teach us how to midwife one another. We named the ways in which we recognize Jesus in our lives and how our hearts have burned within us. We walked the labyrinth together and claimed the gift that we recognized as birthing within us By 6 PM we were bringing the day to a close with prayer and a ritual fire where we let go of our burdens and claimed the gift that God was giving us. We ended the day with a 7:30 PM dinner and allowed ourselves as much time as need to share our lives and reflect on the day’s work.
On the last day we rose early and did a walking meditation where we, in silence, shared the gift of leading and following one another in the walk. Trust was built and shared as we entered fully into the exercise. We ate our simple breakfast, shared another hours reflection on how we perceive Jesus in our life and what we experience and struggle with as we try to internalize our faith in him. There was much sharing at a very deep level about Scripture that was meaningful to us and the tones of Scripture that we struggle with. We awakened one another to what we can do for one another when we share our joys and our struggles with faith. There was deep faith present and cherished and a great acceptance of the diversity within the room. As our time came to a close there was deep gratitude for sharing wisdom through the forms of chanting, prayer, meditation and movement with us. In our final closing activity Marge wrote on a prayer card the gifts that each one of us saw in each of the others. We then had a card to add to our prayer flag that named for us what each of the others saw as our main gifts. It was a treasured time for us. Our concluding song was You Are The Face of God by Karen Drucker. The words are:
You are the face of God
I hold you in my heart
You are a part of me
You are the face of God…
You are the face of love
I hold you in my heart
You are my family
You are the face of God..
As we sang the song we looked at one another’s face and knew we had indeed seen the “face of God”. Look at the faces below and you’ll see God’s face there as well.