It was a thunderstorm induced plane delay in Wisconsin that set the wheels in motion. My colleague texted me Friday, worried that her forced rebooking would interfere with my plans to pick her up at the airport to drive together to our Board retreat. But, a schedule adjustment was quickly worked out and plans were modified without any major stressors. In the course of our texting, she worried that we wouldn’t get one of the nice bedrooms and would be stuck sleeping in the basement of the retreat house. I immediately texted her back, “Maybe I will camp out in the meditation room instead!”
I had been half joking. But as soon as I sent that text, I realized that truly was where I wanted to be.
I have been to this venue several times over the years because of the property owner’s generous support of our professional grief support organization’s mission. During those visits, I fell in love with the setting, the mountains, and the company of my colleagues. I felt spiritually centered in the way I do when the vocation of professional helping is supported by a nourishing and nurturing community. I have always valued ritual, so in previous trips I took time to walk the labyrinth at least once, and I rose early enough to breathe deeply and take in the spectacular sunrise views even though my time was mostly spent leading the working retreat, creating agendas, and attending to business. I had peeked into the meditation/prayer room in the tower during those prior visits only long enough to check it out and think, “great view from all those windows…lots of Jesus items around…what a lovely space for religious people.”
Translation: Not for me. At least, not at that time.
That memory was vividly on my mind when I arrived on this trip to claim “my” room. I opened the half-hidden door, took off my shoes and climbed up the steep staircase. I reached the room, set down my suitcase, and looked around. The windows…and the view…were still breathtaking. An amazing peace wrapped around me like the arms of an old friend. The stained glass beatitudes welcomed me with vivid colors and familiar words. The candle next to a prayer bowl begged to be lit; the incense burner next to a bell topped with a cross would soon fill the air with sounds and scents; the icons and statues drew me in like welcoming hosts. On the small table, between two chairs, was “my” prayer book, a leather bound Book of Common Prayer. This surprised me at first, because the Episcopal/Anglican tradition is not the particular expression of Christian faith of the property owners. But there it was, like an old friend, awaiting my arrival. The sun was setting over the beautiful mountain views, so I picked it up and as has become my habit, said Compline, before rejoining my colleagues.
Hours later, as I climbed the stairs again after dinner and conversation, I stood in awe as the full solstice moon beamed its light throughout the room. I spread prayer cushions on the floor and knelt in deep meditation as the light from the moon illuminated the mountains and recharged me with the energy of the earth and sky. I would eventually sleep, laying across the cushions with the moon watching over me like a loving mother watching over a child, still praying the words I had recited earlier,
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
I awoke as if my name was being called by the first rays of the sun emerging over the mountains to the East. I pulled on a sweatshirt over my pajamas and silently crept down the stairs and out of the house, hiking over the hills through the mown path to the labyrinth. My feet were dew soaked, and I slipped off my shoes as I greeted the dawn and began my labyrinth walk, the rough and cool grasses beneath my feet marking every step and colors filling the skies around me and waking my spirit to full awareness of this day, this present moment, this remarkable time in my remarkable life. I sang, for no one but God and the Universe to hear, the first song that passed spontaneously from my lips which was the Gloria we sing in Ordinary Time in my community of faith.
The blending of spirituality, faith, nature, church, work, life, past, present, ordinary, divine flowed freely across this weekend. I hold dear many, many thoughts and visceral memories from this retreat, more than just what found their way into words tonight. I write these small points of light to remember, to acknowledge, to graciously give thanks, and to express gratitude from the core of my being that I know I am both Spiritual and Religious. Blessed Be. Alleluia.
May the journey continue, wherever it will lead…