I recently went on a silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York. Holy Cross Monastery is a Benedictine monastery in the Anglican Communion, and is affiliated with the Episcopal Church. A number of monks reside there, and the primary ministry of the monastery is to provide for individual and group retreats, like the one I attended. This was a special retreat program, but one can also spend several days there on one’s own, for a “self-guided” retreat.
The theme of this retreat was “Centering Prayer,” a form of Christian prayer that is akin to meditation. You can learn more about Centering Prayer at Contemplative Outreach.
I’m presenting this story in three parts, one for each day of the retreat. They’re in the form of a journal.
Part One: Tuesday
I’m sitting in Pilgrim Hall at the monastery. I am feeling partially like it’s great to be back. I’m hesitant to say this place feels like home, but it does feel very familiar and welcoming. I’m glad to be here.
But I have two anxieties. The first one is the schedule for this week. When I arrived, I received a copy of the schedule, and I am rather surprised to see just how much prayer is part of it. I knew this was a “Centering Prayer Retreat,” but somehow I thought the emphasis was on the word retreat, not on the word prayer. Somehow I thought that we’d be learning a lot about centering prayer, not doing six separate 20-30 minute segments of prayer each day! It makes sense, but it’s not what I expected. I’m trying to just be patient and trust the process.
My second anxiety is the weather forecast. Even though tomorrow’s high is 64, the forecast for Friday, the day I go home, is snow. I’m not sure how comfortable I am driving I will be driving in that. I am grateful to have a new car (with new tires), but I’m not sure I want to put it to the test. I also suppose I could leave Thursday night if I feel I have to.
I used to be so brave in winter diving, but in the past few years I’ve become nervous. I’m not sure when or how that happened. Was it the time that I almost got stranded driving up to Bake Oven Knob, when the roads were far worse at the top? I got completely stuck in the snow, and had to rely on the kindness of others (with trucks) who happened to be there as well. I remember looking behind me in the car that day, once I finally got moving, and saw that there was a carseat for a baby right behind me. My wife and I were expecting our first child in the next few weeks, and it occurred to me that maybe I had to stop taking stupid risks like this now that I had a child on the way. And then there was the time a few months after that when I was driving home from Ricketts Glen, and I was absolutely convinced that I was going to die. The road was at such a steep angle, and it was snowing so much. I don’t know. Neither of those feel like traumas. Could they be somehow connected to my irrational fear of power outages now as well? When did I become phobic of winter?
And are these things all tied into my lack of integrity when it comes to my faith? I’m going to encounter God this week, I think. I don’t know how I’ll avoid that. I’m scared of that.
There – I said it. I’m scared of encountering God this week. But what am I most scared of? The one I will encounter, or the one who is doing the encountering?
I just attended Vespers in the chapel, and I realized just how desperately tired I am right now. How much I yearn to rest in God right now. I am so hopeful, so desperate, that this week be a chance for that, that through the offices of worship, and through all this centering prayer, I might experience that rest.
Just before Vespers began, I received an image of God as a giant hand, telling me that he would hold me. I think that’s what I need today. So often on retreats and other spiritual experiences like this, I seek out something new…new guidance, a new direction, or new wisdom or insight, but right now, perhaps what I need most, what I yearn for most, is the experience of resting in God.