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Retreat Reflections

Why Make an Intensive Centering Prayer Retreat

Reprinted from the Contemplative Outreach of South Florida Newsletter, Summer 2001


The spiritual journey is an invitation into the unknown – an adventure in faith.  It is a process of continual transformation toward union with God which ultimately encourages transformation of the world.  While spiritual progress is dependent primarily upon grace, it also depends on our response to this gift through the practice of various spiritual disciplines, such as Centering Prayer.

Both grace and personal response are active components in the process of moderating the instinctual drives stimulated by the false self.  It is the false self which is at the root of much of human unhappiness.  The regular practice of Centering Prayer encourages the letting go of the afflictive emotions arising in daily life and promotes the loving acceptance of other people.  As a result of an ongoing commitment to the prayer, our behavior becomes more and more motivated by divine love which is totally self-giving, detached from selfishness.  Extended prayer periods wear away our opposition to grace and restore our willingness to give ourselves completely to God, and to share our life and gifts with others – especially those with whom we live and work.

When one desires to grow in their contemplative experience by responding to God’s call to enter into a deeper relationship, it is most advisable to participate in an Intensive Centering Prayer Retreat.  In an attitude of openness we say “yes” to Christ who calls to us “come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.”  A primary function of the retreat is to strengthen and increase our willingness to continue responding to the grace of a pilgrimage into the unknown.  It is not important to know where you are on this journey, for wherever you are it is an immense gift of God – and there are more places to go.  The mutual support of others traveling a similar journey is an enriching experience and an invaluable aid in the daily abandonment of self to God.

In an Intensive Retreat setting, the lengths of the periods of Centering Prayer are extended.  Multiple periods of Centering Prayer can help to deepen the experience of interior silence and open us to the possibility of greater intimacy with God.  Extended prayer periods may also accelerate the process of unloading the unconscious, thereby reducing our self-centered programs for happiness.



The Gift of the Moment

by Jonna Zane

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. Mark 6:31

I wonder if it was as difficult for the disciples as it was for me to decide to go on my first long retreat.  My family would manage fine and the events on my calendar could wait, but somehow I was unsure.  Although I had been on silent retreats before and knew what to expect, I was nervous about committing to an extended time in silent prayer with little or no contact with family, friends, and familiar routine.  Maybe I was even a little afraid of what “deepening my relationship with God” might mean for my life.  Finally, I yielded to the nudge of the Holy Spirit and registered.

A few weeks later, I drove into St. Anthony’s Retreat Center and knew I had made the right decision.  I parked my busy schedule with my car and stepped into another world.  Everything was prepared.  My room was simple, clean, and quiet.  The prayer room was serene with an altar, a candle, and a cross. Meals offered time to experience contemplative eating, slowly tasting, chewing, savoring each bite.  The daily schedule perfectly balanced periods of prayer, teaching videos, and personal time, ending each evening with lectio divina. With each day, I became increasingly relaxed and more deeply aware of the gift of life.  I was awakened to the joy of living in the moment and each moment was a delight.

I took fast walks and slow walks.  I stretched out my arms in the wind and silently talked to the trees.  I watched light patterns on the path and warmed to sun on my face.  I feasted on the brilliant colors of the flowers and observed the opening of a new leaf.  I felt rain on my face and listened to it pelt my umbrella as I splashed in puddles and mud.  I smelled newly cut grass.  I watched a rainbow rise and fade.  I stood at the foot of the cross and gazed up at Jesus’ face marveling at the single green fern that sprouted from his crown of thorns.  Resurrection, life, joy!

I believe that my daily practice of Centering Prayer prepared me for surrender to the deeper prayer and silence of the retreat.  With surrender came the practical insight that I needed. I stopped wishing for this and that.  I let go of my desire to hold on to the beauty surrounding me or the feeling of peace, rest and community that I experienced.  I simply enjoyed whatever each moment brought and was content.  To paraphrase a line of an old Christian hymn, “Grace made me whole.”

When the time came to leave St. Anthony’s I was ready.   Several months later I find that the peace and contentment of that time apart continue to nourish me in the hustle and bustle of my busy life.  I breathe a prayer of thanks that I finally listened and said, “yes,” when Jesus beckoned me to “Come away for a little while and rest.”  Amen



Reflections on Retreat

by Nancy Conley

 The wind blows through the valley and sweeps my mind of worldly things.

The morning showers give life to this green and blessed place and offer a baptism of spirit. 

Saintly souls, wise and quiet live here among the pines and listen to our prayers with tenderness.

They speak to us in an unknown language of holy moments of numerous seekers who walked these paths eons ago.

The sweet silence is slowly moving me inward to find the treasure of the heart.

The gift of timelessness, pure inner peace brings me to freely, fully surrender to the grace and face of God



Sacred Words

by Kathleen Falvey

 Cherish me as the apple of your eye.  Under the shadow of your wings keep me safe. Psalm 17:8

Read these words silently, then aloud.  Are they not beautiful in cadence as well as imagery?  Repeated slowly and savored they may become a chant, a mantra, a prayer that brings one into the presence of God.   

As one who has studied and taught the classics for many years, I have come to appreciate the beauty and power of words.  Sacred words from the Bible, Christian liturgy, song, and chant inspire and transform us.  When we memorize short passages from scripture or other sacred texts they take root in body and soul, available to nourish us at all times and in all situations.

This simple spiritual practice has become a great belssing for me.  I pass it along in hopes that you may find it so as well.  



The Tale of Pepe'oi & Tiger

By Gail Sugimoto-Leong 

This is a story within a story.  It all began in an attempt to press the “pause button” by entering the Welcoming Prayer Retreat.  Oh, if it were so simple!  The mind still in full gear, full of interior noise, and not very quiet, takes some convincing.  So it was on Day One at St. Anthony’s Retreat Center.

On Day Two, however, a shift occurred.  Something caught my eye and refocused my mental preoccupation.  There, walking out of the convent entrance was Sister Cecile Marie with a beautiful, brown hen tucked under her right arm.  In step just behind her, was a spritely, tan-orange tabby cat.  Sister eased Pepe'oi (the hen) under a hedge.  “She likes it here,” Sister said.  Tiger the cat curled up next to Pepe'oi and the two lay quite contented to be in each other’s company enjoying the warmth of the morning sun.  Seeing this odd couple first amazed and then gradually grew into an inner delight for each person who passed them.  How funny, how strange, how cute were these two little friends! 

Of course, as I said, there was a story within a story.  Sr. Cecile Marie found Pepe'oi desperately struggling to keep up with mother-hen and her brood.  Looking closely, Sister found Pepe'oi had an open leg wound, only one useful leg, and no feathers for flight.  Tiger’s story was similar as he was abandoned by mother-cat while still a vulnerable kitten.  Neither would have survived alone without shelter, nurture, and loving care.  True to the original mission of St. Anthony’s Home (an orphanage), two of God’s little creatures found a safe haven.  Bishop Liebert, the founder of St. Anthony’s, would be pleased!  Who would imagine how one person’s compassion and willingness to care would have such a rippling effect?  One chicken and one cat became a blessing to all who happened to come upon the duo.

So what does this story within a story have to do with contemplative prayer?  Well, maybe nothing, too much, or maybe a whole lot.  At first, for me, it was more serendipity, a chance happenstance.  God got my attention through His creatures, Pepe'oi and Tiger.  On reflection, they were God’s surprise invitation to stop, delight in His creatures, enjoy the warmth of the sun, the refreshing wind, and feel the drizzle of the Kalihi Valley rain.  Perhaps God was saying, “Can you feel me?  Can you rest and simply be contented with My company, My presence?”

 In the process of writing these thoughts, I’ve come away with a greater and deeper appreciation of those few days of retreat.  One chicken and one cat equals two of God’s creatures, but both together made God’s invitation to delight in His creation much more a reality.  And so - it is so, so simple!


Retreat Image

by Kathleen Falvey

 

Now they can’t be separated,

but they seem to have come from such different,

though illustrious,

                backgrounds –


The orange kitten is possibly an offspring of Luccio,

once protector and guide to Sister Rose Kathleen

                (God bless her!).

 

The small chicken with a wounded leg

may belong to the lordly Rooster

who lends his splendor to mornings at St. Anthony’s.

 

                Somehow they met.

 

“Welcome!” said the chicken,

                and tucked his leg under his wing.

 

“Welcome!” said the kitten,

                and curled into an orange ball.

 

And they settled down for a comfy nap.