Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Mepkin Overview: the Spiritual View

I am back from Mepkin Abbey, pleasantly tired, a bit anxious about jumping back into regular life.  So, let me record some brief observations, and in later posts, I'll dive in more deeply to some of these ideas.  For a more secular overview, see this post on my creativity blog.

--I have assumed that there's a kind of timelessness at Mepkin, that I'd be returning to an essentially unchanged place year after year.  This year showed the fallacy of that thought.  There's a new--and gorgeous--retreat center.  Some of the monks are no longer at the Abbey, and it's not just because older ones have died.  Even the food was somewhat different; on Sunday, we had French fries as the main course, along with a cherry tomato/cucumber salad and a tangerine/beet salad.

--A group of College of Charleston students had their retreat while we were there, and regular retreatents were invited to participate in 2 sessions of lectio divina.  I did, and it was fascinating.

--I took along a load of books, but I could have left them at home.  The new retreat center includes a beautiful community center, with an excellent library.  I read Flannery O'Connor's Prayer Journal:  mildly fascinating, but I'm glad I didn't spend money on it.  Paula Huston's latest book, A Season of Mystery--again, wonderful writing, especially as she considers aging, but I didn't feel sad that it wouldn't be part of my library.  Adam Thomas' Digital Disciple was interesting, but not much here I hadn't already contemplated.   I imagine it would be very useful for individuals and congregations just beginning to wrestle with these issues.  The first chapter of Fred Bahnson's Soil and Sacrament was so good that I bought a copy at the gift shop--along with a discounted fruitcake.

--I didn't find the music and words of the liturgy weaving its way into my brain the way they have in the past.  I heard "Total Eclipse of the Heart" on my trip up, and I woke up in the middle of the night with those lyrics in my head.  I'm disturbed that the Psalms couldn't dislodge that old pop song.

--However, I did get a lot of writing tasks done.  I had put off reorganizing a book-length poetry manuscript, but this week-end, what needed to be done seemed perfectly clear to me.  Is it because I had a rhythm of returning to worship throughout the day?

--I've found the worship and the Bible readings more meaningful in past years.  Is it because this year was our second Candlemas in a row with the monks?  Is something going on with me?

--As always, I wish I lived closer so that I could return more often, to see how each season brings changes.

--One of my friends asked, "Who takes care of you?  We all count on you for your energy--who takes care of you?"  This retreat is essential self-care for me.

--I do worry, though, over the same question with the monks.  Who takes care of them?  I know that they take care of each other, and that there are people from the outside who help in many ways.  But I also know how lonely it feels, as there are fewer and fewer people around to do more and more work.  I may be projecting, of course, transposing the way I feel in my local church onto the monks.  But I did feel like I noticed a bit of tiredness that hasn't been there before.  Again, I may be projecting.

--One of my friends asked a thorny question that I felt ill-equipped to answer.  She's wrestling with the question of being of service, of Christians being called to serve the most lowly.  Both of my friends have family caretaking duties that can be quite onerous.  Does Christ call us to this?  Is the need for such caretaking a result of a broken world?  If God can fix these things, then what is taking so long?

--I don't have satisfying answers.  I've come to realize that I don't believe in an all-powerful God, but I know that many people might ask, "Why worship such a God?  What is the point?"  I understand that response.  I don't have an answer that will satisfy those questioners.  Some days, I don't even have an answer that satisfies me.

--I am realizing that I've been feeling a bit of spiritual dryness--not full drought, but a weariness, a parched state.  It's been a long autumn at church, as we wrestled with financial issues.  I'm still feeling a bit of sadness about it all.  I am tired of thinking about issues that concern construction. 

--It was good to get away.  I don't feel completely replenished, but I do feel a bit of renewal, some early spring shoots in my parched landscape.

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