Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Oregon Trail: Update

I haven't written about my trip to Oregon yet, and I want to do that. It was my first "Associates" retreat, my first time to lead a silent retreat. Even with the normal stress of traveling, sleeping in new beds, being with new people, the entire week was an amazing experience!

Oregon is beautiful; it is also blooming this time of year... grasses, trees, ragweed... pollen abounds. I arrived late in the afternoon on Thursday and by Friday noon I was popping the Allegra. My hay fever continued all weekend until we left for Klamath Falls (high desert). There I could breathe again. A slip on gravel-over-rock sent me down hard and something jarred in my chest. At first I figured I'd just had the wind knocked out of me. Then I was thinking I might be having a heart attack... then I guessed a heart attack doesn't last three days or more. Whatever happened in that slip is still with me. It hurts to bend over, cough, hiccup, burp... I had a chest x-ray yesterday. No news is good news I guess. Anyway, I have some halfway decent pain killers at my disposal now, and though they don't exactly do the job, they at least take the edge off.

My first evening at Mount Angel Abbey Retreat Center was one for introductions, hugs all around from Sr. Mary Christabel and my opening address. I talked a little about my religious name... why I chose it, what it meant to me. I told them I believed God has a sense of humor and hoped I'd be able to give them a few examples over the weekend, and then I told them to take a good look at me... in official uniform, because the next day I would be wearing a red dress. (Okay, this may not sound like such a big deal to most people, but as individual sisters, we've been wearing street clothes for three years now. Yet the folks in Oregon have never seen us in anything but habit.) I was breaking them in.

The meat of my first talk was the concept of Sabbath time. Since this was a silent retreat, it would be an opportunity for them to give themselves a break from the unrelenting pace of our Western culture... not just to rest from the busyness of their normal lives, but to rest from measuring everything.
  • "How am I doing?"
  • "Am I getting it right?"
  • "If I have to practice Sabbath time I may as well be good at it."
The whole idea of Sabbath as NOT doing, rather than doing is part of the mystery of the grace of it. We carry with us a whole list of unconscious assumptions about life. These become our reality without us realizing it. Things like:
  1. Busyness is a virtue and a sign of importance.
  2. Time spent waiting is wasted time.
  3. Empty space must be filled.
  4. Multi-tasking is a spiritual gift, and more...
So I asked them to spend their time... not necessarily wisely, but to spend every moment. Spend is a verb, and I also happen to believe that God is a verb, not a noun. Little envelopes were passed around containing verbs. So what's with all those verbs if we're supposed to be not doing anyway? But that, too, was part of the mystery of spending the grace... and since my next two addresses would be focusing on prayer (another verb) it made sense to me.

We ended the evening with Compline and their silence began... All were in my prayers that night for a blessed retreat.

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