I have safely and recently arrived back from the USA. A trip with various objectives. Principal amongst these was to participate in a Silence and Solitude retreat led by a very dear friend, Jeff Pratt. As many will know, I am a part of Axiom global monastic community, which was founded by Jeff. My own journey in community living and embracing the life of a Friar over the last several years has landed itself alongside Jeff in seeking to give both support and leadership to Axiom. Hence I am a member of Axiom, and the Friary here in Southsea an Axiom House.
The retreat was an opportunity to participate with others in what Jeff facilitates so well. Describing himself as a ‘contemplative activist’, Jeff has plumbed the depths of God’s presence over the years and offers retreats birthed from his long and rich experience of walking with God.
For me, this retreat arrived at a good time. I have, as many people are aware, been applying for jobs in the years since Katey passed away, yet without success. Over sixty applications with a handful of interviews have failed to secure any opening through which I could comfortably deploy my call and my gifts.
However, in April this year I closed the door on further applications believing that I was invited by God to continue to pursue the contemplative road more intentionally and work with Peaceworks in mediation and Peacebuilding - this latter for three days a week.
The retreat therefore came at a time when I had agreed this way ahead with God and wanted to commit myself and all I am to this new road of faith and adventure. It was an enriching time with a wonderful group of fellow pilgrims - about 17 of us in all.
Jeff’s leading - a light touch with honest illustration and wealth of rich experience - provided an outline enabling us all gently to pursue a path of encountering self before encountering God. The scene set during a brief Friday night session located in the context of a comfortable, candlelit room before the Saturday journey to a retreat centre on Enders Island. Here we had the run of the grounds, surrounded by the ocean, to pursue our journey in solitude and silence. This challenge supported by a focussed article to initiate our time through a private reading and the opportunity to meet together in groups at the end of our time to reflect together on all we had discovered - and for everyone in my group this was positive.
Saturday ended with a splendid dinner at Mystic Pizza altogether (the restaurant famous for the launch of Julia Roberts acting career) and then on the Sunday one final session enabled us to reflect together on where God would take us next with all that we had discovered.
For me the lessons of the retreat were again the value of participation alongside others whilst having the space for self reflection and engagement. It was wonderful to take the time to examine who I was and how I showed up - to note significant changes even over the last few months - to confront my own fractured ego again where it still fought to fill my space without the true me. Again the sense of the freedom we enjoy in Christ overwhelmed me, whilst I saw just how wedded I remained to certain rules and conventions - some social, some religious - that offered neither hope nor redemption.
There is also the recognition that each of us must accept the person who we are - warts and all - rather than seeking to suppress that part of ourselves WE deem ungodly or inappropriate for public show. No matter what the dressing, this remains basically who we are and we need to remind ourselves that this is who God accepts. Loving self is not about some idealised saint coiffured by bible verses and designer church. No! Loving self is accepting the warped and wicked person I am and knowing that grace suffices and through relaxing in and considering God I can find the rhythm to grow into the maturity and fulness God offers. This is a work of the years only accomplished through personal encounter in contemplative prayer and action.
So rested in this reflection it was good to confirm with God that I am willing ready and able to offer quiet days and retreats in the Friary in Southsea, travel to provide support and encouragement to those on the journey or requiring a contemplative journey within their own space - alone or with others - and to join in facilitating pilgrimages. Nothing is more satisfying than knowing where one begins and ends and what therefore one can contribute. A time of joyful contemplation marked the start to my USA journey and I remain today the richer for it.