October 3-5, 2014
A month ago we had our annual contemplative retreat. The theme of the retreat was deepening our senses as prayer. Our community leaders guided us in experiences that allowed us to pause and notice our senses, and how God is speaking to us through them. It also made visible some of the gifts that the Holy Spirit has been stirring within each one of us. There were so many highlights, so many opportunities for deeper awareness. Here are the activities we engaged in together and some responses to them. Thank you for your presence and active participation in this enriching contemplative retreat.
We started our retreat with a Centering Prayer session. At dinner, we had an opportunity to talk with new and old friends. The dining hall was filled with laughter and animated conversation. It was such a joy to see this group coming together in community.
First Session: The Sense of Hearing
Caren played a song "Let Go of the Shore". We listened, we reflected, we sang. The song brought us to a deeper place to consider the questions that she posed to us. "Powerful experience." "Set the tone for the silence." "Felt a 'Thin Place' like never before!"
Evening Ignatian Exercise
Carol read the story of Jesus quieting the storm. We had an opportunity to imagine all our senses engaging in the bible scene. "Senses give experiences dimensions."
We started with gentle relaxing Yoga Movement led by Lynn. Exploring our breath and feeling the movement of our muscles within our body. "Appreciate starting the morning with movement as a group."
Intention for Saturday Meals: All Senses
Caren invited us to fully experience our mealtime. Smell and taste the food, see the color, feel the texture, listen to the sounds, and notice any feelings – what needs to be attended to? "Eating in silence brought me more awareness and enjoyment of food."
Second Session: Sense of Touch
Mary brought clay to allow us to experience becoming familiar with the clay, exploring, creating, destroying it. "Surprised to be asked to destroy something we created, but reinforced the need to hold things lightly and be willing to let go of them."
With our eyes blindfolded, we were given a rose to explore and notice. It is amazing the wisdom and insight that this experience provided. "I touched the rose, then when I let the rose touch me, I received a flood of new insights about acceptance, receiving, thankfulness." "Appreciated Mary's permission to explore and pull the object apart."
To reflect and attend to our personal needs and relationship with God. "Loved the time for walks and reflection."
Two 20 minute sessions separated by a walking meditation
Third Session: Sense of Sight
Carolyn and Julie shared methods for prayer doodling, displayed examples of their drawings and provided the resources for us to explore some prayers in the form of our own doodles. Again, another insightful experience opening our senses in a deeper way to the wisdom created within us. At the end of the exercise we had an opportunity to share in small group what insights the prayer doodles provided. "Appreciated the small group time to be heard and share what was uncovered during the process of prayer doodling." "The doodling was quite revealing about life." "The sense of play with clay and doodles brings the joy and fun of play."
To reflect and attend to our personal needs and relationship with God. "Quality quiet time to get to know myself through God."
Two 20 minute sessions separated by a walking meditation. "These sessions helped me renew my focus on Centering Prayer."
Fourth Session: Sense of Smell
Caren had us smell an essential oil (bergamot), guided our experience, and asked us to notice what the scent brought up in our bodies and memories.
Evening Ignatian Exercise
Carol reviewed the guidance from the Examen that provided helpful guidelines for processing the day. "The Ignatian reflections make clearer the reasons for the day's events and how I responded to them."
Gentle Yoga and another session of Centering Prayer.
Fifth Session: Emerging from Silence with Voice, Integration & Connection
An opportunity to give voice to the experiences and insights revealed during the retreat through small group sharing. God reached us in a multitude of ways: though our senses, through our relationships, through our body.
"Filled with spirited laughter and a sense of deeper connection to God and each other."
Viewing of documentary about Fr. Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence
"A perfect close for the retreat, with a call to a regular practice of centering prayer and the difference it makes in our world."
Other Responses to the Fall Retreat
"This was marvelous – the central pieces were silence, the group sits. The focus on senses was profound, though I resisted the idea initially."
"The sessions were all part of opening to God's presence … letting go … listening … reflection … silence … being outside in nature."
"Overall coming into awareness, focusing on each sense helped me slow down and be present."
"Still in the glow with revelations coming my way – the experience is too deep for words."
"Different people leading the various activities added spice, and all seemed to give from the same generous and encouraging spirit."
"I felt all the presenters gave their hearts and talents. I felt the loving peace and presence of God."
"I learn from and appreciate live presenters. I like the retreat … it refreshed me."
"Thank you to all the people who put their time, effort and love into this retreat. I was blessed and enriched by it."
Readings and Passages for Contemplation from the Retreat
What I propose to do is to try listening to my life
As a whole for whatever many, of holiness, of God, there may be in it to hear...
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and the pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness:
Touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis,
all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.
--Frederick Buechner, Sacred Journeys: Autobiographical Glimpses of God
Although I have often abandoned you, O Lord, you have never abandoned me.
Your hand of love is always outstretched towards me,
even when I stubbornly look the other way.
And your gentle voice constantly calls me.
--Theresa of Avila
God to enfold me.
God to surround me.
God in my speaking.
God in my thinking.
God in my sleeping.
God in my waking.
God in my watching
God in my hoping.
--Traditional Celtic Prayer
O God, unto whom all hearts are open,
all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid,
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love thee
and magnify thy Holy Name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
--"The collect for purity," from the Book of Common Prayer
A Blessing for the Senses
May your body be blessed.
May you realize that your body is a faithful and beautiful friend of your soul.
And may you be peaceful and joyful
and recognize that your senses are sacred thresholds.
May you realize that holiness is mindful, gazing, feeling, hearing and touching.
May your sense gather you and bring you home.
May your senses always enable you to celebrate the universe
and the mystery and possibilities in your presence here.
May the Eros of the Earth bless you.
--John O'Donohue, Anam Cara