Saturday, June 14, 2008

SILENT RETREATS

“In your silence, /I am too much conversation.” This is a two-line snippet I wrote for a friend years ago, but it could have been addressed to the “One Whom None Can Hinder” (to borrow Great-Grandmother Greenlaw’s referral to God) at a silent retreat. A silent retreat at St. Mary’s is a new experience for me. I’m joined by approximately 50 other, temporarily-silenced, Associates of St. Mary’s, some of whom came from as far away as Pasadena, CA. The California participant rode a Greyhound bus for two days to get here for this retreat billed as “In the Beginning God Created.”

The phrase, “In your silence/ I am too much conversation” is an insidious one, and I’m re-learning how to be still in order to make the connection between human and Divine. Like most of us, I get lost in the noise and frenzy of the dailies and often sabotage reigns of silence. This morning, here on the bluff, the only sounds were those of myriads of birds, and we were allowed to sing the hymn “Morning is broken/blackbirds are singing,” during Eucharist. Another sound was that of the wind rustling the leaves of hickory, black oak, and sweet gum trees bordering the great bluff on which St. Mary’s Conference Center stands. During Morning Prayer, we read Psalm 104, which spoke of the Lord’s presence in the wind, of God riding on the wings of the wind and making the wind his messenger.

Sitting here, watching that wind play in the trees, I ponder the messenger, aka the Holy Spirit, and the messages I’m to receive during this retreat. Like a recalcitrant child, I want a “take home” message right now! However, I wait… and sit with my own words, “In your silence, /I am too much conversation. While I wait, I acknowledge the blessings of imagination, wonder, and artistic expression, an acknowledgement that turns out to be a prelude to Sister Julian’s meditation that we should regard this universe with awe and wonder. In Meditation I, Sister Julian (after Julian of Norwich) used brilliant slides of the heavens and earth to illustrate the wonder and awe of the cosmos, telling us that All That Is, according to scientists, is derived from a small, dense ball the size of a golf ball that exploded and created the “All.”

Sister Julian used the metaphor to lead into a reflection about Julian of Norwich’s remarkable prescience regarding the origins of the world when she received a realization that “All” was contained in a small, dense ball… a hazel nut. This revelation occurred in the 15th century, pre-dating the discoveries of modern scientists. Julian of Norwich wrote:

“In this revelation God showed a little thing, /the size of a hazel nut/in the palm of my hand, /and it was round as a ball. /I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: ‘What can this be?’/And it was generally answered thus: ‘It is all that is made.’ /I marveled how it could continue, because it seemed to me it could suddenly have sunk into nothingness because of its littleness. /And I was answered in my understanding, ‘It continueth and always shall, because God loveth it; and in this way everything hath its being by the love of God.’ In this little thing I saw three characteristics: /The first is that God made it, /The second is that God loves it, /The third is that God keeps it.”
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