To Withdraw and Draw Inward

by Andrea Noel

Spiritual retreat’s offer us an opportunity to withdraw from the routine of our busy lives, inviting us to go within and bring focus to the heart and soul. A spiritual retreat should help us create depth, space, time for prayer, and grounding. Every retreat is distinct and finding the right one that works for you takes intention. When selecting a retreat, you could consider the following.

  • What are you looking for in a retreat:
  1. Context and content
  2. Facilitators/retreat leaders
  3. Location and accommodation
  4. Schedule and duration
  5. Cost

Context identifies the set of circumstances surrounding the retreat, i.e. is it a group or personal retreat; Yoga or Church retreat; all-male or all-female retreat. Content relates to the focus of the retreat. What will you learn while on retreat? Is this particular area relevant to your spiritual needs at this time? It is also important to know who will lead your retreat. What credentials, experience, or learning does a particular individual, or individuals, hold in a specific area to help facilitate creating depth, integrity, and focus during the retreat?

Location and accommodation represent where the retreat will take place and where you will stay if over-night lodging is needed? Also, how do the accommodations contribute to the theme and feel of the retreat? Schedule and duration are important aspects to consider because it can greatly influence the cost of the retreat. The selected date for the retreat could also impact the entire retreat experience. For example, if you are at a retreat center with beautiful outdoor landscapes and you want to enjoy the open outdoors you would need to be mindful of the weather when scheduling your retreat.

Finally, you should consider the costs associated with the retreat. Retreats can range from $50-$500 not including travel costs. Set a comfortable budget for your retreat, including the retreat, accommodations, food, and travel costs. Do not correlate costs with the value of a retreat. You can go on a $20 retreat and leave rejuvenated and transformed. You can also spend $2000 and leave unmoved and frustrated. Being on retreat is less about how much you spend and where you are, it is more about your spiritual intent and the purpose of the retreat.

Here are a few of my favorite retreat centers in the Washington Metropolitan Area:

Dayspring Silent Retreat Center, Germantown Maryland

http://www.dayspringretreat.org/

Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center, Marriotsville Maryland http://rccbonsecours.com/home.html

Yogaville, Buckingham Virginia

http://www.yogaville.org/

The Shambhala Center, Washington DC

http://dc.shambhala.org/

The Belfry, Lexington Virginia

http://bellfry.org/

Another great resource for finding retreats nationally and internationally is www.retreatfinder.com

 

 

Falling In Love and Finding God

by Dayna Pizzigoni

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.” Pedro Arrupe, SJ

 

If you know how that quote continues, you know Fr. Arrupe’s wisdom. My experience of love and God, however, would be better expressed as such:

Nothing is more practical than falling in love, than finding God.

When I met my husband at Loyola, I was not searching for love or God. Mid-way through summer, I happened to be in a class about Imago Therapy, a model for Couples Counseling, with my now-husband. After class a few of us decided to drive to DC for a Theology on Tap. Conversation during that car ride, by the campus lake, and at my church after a movie about monks and social justice stirred up my interest in this friend. As God would have it, he found himself locked out of a parking garage in Baltimore city after the aforementioned movie. I happily found myself showing this friend around Baltimore for the day.

The thing about being in the single-discover-yourself-lifestyle is that you can risk vulnerability slowly with deliberate choice.  I chose to trust the words he spoke without analysis. I chose to stay grounded in reality and got to know him as he was, not as the future-him I predicted he could be. I also recognized the future to be a mystery with or without him. Most importantly, I walked with my fear of vulnerability while remembering that I was whole already and God was with me. Then, I fell in love and found God.

When I say I found God, I do not mean that I had a conversion experience. It was more like a slow spiritual awakening. I had a new, profound emotional experience of God’s love for me. You could say my God image was shaped in a new way.  When we talk about God image in our field, we are describing an internal working model of God as a divine attachment figure (Davis, 2013). God image is not about our beliefs, but our experiences. People we become close to or develop an attachment to can influence our God image (Davis, 2013). I discovered a new part of God through falling in love and being loved by my husband.

Arrupe is right. When we find God as if we are falling in love, our faith embraces all the practical pieces of life with a glow of being in love. The reverse is also true. I fell in love and the practical pieces of life (even data analysis) twinkle with a glow of being in God. Let someone love you this Valentine’s Day and experience something of God.

 

The Capacity for Greatness

 

By Nicole Snyder

The winter Olympics are now here.  Watching the amazing athletes perform, I marvel at the capacity of the human body.  The Olympics remind me how far talent, dedication and hard work can take an individual.  The Olympics, however noble the accomplishment, celebrate the achievement of the one.  It is an achievement in competition, with just a few winning, and most not reaching the podium.

This month also marks Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  If the Olympics excite the imagination of the individual’s capacity, Dr. King excited the imagination of the nation’s capacity.  In his “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech, Dr. King, calls his listeners to be dissatisfied.

“Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.  Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort and the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.  Let us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.  Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family is living in a decent sanitary home.”

I worked in social services for seven years because I believe all individuals are marvelously and wondrously made.  I toiled and worked for next to nothing because I believe in the capacity of the individual to rise above their circumstances.  I have also come to see the necessity of national/cultural transformation.  If society places arbitrary limits on the individual, then the individual’s capacity cannot be fully realized.

Dr. King faced the complexity of how to inspire a culture steeped in its tradition to reexamine itself and realize its greater potential.  We no longer have legal discrimination, but I would dare to say we as a nation are still far removed from the America Dr. King dreamed of.  I see myself as a Pastoral Counselor with a unique opportunity to work at the individual level and also collaborate with others to continuously improve the greater community in order to give each client the space to become their best.

As I reflect on what the Olympics and Dr. King’s life means to me, I am reminded by his speech “A Time to Break Silence” in which he says, “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  We must rapidly shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered”.

The Survival of the Friendliest

by Kate Gerwin

Ahhhhhhh, the Olympics. A test of skill and brawn, speed and agility. A time when the most honed and talented athletes take the world’s stage, ready to compete until only the fittest, most capable is left; standing atop a platform, basking in his or her glory. It’s enough to make Charles Darwin proud.

Or is it?

The term “survival of the fittest” has long existed in our common lexicon and collective memory. We seem to have a primal recognition of the phrase, using it to explain—and defend– all sorts of human behavior, from harmless competition to deadly greed. The idea that competition is at the very core of who we are as a species has gone unchallenged for so long that we have come to view it as gospel, even going so far as to base many of our financial, political, social and even religious institutions on it and its implications. Human beings, we believe, have evolved and survived thanks to competition.

The only trouble is, Darwin doesn’t seem to agree. Darwin is best known for his first book, Origin of Species, from which we derive the phrase the “survival of the fittest”; what is less well-known, however, is Darwin’s second book, entitled The Descent of Man., In this book he explains the process of human evolution as distinct from that of the animal world.  It may then, come as a shock to discover that in this 828 page tome, Darwin only mentions “survival of the fittest” twice. What does he focus on instead? Themes of love and mutual cooperation. Darwin refers to love or pro-social behaviors over 95 times, and moral sensitivity over 92 times. In contrast, the role of selfishness is only mentioned 12 times, while the need for competition is mentioned a mere nine.

What is one to conclude from these surprising statistics? In short, that we as a species owe far more to our ability to come together than our ability to compete.

Ahhhh, the Olympics. An opportunity for nations to cease the business of politics and war-making, and come together to share in our common humanity and desire for a more peaceful planet. Charles Darwin would indeed be proud.

Lighting the Winter Candle

by Shelly Mohnkern

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

Carl Jung, 1963

Winter:  The time of reflection, introspection, and thought;  the fallow time of the mind between semesters. We rest, but we are not still. We fill our days not with books and research and long hours at the library, but with family, food and fellowship. We prepare to re-engage in our scholarship by shopping for books, and supplies, thinking about our schedules, and waiting for the syllabi that will direct our efforts over the next five months. We reflect on the past year, and make resolutions for the upcoming one.

This is the time where we re-kindle Jung’s light, the light that will shine through us for the rest of the year.

I find myself looking inward, seeking that light within me, and searching for the knowledge I will need to nourish the flame to its brightest life. There are so many facets of that light. Much like the human housing it, it takes many different nutrients for the light to thrive and burn brightly. My light thrives on such lofty things as charity work, prayer, helping my tribe-of-choice, spiritual practice, and learning. It also thrives on more mundane pleasures like reading fiction, movies, time spent with children playing, vocal music, and indulging my theatrical side with role-play gaming. I give joy and receive it gratefully. I take “me time” and permit myself to be indulgent. It is a balance between doing for others, letting others do for me, and occasionally doing for myself.

Soon I return to classes. I’m excited and nervous.  I can’t wait to be learning again. In fact, I marvel at the idea that some folks stop learning, feeling they have already gleaned all they can from academic study. I came back to school later in life, and I marvel at all I have learned so far, and the horizons of learning yet to be achieved. I see my light begin to burn brighter, adding itself to the light of my peers, fed by the light of my instructors, the authors of our texts, and the scholarship of those who have gone before me.

Shine on, and shine well. The dark times are passing, now is the time of light.

An Advent of Humanity – No Cape Necessary

by Dayna Pizzigoni

What does it mean to have a God that was born in a manger and died on a cross? About five years ago I wrote this question in an untitled notebook on a page without a date. As my spiritual community closes our liturgical year with Christ our King on the cross and begins our celebration of Advent, I ponder this question and its personal meaning in my faith journey again.

The reality of a God born in a barn and murdered after healing the sick and feeding the hungry means that Jesus was not a super hero. He participated in the messiness of humanity. I need to remember that if God did not step into the world as a super hero then She probably doesn’t expect me to be a super hero (despite how fun it might be to have super powers as a doctoral student).

I am a human being. God does not expect me to be perfect. He intentionally did not give me a super hero cape. My humanity, like my need for rest and play, is not a flaw. The most significant joy I will celebrate, pain I will suffer, and contribution I will offer the world will be done cape-less-ly as a regular human.

Now it must be said that sometimes we, as humans, do put on wonderful capes of determination and resilience. Single fathers, abuse survivors, refugees, and struggling students probably have made good use of metaphorical capes. It is beautiful how we can survive, stretch, and grow, but this strength becomes a liability when our expectations for ourselves become too high. We are not made to be “on” and heroic all the time. Following Christ is not about being a super hero. It is about being fully human.

There is nothing as tempting as a doctoral program to make me wish I could be a super hero; however, doctoral classes are not crises. I do not need a cape for my courses. I need to plan for adequate time to do my work and trust my intelligence. My studies call me not to heroism, but to humility with which work and be ever grateful for the privilege of higher education.

This Advent I hope to contemplate the beauty of our limited humanity. I can honor the holiness of my humanity and humbly invite Christ into the Bethlehem of my heart this Advent. Jesus will be ok in the messiness of my fragile humanity. After all, He was born in a manger and died on a cross.

Love What it Loves

by Kate Gerwin

“You can’t have my heart and you don’t own my mind but, do what you want, what you want with my body.” –Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is a singer whose shock value tends to come more from her over the top ensembles than her lyrics; her latest song however, struck a chord with me.

Undertones of sexual assault aside, the lyrics aren’t any more sexually provocative than others you hear on any pop radio station and Gaga has every right to decide what she wants to do with her body.

What upsets me is the fact that the song speaks to a larger cultural attitude towards the body; one in which the body is at best, a vehicle to further the needs of the “real” parts of us (the heart and mind) and one in which it is, at worst, treated with apathy and abuse.

Gaga is not the first or the only one to voice the belief that the body is “less than” the other aspects of the self; turn on the radio or the television or peruse social media and it is not hard to see that Gnosticism is alive and well in modern day America. As a culture, we are conflicted masters of our bodily selves, oscillating between stringent contempt and debilitating over-indulgence.

On the one hand, we judge our bodies for what they are not, restrict them, deny them the basics of what they need (food, sleep, rest, touch, nature, play), push them beyond healthy limits and then chastise them for not working “like they should.” On the other, we abuse our bodies with over-indulgence and addiction. Even the arguments made for healthy living tend to come back to looking better and living longer, implying that the only two things that the body has to offer are attractiveness and longevity.

Religion and spirituality are often in on it too. Whether it is through the condemnation of sexuality, harsh ascetic practices or even just the subtle implication that “real” spirituality lies beyond our embodied selves, spirituality can proliferate the belief that the body need not be as valued as our hearts or minds.

What about a view of the body that cherishes it just as much as one would cherish a child? What about a view founded on acceptance, curiosity, appreciation and joy? One that celebrates the body not just as an essential part of the self, but as the true meeting place of self? What about a spirituality that understands that holiness or enlightenment is an embodied process? A view that tells us, in the words of the poet Mary Oliver:

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert; you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Living With Choice

by Andrea Noel

Often I live each day not considering the fact that I have a choice. I have the choice to be present to life or to avoid it. I have the choice to be compassionate with life or to be indifferent to it. I have the choice to obsess about being in control or to relax into the freedom of letting go.Instead of considering my choices, I typically get consumed by fear, haste and the need to react. However, the beauty of life is that we are always being invited back into right relationship with creation, God, and ourselves.

The fall season has impressed on me the need to cultivate a ‘pace for grace,’ and is inviting me to create spaciousness to better notice choices. This season of slowing down reminds me that I am invited to choose all the time, and that I need to be more present in the choosing. My choices give me power to manifest the life I want to experience. Noticing what I choose also holds me accountable to owning my experiences and gives me the opportunity to change them.

As fall slowly shifts into winter, I choose to continue nurturing a ‘pace for grace.’ I choose openness, to be more aware of what options are in front me. I choose patience, to be more present to process. Finally, I choose to be in my choices, empowering myself to live more passionately.

Coming Home

by Kate Gerwin

“After the Ecstasy… the laundry.” – Jack Kornfield

This past weekend, I went on a retreat—or perhaps more accurately stated, this past weekend, I came back from a retreat.

The retreat itself was one of the most soul-touching experiences I have ever had. I showed up on Friday, resistant and jaded (just the right temperature for cooking, my teacher would say) and left on Sunday with deep new wells of life. It was humbling, empowering and one of those rare moments where you realize you are watching your life change.

So overall, a pretty good weekend.

To give some context, I am somewhat familiar with retreats; I’ve been on more than a few and led many more and perhaps most importantly, I had finally learned the art of fitting a sleeping bag, pillow and all my clothes into one tiny duffle. My experiences have run the gamut, from deeply meaningful and life-altering, to extraordinarily empty and stale.

One thing about retreats that has always intrigued me is coming back home, as the experience is always different. At times I have been so raw and broken open that coming home has been like waking up under harshly lit florescent lights. Sometimes I have been so deeply moved that my attempts to share my experience have been totally futile. And on other occasions, I have been so frustrated, cynical or bored that I haven’t been able to make it to the car fast enough; impatient to get back to the distracting business of my ‘real’ life.

I think the greatest gift that this particular weekend gave me, was the gift of coming home.

Jack Kornfield, beloved author and meditation teacher, sums up the beauty of “coming home” in his book, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.” Kornfield writes about how moments of transcendence can be so powerful and life-changing; and yet, after such realization, we are faced, or gifted, with the day-to-day-living of our lives. These are the real moments of miracle and mystery. For Kornfield the moments of ecstasy and enlightenment are worth very little if they do not help the laundry become a luminous or sacred task.

As we were about to leave the retreat, my teacher, mindful that we would all be returning to our proverbial laundry, left us with this quote by Buddhist meditation master, Thich Nhat Hanh, from his sermon about the life of Jesus:

“The real miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”

I am off to do some laundry!

Walking with the Ancestors

by Rev. Shelly Mohnkern

Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother, my sisters and my brothers.
Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place on Asgard in the halls of Valhalla,
Where the brave may live forever.

-The 13th Warrior

As the year slips into cooler weather and the earth into dormancy, we enter in a time of reflection amidst our academic learning. This is the time where our thoughts divide between school and the upcoming season of celebrations, family, and light. It is a natural part of the waning of the year. We are reminded that, like the year itself, life is a cycle, carried on after us by our children or the children we know, and perpetuated before us by the ancestors.

The crisp smell in the air always puts me in the mindset of remembrance. This is the time of year when we remember those who went before us, and honor their journeys both in life and afterwards. We cleanse our sacred spaces, we light candles, we care for graves and spaces of memory and we gather together and share our histories. We celebrate Samhain, All Saints Day, Dia De Los Muertes, and All Souls Day. For some this is a solitary time, and for others, a time of community.

Honoring our ancestors cultivates a sense of kinship, family loyalty and lineage. It celebrates the great Mystery of who we are, where we come from, and where we go when the familiarities of living leave us. It deepens our sense of history and how it has shaped us. Honoring ancestors is a tradition that is found world-wide, in almost every culture, class, political system and technical stage of advancement. Even those who have never known their genetic ancestors can find ancestral connection through those that raised them, those that taught and shaped them, and the society that surrounds them.

My ancestors have led me here, to pastoral counseling, and to Loyola. The lessons given to me by my parents, my grandparents, my family history, the tales I have heard from my loved ones about their families, and everything my community brought me up to believe in, to feel and to seek, have culminated in this path, at this time, in this place. I open my ears, my heart, and my spirit, and I walk with them for a time, giving thanks and reconnecting and finding myself at the heart of it.