Surrendered Heart is the next step in the Captivating Heart Retreat Series. Stripped down, focused and intimate, this retreat is a weekend away with other women seeking deep healing and deep communion with God. Taught by Marilyn Hodgin, Judy Turner of Christview Ministries and Strings Attached’s own Cari Kaufman, we are incredibly excited about what God is inviting us to. Surrendered Heart takes place at St Scholastica Retreat Center in Ft Smith, Arkansas, May 13-15, 2016. For more information go to www.captivatingheart.com. This event is designed for those ladies who have attended Captivating Heart or a similar Captivating based retreat or who have been through the Captivating:Heart to Heart DVD series.
When describing my retreat experience several weeks ago at St Scholastica Retreat Center in this post, I described the unease that welled up within me in the emptiness of solitude as fear. As I sit with the emotion that made itself known in those hours, and that hasn’t fully left since, I think perhaps it was less fear and closer to sorrow. Or maybe the bowling ball in my stomach was sorrow and, rather than explore it, my response was fear. Either way, God was so gracious to provide exactly the support I needed to work through part of it, but now, as I prepare to lead a retreat on Practicing Sabbath this weekend and look back over my notes from my own retreat, I found this resource that Sr Macrina shared with us, and realize that my experience of immense sorrow…and of something beautiful and mysterious underneath, is not uncommon…and He’s been there all along.
In his book, How then Shall We Live, Wayne Muller speaks of his first week-long silent meditation retreat and how during the retreat he discovered a deep sorrow and struggled with where it was coming from. As he became more silent he began to sense a unique presence deep within. These are the words he uses to describe the experience:
“Then it got quiet, quieter than ever. I began to sense something beneath the sorrow. I could feel a place inside, below all my names, my stories, my injuries, my sadness—a place that I lived in my breath. I did not know what to call it, but it had a voice, a way of speaking to me about what was true. Along with this voice came a presence, an indescribable sense of well-being that reminded me that whatever pain or sorrowI would be given, there was something inside strong enough to bear the weight of it. It would rise to meet whatever I was given. IT would teach me what to do.
All my life I have felt this presence, but at that moment I could feel its fundamental integrity. As I think back upon my life to the times when I have been lost, I realize that whenever I have ignored this voice I have quickly found myself in more confusion. There is something inside me that has—for as long as I can remember, since I was very small—always guided me toward what was right and true. I also realized that when I am too busy, rushed or preoccupied, I rarely take the time to listen. It is this desperate unwillingness to be quiet enough to hear what I essentially know to be true—that has been the cause of much of my suffering in this life.”
It’s been exactly one week since I packed my bags and headed to the quiet of the St Scholastica Monastery and Retreat Center.
One week of learning that “no” is not a four letter word. One week of asking for help and wondering at all the amazing, talented people who have been in my life, waiting, all along for me to ask them, but who I never tapped for fear of being an inconvenience. One week of silent car rides and practicing communal silence with my family.
It’s a funny thing when life is quieter…more still…words seem to have greater weight. I like this new-found quiet and even, more, a greater respect for the spoken and written word.
This weekend’s activities stand in stark contrast to last week. Yesterday, we traveled with 24 children (ages 5-13) and close to that many adults to Dallas for a basketball tournament.
Quiet stillness has been replaced with the rush, rush logistics of moving 50 people from one place to another, the loud voices and constant chatter of excited young children, and the sideline yells and hollers of a zealous crowd of parents have taken the place of the reverent whispers, bird song and the soft sound of the wind in the tree tops.
It’s definitely a different world, and I am honestly struggling a bit to function here. I miss the mini-monastery we created at home, and while I am having fun with my family, I yearn for quiet solitude.
So how do I do this? How do we create this monastic life and still have a family life? Are the two mutually exclusive?
I don’t think so. I think it’s possible to have a little bit of both in this world. And I’m on a mission to figure out how.
Reflections from St Scholastica 2/27/2011
The Sister’s have invited me to share Mass and breakfast with them this morning. They are such gracious hostesses, sharing all that they have with their guests with no care of gift in return. There is so much I can learn of hospitality from these Benedictine monks.
I rise early and prepare, fully intending to take advantage of their offer, but another longing rises up within me. Something new to my nature. “Stay with me,” He whispers softly. “Get a cup of tea and break your fast with me.”
My human heart cries out at the invitation. “But…God…I will be alone…and quiet.” It yearns, even now, for the tangible, solid companionship of the Sisters.
My true self does a happy dance and springs to the kitchenette for a cup of tea with My God. I make church by a small pond on the east side of the monastery grounds. There are six Canadian geese swimming happily there and the squirrels with their giant red tails and the robins with their thick bellies promise spring days are near.
The jonquils are beginning to bloom and tiny white and blue crocuses carpet the ground beneath my feet. There is a tree here at the edge of the water. Big and strong—I wonder at its age—the years it has seen. This monastery in the heart of this small city, has all the wonder of a rural setting, but just in case you forget where you are, the cars on the highway vroom past and the occasional thump, thump of loud music breaks the un-silence of the birds at play.
In my soul a song wells up. I don’t know the words, but I know the heart of it so I close my eyes and hum the tune to Jesus as an offering of worship. My voice is soft and crackly as I shake loose the cobwebs of extended silence. I wonder fleetingly if the Trappist monks who take a vow of silence ever feel these heartsongs? Is it ok for them to release them with their voice to Jesus?
There is so much about this place I do not understand, and yet none of that seems to matter. Jesus has met me here in a profound way. I have looked deep into the Magic Mirror and found some pieces of me that must be scrubbed away, some practices that need discipline, but most of all I found a beautiful, Beloved Child of God staring back at me. I found a monk and an artist. I found a heart that yearns for silence and the presence of God. I found an appreciation for a slower way of life…more mindful, more present, more measured.
The question now is how do I return to my world and fold into my reality the peace of this one? Solitude is not just for the monastery. This gift is not one I want to leave here next to the thank you card on my bed- “Thank you so much for the soul space…keep it for me, I’ll be back again next year!” No! This is a gift I can carry with me. But, how?
I will start small:
- Turning the car radio off while I’m driving alone.
- Asking of my family that we share 10 minutes of quiet time when we arrive home in the evening.
- On my free days, taking an hour of each day for prayer.
- Following the rhythm of the Seven Sacred Pauses during my day- using the praying of the hours to center and guide me back to “ceaseless prayer” in the present moment.
These are my commitments. Perhaps some will stay and some will fall away, but this much is certain—I will find time for solitude. Will you?
Are you looking for ways to deepen your spiritual practices? We invite you to explore the possibilities with us as we begin the “Practicing Your Path” Retreat Series based on the book by the same name by Holly Whitcomb.
Each one day women’s retreat focuses on a different spiritual discipline:
3/19/2011 Practicing Sabbath:Rediscovering God’s Design for Rest
4/9/11 Practicing the Fast: Taking Yourself Out of the Equation
5/21/2011 Embracing Your Call: Discovering Your Purpose
6/11/2011 Practicing Hospitality
8/13/2011 Practicing Prayer and Action: Living a Life of Intercession
You can register for each of these events individually or save 33% and register for the entire series!
If you can’t make it to Northwest Arkansas for retreat, no worries! You can register for online retreats including video clips, worksheets and guidebook. Just click register now and choose “Online” as your ticket type. You will receive the worksheets and videos by email the week of the scheduled retreat.
“We are afraid of emptiness. Spinoza speaks about our “horror vacui,” our horrendous fear of vacancy. We like to occupy-fill up-every empty time and space. We want to be occupied. And if we are not occupied we easily become preoccupied; that is, we fill the empty spaces before we have even reached them. We fill them with our worries, saying, “But what if …”
It is very hard to allow emptiness to exist in our lives. Emptiness requires a willingness not to be in control, a willingness to let something new and unexpected happen. It requires trust, surrender, and openness to guidance. God wants to dwell in our emptiness. But as long as we are afraid of God and God’s actions in our lives, it is unlikely that we will offer our emptiness to God. Let’s pray that we can let go of our fear of God and embrace God as the source of all love.”
– Henri Nouwen
Today was a beautiful day. As our group began our Day of Recollection and our presenter, Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr began sharing with us how to discover the “Monk Within,” I found myself drawn to her poetic style and use of metaphor. She began, “we offer to God everything we meant by I, so that the divine love may pass through the space that is left unimpeded.” As she spoke about the monk and how it is the universal archetype for the heart within us that searches for the divine, I knew that I was in the right place.
Most of the retreat was spent in silent reflection. Most of the teaching was done by God in those spaces. The communal silence shared among the retreatants became comfortable and cherished and easy to flow in and out of.
As we finished our day, I began to sense a great unease welling up within me. Everyone was leaving to head home to their families, but I had chosen already to extend my retreat another day for some more alone time with God. As I said goodbye to new heart sisters, my unease became disquiet and settled into my belly like the stone representing my brokenness I had carried to the center of the labyrinth earlier that afternoon. A fear sprang up within me—solid and palpable, without cause or reason—a fear of the emptiness of time. The space and solitude that was waiting after all my fellow retreatants left for the day. I began to wonder if I should not just pack my belongings and head home early.
After the last of the ladies left, I went back to my room and paced about. I tried to nap. I returned to the labyrinth that had offered such comfort and outlet for my nervous energy before. I couldn’t focus my steps, but just kept thinking I should go home and spend time with my family and be at church in the morning and run away from this open space. I was scared.
I packed my bags and sat them next to the door of my room. Finally, I called out for help. I picked up the phone and called my husband. We talked for a few moments (I thought I did a pretty good job of sounding light and upbeat—he tells me I did not.) I told him I wanted to come home. He told me I needed to stay and pray through this emotion, to get to the bottom of it.
I went to the chapel and knelt by the altar to pray. “Lord, Jesus, I know this fear is not from you. I know that you want me to stay, but I feel so alone here. Please let me go home.”
“Stay with Me. You are not alone,” came the answer. “Sit here with me for a while.”
So I closed my eyes and quieted my mind and focused only on that soft voice inside that said, “Stay.” An hour later, Sr. Macrina came to invite me to dinner with the community and I jumped at the opportunity.
God poured out exactly what I needed this evening…first in his invitation to sit at peace with Him and then with His invitation to join the community of St Scholastica for a movie night. What a joy it was to be invited into the personal residence of the Sisters of St Scholastica and see them through lenses unfettered by my preconceived notions of what life within these monastery walls is like. It is not unlike mine, with chores and housework, and vocational work, and friends and quarrels and conflict and movies and pizza with the girls. It is full of life and love and laughter. I was blessed to be a part of that life for just a short time.
I head up to my room content and no longer afraid. God knew exactly what I needed and because I was willing to surrender my emptiness to Him—he filled it….with love.
“The most important practice of all to the monk is the practice of waiting.” Macrina Wiederkehr
One of the wonders of this personal retreat was taking part of the Day of Recollection: Discovering the MonkWithin Retreat led by Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr. The theme of the whole weekend for me really became about finding solitude in the everyday, about experiencing life as a monastic outside the monastery walls. About slowing the pace and measuring all the steps of our days. This poem is one of the beautiful nuggets Sr. Macrina presented us with.
“In our lives, the spaces in between are the places of waiting.”
– Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr.
What makes a fire burn is the space between the logs,
A breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
Too many logs packed in too tight
Can douse the flames
Almost as surely
As a pail of water would.
So building fires
To the spaces in between,
As much as to the wood.
When we are able to build open spaces
In the same way we have learned
To pile on the logs,
Then we can come to see how it is fuel,
And absence of the fuel together,
That make fire possible.
We only need to lay a log
Lightly from time to time.
A fire grows
Simply because the space is there,
With openings in which the flame
That knows just how it wants to burn
Can find its way.
– Judy Brown
“Wherever I am, the world comes after me. It offers me its busyness. It does not believe that i don’t want it.” – Mary Oliver
I came here seeking solitude,
And found I like the quiet,
But am afraid of the alone.
I came here spent and desiring rest,
And found bounding energy
Yearning for outlet.
“Rest,” You said, “Be still.”
But I find myself restless
And in perpetual motion.
In obedience and with discipline of will,
Eyes closed and thoughts clearing.
I sink into Your grace.
Written on retreat at St Scholastica, 2/25/2011
I am just returning from a three day personal retreat in Fort Smith. My dear family gave me the soul space to make a retreat to a monastery and retreat center not far from our home to spend a little time seeking and resting in God.
Choosing to go to a Catholic retreat center was, well, a good bit out of my comfort zone(I am not, nor have I ever been Catholic), but I found heart sisters there none the less. More importantly, God met me there. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing some reflections from this trip with you. I hope that you are blessed by them.
This next reflection was from my first evening at the retreat center. Enjoy!
How do I seek you? How, How, How?
I am riddled with how, and how come, and when and where and why. And I am sorry that my human need to understand overshadows my soul’s desire to obey. Have patience with me, Dear Father. I am like a young child, full of wonder, but just cresting into the age of exerting my independence.
I’m not sure why I’m here in this place. To seek you, I know. To draw near to you, to spend quality time with you, but my busy mind doesn’t know how to be quiet. My heart doesn’t know how to be still. Nouwen spoke of how his intellect was a hindrance—always looking for ways to spread your message, but often losing out on the golden moments of absorbing it himself.
Even now, if I’m honest, I write with a dual purpose: both to put words to and process how I am feeling and to express to others that this humanness is not something to hide—that it is a shared experience.
I am learning that in this monastic community are the perfect picture of the inhale and the exhale of solitude and community. There is a place for both. But I am afraid of the community today because I’ve come seeking solitude—is it wrong to engage others?
I leapt at the chance to take supper with the monastic community here: both out of curiosity and an also a visceral need to share this experience with another human being. I find myself in the common areas more than my room to listen to laughter and concern and conversation of others. It is music to my soul, but I’m afraid that it is escape—a distraction from the disruption of God in my life. Is it? Am I defiling this sacred time? Am I running away from you?
I don’t understand this way of being. I only know DO-ing. Give me something to do and I am comfy, cozy there. My God, this just being, this act of presence—I find my skills rather shoddy.
Help me, Lord, to quiet my mind—my spirit, my heart and just know that there is no wrong way to spend time with you. Save not at all. That by making this sacrifice of time, I am already drawing near to you. I am not being graded on this experience. Meet me here, Lord. Let me see you and feel you and hear you…Amen.
“You have made my soul for Your peace and Your silence, but it is lacerated by the noise of my activity and my desires. My mind is crucified all day by its own hunger for experience, for ideas, for satisfaction and I do not possess my house in silence.” – Thomas Merton