Retreat Reflections: Further thoughts on Elizabeth and Mary

I prayed for a while in the afternoon in front of the statue of Mary beneath the window of what was most likely the annunciation, but seemed at the moment to be of the visitation of Elizabeth and Mary. I spent more time thinking about what I am carrying, what I am to give birth to. I thought of my uncertainty and fear. I thought of the pain on delivery and the joy afterwards. I wondered more about who the Elizabeths are in my life. Who the other Marys are. Really, we are all Mary, we are all Elizabeth.

How do we celebrate these times of expectation in the twenty-first century? It struck me that perhaps, as a church gathering we need to have a baby shower. What are we, as a community, carrying and hoping to give birth to? Perhaps on the feast of the visitation, we could have a baby shower. We could all bring gifts reflecting the ministries we want to see grow in the community. Perhaps we could have it in a park, and people could hike. People from dinner ministries could supply the food. People for liturgical ministries could supply music. It could be a grand old time, with people coming and going like how they come and go to a baby shower.

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Additional Retreat Reflections

Here are a few other segments of my retreat reflections, pulled together and edited in the context of the long week that has just ended.

There was once a pilgrim who greatly enjoyed going on retreat at a local monastery. One day, he was told the story of a king who dreamt he was a butterfly and woke up wondering if he were truly a king who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who dreamt he was a king.

The pilgrim pondered in his heart, “When and where am I am king and when and where am I a butterfly?”

How might the Episcopal Church better live out the rule of Benedict? How might it listen better? How might it live out the rule about welcoming guests? Here, I’m thinking particularly about aspects beyond the parish level. The book we are reading is Holy Solitude: Lenten Reflections with Saints, Hermits, Prophets, and Rebels. How willing are we to embrace prophetic and rebellious actions today?

What would it be like to come up to Holy Cross Monastery for the day one Saturday a month, perhaps becoming some sort of companion or associate? Perhaps, being at least partly, involved in the Diocese of New York? How might that fit with my journey?

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The Purpose of Ecclesiastical Institutions

As I struggle through my own formation, thinking back to the retreat last weekend, my interaction with various people in positions of power in certain ecclesiastical institutions, my readings about the Orthodox faith and my readings for seminary, one quote from Frederica Matthewes-Green in her book Welcome to the Orthodox Church particularly jumps out at me.

But to learn Orthodoxy itself is a different matter. Because once you’re on the inside, you find that Orthodoxy is not primarily a religious institution, but a spiritual path. The institution exists for the sake of the path.

It sometimes feels that both Protestants and Roman Catholics miss this important idea. To paraphrase Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, “The Sabbath [and ecclesiastical institutions] were made for man, not man for the Sabbath [and ecclesiastical institutions]”.

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Retreat Reflections: Breakfast 4'33"

Breakfast had started by the time I arrived. Already, people were sitting at tables eating. My normal breakfast is a bowl of oatmeal, and there were packets of oatmeal available in case I wanted to make some. Yet I decided to get my daily oats in the form of Cheerios and to add to that a hardboiled egg and a cup of yoghurt.

There was one particular table where the sunlight seemed greater than at other tables and I chose to sit there with my face to the sun. It would make it easier to be silent and for others around me to give space to my silence.

If I looked towards the window, my eyes adjusted to the brightness and everything in the room seemed dim. At times, I closed my eyes to just feel the sunlight on my face.

The sounds of breakfast were like John Cage’s 4'33", the background noises becoming the foreground as a result of everyone’s silence. There was the sound of spoons hitting the sides of bowls of cereal. There was the sound of butter and jam being spread on toast. There was the sound of people cracking the hardboiled eggs. There was the sound of people walking and of chairs being scooted in.

My thoughts returned to the saying, “The miracle was not that the bush was not consumed. The miracle was that Moses noticed.” I sat quietly, listening to breakfast opus 433, trying to absorb it all. I got up and got a cup of coffee. I thought of Virginia Woolf sitting quietly drinking her coffee.

Where do you miraculously experience the beauty of God and God’s creation?

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Retreat Reflections: Just Paint

This is a brief story that came to me while I was praying during a recent silent retreat.

There was once a group of painters whose works of art were so beautiful that everyone wanted to come see and buy their paintings. They decided they should work together to share ideas and help each other out and they became more and more successful. The started setting up committees and filing reports about which painters sold how many paintings.

Then, they started arguing amongst themselves about what the right way of painting should be and who should be painters and who shouldn’t be. They split into different factions. New people came along and wanted to join their ranks, and they were told no.

Their paintings all started to look the same with less and less vibrancy. Slowly, people stopped coming to see and buy the paintings. So the painters decided they needed more committees to work on making sure that everyone painted up to the groups standards and to reach out to people who no longer bought paintings.

As the painters spent more time dealing with conventions, convocations, and meetings, and writing reports and resolutions to address the decrease in sales, they became more and more dispirited. Their painting suffered, and more and more people stopped coming to see and buy their paintings.

Some outsiders suggested that maybe they needed to simply spend more time painting, explore new ways of painting, and encourage others to become painters. Some scoffed at these ideas. Others thought there might be some merit to them and suggested new committees to explore these ideas. Unfortunately, very few painters actually acted on the suggestions and painted more or in new ways.

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