”Pilgrims are persons in motion – passing through territories not their own – seeking something we might call completion (or perhaps the word “clarity’ will do as well), a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way.” -- Richard Niebuhr
I've just returned from a territory not my own:. A Kenosis (or self-emptying) retreat at the Episcopal House of Prayer on St. John’s University campus in Collegeville, MN. The House of Prayer is an exquisite retreat house of wood and stone, with Gothic windows, quiet spaces, an oratory with a soaring tiered scallop of panels reaching toward the light. There were twelve retreatants and a retreat master--the Director of the House of Prayer: gentle, erudite, and compassionate Reverend Ward Bauman, who with his brother Lynn Bauman and Cynthia Bourgeault worked to translate The Luminous Gospels: Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Philip. Bauman is also the author of Sacred Food for Soulful Living, a cookbook of recipes from the House of Prayer kitchen who, besides guiding us and leading all the meditation sessions, also prepared our every meal which was the most delicious vegetarian food I've ever eaten.
|House of Prayer Dormitory section|
I entered the retreat, determined that I was going to “make it” this time. I’d empty myself and travel into the fullness of God’s presence. So intent was I on making this retreat the “retreat of all retreats” that I got caught up in trying to force self-emptying even though I knew that all meditation requires is the willingness to participate. . . that the action is God’s. Confronted with myself as full of myself, I was miserable. Perhaps I wasn't meant to achieve divine union, I thought, but if this was so, why the more than 50 years of yearning and search for this grace? Why the desire if God did not mean than I take this journey?
There’s nothing quite like smashing into oneself. It’s a humbling and grace-filled encounter with darkness which brought me to the point where all I could do was accept where I was at and be grateful I was anywhere at all. It wasn't until the final two days of this intense silent retreat that I found myself willing to be where I was, as I was, and in that acceptance I fell into God. For a time, at least. As Niebuhr says, Pilgrims are persons in motion, seeking a completion to which only the spirit’s compass points the way. The spirit is always at work even when we’re off track, leading us gently back to where we belong.