Being Unconstructively in the Presence of the Sacred
O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.
January 25, 2018—Nothing compares to a contemplative retreat in a monastic setting, surrounded by fellow pilgrims of the spiritual formation program and an authentic monastic community. Trying to capture that ethos once more, I read again the papers I wrote after a men’s contemplative retreat at St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama, and a Hildegard of Bingen retreat at Sacred Heart Monastery, also in Cullman.
The respective experiences elevated not only my spirit but my prose, and I’m certain this post will pale in comparison—both to the experience and to the poetry required to capture the rhythms of words, songs, and silence of a monastic community.
O Lord, open thou my lips.
And my mouth shall show forth thy praise.
Especially welcomed to join the sisters in the chancel area of the church at Sacred Heart and given gentle guidance in saying the offices that punctuate their day helped us taste the pleasure and the power of reciting psalms and prayers together. We thus stepped carefully into a stream of a centuries-old tradition.
O God, come to my assistance.
And my mouth shall show forth thy praise.
As I wrote in one of my papers, the contemplative retreat unveiled again for me how the multitude feeds the boy with the modest lunch, the reverse of the boy whose peasant’s lunch fed the multitude through the blessing of Jesus. I felt surrounded and nourished by “so great a cloud of witnesses.”
When we are listening, God speaks to us in a myriad of ways, and God was echoing all over the place at the monastery and its grounds. Silence, scripture, songs, lectio divina, the Daily Office, readings, prayers, homilies, teachings, and conversations offered me voices from the past (memories, tradition, spiritual guides) as well as from the present (fellow pilgrims, colleagues, fellowship). Even the silence was deafening. And outside, the sounds, smells, sights, breezes, warmth of day, coolness of evening of the natural setting completed the feel of God’s embrace.
The afternoon that began our 24 hours of silence midway through the retreat, I spent much longer in the sanctuary of the church than I imagined I would. I pleasured in the profound silence. I started constructing my final paper in my mind, but then reminded myself that this was not what the silence was for. It was simply to be unconstructively in the presence of the sacred. To be “useless.” To welcome the “schola” (“free time”) of “scholar.”
That silence unveiled a second kind of silence for me, the need for Sabbath, a time of no work, no activity, no planning, only recreating, allowing myself to be re-created and refreshed and renewed, hopefully in God’s presence. Since that experience, I’ve given myself some slack in my ever-present need for accomplishment, turning off my laptop to avoid work and the internet from time to time, relaxing my workouts and runs, reading more for fun than I’ve done in the past.
Peace! Be still!
Be still and know that I am God.
How long has it been since you allowed your Good Shepherd to give you rest in green pastures beside still waters, restoring your soul? The “still waters” of the 23rd Psalm are waters gentle enough to drink from to safely quench our thirst; the Hebrew means “waters of rest.” Come, join us beside the still waters of Sacred Heart Monastery April 30-May 4, 2018.
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust.
Chris Glaser has a ministry of writing and speaking. Since graduation from Yale Divinity School in 1977, Chris has served in a variety of parish, campus, editorial, and interim posts. He has spoken to hundreds of congregations, campuses, and communities throughout the U.S. and Canada, and published a dozen best-selling books on spirituality, sexuality, vocation, contemplation, scripture, sacrament, theology, marriage, and death.
Chris Glaser will lead, along with Debra Weir, Beside Still Waters—A Contemplative Retreat on April 30–May 4, 2018 at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama. We invite you to make plans to join!
Photo by Chris Glaser