Today and yesterday we have been together around Jesus words "I desire compassion/mercy and not sacrifice and religion." Startling words both then and now. It begins as always in the depths. It begins in the heart where compassion and mercy are born. Today we are reflecting around how this might happen through the powerful way of encounter. What capacity of heart is called for as we truly encounter another human being? What capacity of heart that brings us to a place of transfiguration?
Today we spent the whole day working/playing with poetry and hearing the rhythm of the words and receiving the beauty and goodness of the sounds and the meanings. We introduced a new poem today. The poem is called Self Slaved and it is by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanaugh.
Intentionally we immersed ourselves in the inspiring poems that challenge us to go further, deeper, to descend, ascend, expand, retreat.
Hearing the poems read aloud by different people, pausing to breathe, to listen to what comes up, to share if we wish, to speak of what is, to listen to that voice within which is our soul, to be in the company of those who are able to walk with us, to drink more deeply from the Fountain before each other and to see in each others eyes the reflection of truer self. This is the gift we offered to one another in our ongoing Pilgrimage of Peace.
Today we gathered in small group to listen to one person tell the story of hearing their life's call. It was a story that has ripened and is ready to be told. As we listened to the struggles, the moments of clarity and confusion, the desire to live from the heart's deep longing and purpose, it was clear we were on holy ground. And our shoes came off. What a great privilege and honor it is to listen to another's life story.
The mist cleared quickly after inviting stories, mythical and real, of other fogs and mists. The day became clear and sunny, and tonight we have a full, bright "blue moon," currently visible just about in the top center of the window over my desk.
My entry today is a slight shift from the verbal to the aural. I want to share just a few thoughts on an experience we shared last night and this morning at Pilgrimage of Peace.
There are so many "things that make for peace," aren't there? One of these has to do with the peace power, the healing power of voice as we share our voices together with and for each other. SO much can be communicated through our precious voices.
So, last night we began a little experiment/exploration. A small circle gathered round one person who expressed a desire/need for prayer. As the small circle encircled her they placed their hands upon her shoulders and head and began to sing/chant a simple sound of oh-chone. It's an approximation of an Irish sound used in laments.
No matter how many years I've attended, or how easily I slip into the familiar, beloved rhythms of the days, the gifts of pilgrimage are always new and surprising. Case in point:
Rick Wigton and I had talked a couple of times since the 2012 pilgrimage about kettlebell training, which is an important part of my life (when I'm not retreating, of course). He had recently purchased a kettlebell and a training video, and when he and Melissa arrived at pilgrimage, he asked me to help him with his technique--there were some things he wasn't understanding from the video, and both of them wanted to make sure he wasn't doing something that would end up injuring him.
I'm always very happy to teach (and prevent injury!) so on my next trip home, I loaded up about 125 pounds of kettlebells into the back seat of my longsuffering SUV and hauled them up the mountain. We cleared out the side patio of Stillpoint, laid down yoga mats, and got to work.
This morning the mist returned. This time it didn't curl and wisp so much as descend and envelop. Not quite fog, still it was thick enough to wrap much in mystery. As everyone knows by now, mist is one of my favorite forms of the water element we have watched so persistently emerging from the rock wall. It's not wholly water though. Mist's essential trait is that it is neither water nor air; it is an in-between being.
Interestingly, mist imparts startling clarity to the things close in: the trailing purple edges of the hanging spiderwort plant, the determined curve of the hummingbird's head at the feeder, the nonchalant grace of the cat licking her paws in the green deck chair. While in the wild woods beyond, all is shrouded, quiet, waiting.
Today we looked at the creation account in Genesis and compared this with the story of Jesus' resurrection. Out of darkness and chaos comes light and creative call. We asked the question: With what vision do I enter the world? What goodness and beauty do I long to see? We held lightly the question: What is my passion/compassion? We imagined God creating the world with emotion and attitude. We saw Jesus rising from the dead in passion and compassion. All of this and more stirs us to do the work of soul. Where is my passion/compassion leading me?
The story of the sleeping King sparked some beautiful sharing of personal stories. All around the question: What genius, what nobility sleeps within waiting to be awakened?
Once there was a shepherd who kindly guided his sheep to a small mountain plateau where the grass was sweet and good. The sheep, contented, munched away, and the shepherd sat down to knit himself a sweater for the cooler months ahead. As he knitted he saw first one rabbit pop out from behind a bush at the edge of the field and then another. He watched, delighted, as the two adorable bunnies greeted each other and began to play. In fact, so entranced and distracted was he, that he let his knitting drop and the ball of yarn fell and rolled off the edge of the plateau and down the mountainside.
Just one of the many wonderful things happening at this year's pilgrimage is the way the sessions help us draw so many connections between scripture, story, poetry, and memory. It is a rich tapestry we are weaving!
During the discussion of the resurrection story, Stefan recalled the beautiful lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins' "As kingfishers catch fire:"
... for Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men's faces.
That, in turn, reminded me of another poem, by American poet Virginia Hamilton Adair, which for me drew together so many of the day's themes and connections: playfulness, tears, calling, vision. It is one that I long ago committed to memory, so that I am never without its blessing. Enjoy!
There is something marvelous about a group of people conversing and playing with the images of a poem or story. The life experience of each weaving with another, and a rich fabric of insight, awareness, deepening understanding and connection. This is a gift of the pilgrimage time together.
The story and poem we played with this morning revolved around a horse, a wild horse, "a horse and she not broken," who thrusts her head through the doorway into a kitchen in the morning — and by evening, she had come in hip deep through the door and into the domesticity of the kitchen. Look out! The wild is in the kitchen!
Often in Celtic spirituality, we encounter the divine coming at us in feminine form, and wild. In these encounters, a choice must be made.
Notes from our reflection time by Lindsay McLaughlin
We've had two days of crystalline, cool air here on the Ridge, at Still Point Mountain Retreat; very unusual for August. One would think it was the end of September, except that the trees are fully leafed out in green glory still, and the forest is lush with pawpaws and mountain laurel. Within this embrace of fresh air and verdant forest, we gathered in the living room to have a conversation about clarity, vision, knowing and being known, gazing, giving, and letting go.
Today we welcomed a new group of pilgrims to the Pilgrimage of Peace and said farewell to others. So, we begin again.
We shared the story of the woman at the well (Eugene Peterson's paraphrase called the Message) and Jesus from John's gospel. Peterson's paraphrase makes for lively imaginative reading/hearing. We appreciated the robust character of the conversation between them. Out of this edgy talk can come good learning.
We shared the poem called The Fountain by Denise Levertov hearing it once and then engaging in the poem with a kind of call and response form line by line, back and forth aloud. We noticed the connections between the gospel story and the poem.
We looked more closely at the first Beatitude: Blessed are those who possess nothing and no one. Blessed is your thirst. Blessed is your hunger.
Poetry has been a focus today. Stefan said: "The power of poetry is like a daily vitamin or maybe a heart medication." He also described poetry as an "endless well." He encouraged the pilgrims to consciously ingest goodness and beauty every day, whether in form of poems, nature, music, whatever nourishes.
We spent time on "The Fountain" by Denise Levertov with our new group of pilgrims.
Questions were offered along with the invitation to let questions arise within each person. In small group time, participants were encouraged to choose from any of the offered questions or start with their own question(s) for sharing with one another.
Today we shared several stories from the Gospel of Matthew and some stories from the ancient Irish Celtic lore. Comparing them is a helpful practice. The Gospel passages are: Matthew 9:18f — the story of the woman in need of healing who touched Jesus' robe. "I will be well," she said. Good words for us too. And the story of Jesus taking the hand of a dead girl and raising her to life ("Arise, My Love...") in Matthew 15:21f — the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman.
The Irish Celtic stories are: the story of the seal woman and the story of the fox woman. In both the Celtic stories the man in the story is faced with a decision. Although he shares Jesus' struggle in the moment, he responds in the end very differently from the Jesus in the Gospel story.
The Beatitude today was: "Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy."
Today we looked at the fourth beatitude, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for Justice." The Beatitudes now begin to move into an active mode. Out of an acceptance of our shared poverty and grief we become more gentle and non-violent . Now we are ready to enter the world. Now we are able to enter the world with a hunger for justice.
We read together two stories from the Gospel of Matthew 15:29f. Jesus sees the hungry crowds. He says, "My heart goes out to the people." What follows is justice. The people receive what they need.
Daily practice: might I suggest that we take some time to walk in nature and get reacquainted with this beauty and depth that surround us. We are part of this beauty and depth. We belong to the earth. And in a way that is new to me I am coming to see that all of nature desires to be in communion with us. Somewhere a poet says that "the truth depends upon a walk around the lake."
Day Four Reflections by Lindsay McLaughlin
Let's review the past few days. The beauty of being together for more than just a few hours or a weekend is what we have here: the opportunity to go deeper. So, we'll have some new material today, but we are interested in knowing what spoke to you most clearly, in the material we worked with over the past several days; what is the heart of the goodness for you?
Today we focused on the question: How to hear the voice of Call, the voice of the Beloved? And how do we distinguish this voice from the other voices that Mary Oliver speaks of when she says, "those many voices with their bad advice."
Always the collective wisdom of the community gathered is helpful. Sharing of individual stories followed and personal insights emerged and were cherished.
Three threads were woven together:
the Gospel passage John 20:1-18, the story of Mary and Jesus post resurrection
the second beatitude in Matthew 5:4 — "Blessed are those who mourn"
the poem by Rainer Maria Rilke called The Swan
The song we shared at mid-day was Deep Within a Song is Heard.
Reflections from Janie Blakely Shared Stories: Lights on the Path of Peace
As is usual on this journey of the spirit called "The Pilgrimage of Peace," this afternoon we gathered for lunch on the deck of Still Point cabin. It is a rare August day—clear, yet mild. As we sat atop a mountain above the Shenandoah; numerous butterflies and hummingbirds joined our gathering, supping on the flowers while we savored fresh veggies and pasta salad. We were also nurtured by sharing stories of our lives with one another.
Just as our bodies were replenished with food, our spirits were nourished by wondrous stories about an unexpected Appalachian blizzard in 2003. We marveled as we heard tell about two friends who trampled all day through 36 inches of snow to get to the only shop around for miles in order to pick up milk, rice and especially—dog food.
It has rained a lot this summer, steadily, or in brief showers, or sudden downpours, or misty sprinkles; all day, or only for a minute or two; out of stern, gray skies, or pearly clouds. All this generosity has had an effect. Seed potatoes and strawberries planted in April have flourished. In fact the whole 1300 acres of Rolling Ridge has burst forth in a riot of green growth. Looking out my kitchen window, I could swear that the walnut tree at the corner of the field near Homestead is several feet taller than it was the day before. Bamboo down by Deer Spring Creek has reached out and over the foot bridge. Grass seems to spring up fully grown behind every sweep of the mower; tomatoes and wineberries ripen minute-by-minute in the garden.
Today we had conversation on the meanings of listening.
What happens in me when I listen to another? What inner dialogue goes on within as we attempt to listen? How do we listen? With the whole body? Why do we listen? Are we aware of the power of listening? Both for those who are listened to and for those who listen. And to whom do we listen? Really? Are we aware that this person is a wondrous mystery? And are we aware of the divinity we sit before in this other?
We are learning to listen without judgement and with compassion. May it be so.
When I listen to you, When I hear your voice, I hear the voice of God.
When I look in your eyes, When I see your face, I see the face of God.
When I open to you, When I touch your heart, We touch the heart of God. We see the face of God. We hear the voice of the God.
Stefan shared an experience recently in Portland where a group of youngsters, ages 10-12 or so, memorized and took turns telling stories around a bonfire. One young guy told a really scary story --capable of scaring the gathered adults and Stefan as well! This brought Stefan to open the Pilgrimage with the question: What do you fear? What scares you?
Going around the small circle gathered this morning, responses were varied: being able to be my true self; the future of my children in a world facing many challenges; brown recluse spiders; people ...
The pilgrimage format generates many questions. Focused on weaving together strands of the biblical story of the Woman at the Well (John 4), the Beatitudes, one at a time, and the Denise Levertov poem, the following questions arose for reflection and later sharing:
This whole Pilgrimage of Peace we will focus on Jesus' words: "If only you knew the things that make for peace."
We will look closely at the Beatitudes and integrate them with stories, and poetry and song. Our poetic questions will revolve around this theme of " the things that make for peace".
Tonight our first night we shared a poem by Denise Levertov called The Fountain: "Don't say, don't say there is no water to solace the dryness at our hearts. I have seen the fountain springing out of the rock wall. And you drinking there, and I too before your eyes..."
We introduced this little poem in the middle of song and silence as a kind of prayer. A prayer of hope and determined belief that the source of our lives -- the fountain -- may be difficult to see at times but it is there. "It is still there, and always there".
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