I always treasure the time I spend on retreats and place a high value on being able to step from my “worldly” responsibilities to spend lengths of time focused on prayer, spiritual enrichment and emptying. As many of you know, it is very difficult to put into words the experience of a retreat and the subtle and sometimes dramatic growth and insights that one experiences during (and after) a period away to a special place with the sole intention of being present to and deepening one’s relationship with Divinity. That being said, I wish to take a few moments to share a little of my most recent retreat experience.
At the end of July, with the assistance of Minnesota Contemplative Outreach and our grant from the Trust for the Meditation Process, I was able to attend a week-long conference/formation/ retreat event held at the Marianist Retreat and Conference Center in Eureka, Missouri entitled “Deepening the Contemplative Dimension of Servant Leadership- Fostering the Integrity of Loving Service and Its Transition into Contemplative Service”.
It was a week of reflection and sharing by both the retreat staff and participants. Together we explored how to be more fully present to the movements of the Spirit within ourselves and within our prayer groups and/or chapters, which like all things associated with contemplation, it is very simple and straightforward, yet can be very difficult to do while we continue to react to circumstances from our false-self energy centers.
Some of the topics which were presented and discussed over the course of our 6 and a half days together included a fascinating presentation on the evolution of consciousness, archetypes and the Enneagram, ten dispositions of a servant-leader and how self-directed servant-leadership differs from other-directed, God-dependent spiritual servant-leadership, the differences between helping and service, humility and listening in relation to group leadership and Centering Prayer, following Christ’s example of contemplative service and the process of transformation as presented in scripture.
On the last full day of the retreat there was a presentation on the spiritual journey and on embodying empty-ness by making space for God within ourselves and how Centering Prayer enables this process. This talk was followed by a conference on thoughts. A key point from the “thoughts” talk which has stuck with me was the reminder that thoughts do not appear fully formed in our consciousness, they start out as an intention, and then develop into a thought form before becoming an actual thought which we then become engaged with. At any stage of this process we can return our intention to be present to Divinity.
The rhythms of the day were very conducive to formation and contemplation. There were 3 thirty minute prayer sessions each day, at 7 am, 11:30 am and 5:15 pm with silence from 8 pm to 9:30 am and also during lunch. Discussion during the conferences and presentations in addition to daily small group time and conversation over the evening meal provided ample opportunity for sharing and connecting with the 33 other participants and the four wonderful retreat leaders.
The retreat attendees came from all walks of life and ranged in age from the early 20’s into the 80’s. Individuals came from Canada, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, California, Colorado, Missouri, Minnesota, Florida, Illinois, Alabama, Ohio, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, Washington and Iowa. Our religious affiliations included Baptists, Disciples of Christ, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and others with no denominational affiliation. It was truly wonderful to be in the presence of so many people from such diverse social, economic, experiential and religious backgrounds who are on a similar journey and to be able to share and to do Centering Prayer and to eat and converse together.
Christian theology teaches us that Divinity is relationship and I was reminded this past week that the spiritual journey is a movement from separation to unity. Since beginning the practice of Centering Prayer in 2009, I have experienced a movement from fear and isolation to faith and community and am aware of an ever-deepening sense of my relationship with Divinity, with others and with our world. For this gift I will always be grateful.
Mark Rodel is a facilitating member of several Twin Cities Centering Prayer groups, and is a volunteer board member of Minnesota Contemplative Outreach.