Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Backpacking Along the Long Trail - When things do not go as planned

For the past several years, my best friend and I have taken a backpacking trip together. This year we planned it for the end of the summer, Labor Day weekend. So last week was spent getting everything together, pouring over the trail map and the trail description and working the final plan for the weekend.

The plan was for her to come to my house right after work and get on the road. That would put us on at the trailhead at about 9pm. We would sleep their that first night, then get up early on Saturday and head out and get a good 11 miles under our belt and sleep at a shelter our second night. We would then only have 9 miles left for the last day and would get out at about 3pm (maybe even before).

This is not what happened.

We did leave at about 5:30 - great! Traffic was actually going great! We were expecting it to be slow getting out of Boston, but then sometime before Concord, we slowed to a crawl, i.e. we went less than a mile in 45 mins. We did not get to the trailhead until 11pm.

As we were moving things around and getting things ready to bed down my companion looks at me and says, you have not by any chance seen my hiking boots? The answer was, "No." Although we both were pretty certain of this answer we both did a search, "just to be sure." I might have asked her at one point, "What shoes do you have on your feet." in a desperate hope that the answer was not, "These cute ballerina flats and instead, a pair of sturdy running shoes." Because it it possible to hike in the later but not in the former. She was wearing ballerina flats.

There was a moment when I thought, we are sleeping here tonight and going home in the morning, there is no way around this. That is when she looked at me and said, "This is not a problem that can not be solved by money." So the plan was made. We would get up in early in the morning drive into town and purchase shoes. This is what we did. So instead of getting on the trail between 8 and 9 am we were heading out at 11.

I immediately began to change the rest of the plan. We would aim for a closer shelter which was at a little over 9 miles from the trailhead, we would then do the 11 miles intended for today tomorrow and we would get to the trailtail in the evening instead of late afternoon. There was a possibility that we would not be home until 8 or 9 pm, but it was, O.K.

The hike was beautiful. The Vermont woods are wonderful. My friend and I talk a lot when we hike, we talk about everything. All the things we are thinking are said to each other, our struggles, our joys, our fears, our hopes our dreams. This is what we do, we talk for hours, and then we are silent for hours. We take turns being in the lead. We know when each other needs catch her breath leaning on a tree for a minute or three and when we should just sit on a rock or log for five. We eat small snacks throughout the day and took two, maybe three longer breaks for food, water, and rest. Our hiking relationship is really symbiotic and works for us.

At one point we were making really good time, I thought that the further shelter and 11 miles was actually in the cards for us. Accomplishing 11 miles before dusk, having started at 11am and covering three peaks would have been quite the accomplishment. But. alas this was not what happened.

Coming up the first peak I developed a hotspot, I retied my shoes and went on. At the top, I put bandages on the blister I did get and went on. At some point I twisted my ankle coming down a peak and retied my shoes several times as it swelled a little and apparently began  to change my gait to alleviate pain.

By the time we came up to the shelter at about the 9 mile mark, I was hobbling quite a bit, my ankle was sore, I had a blister on each heel and I had done somthing when I changed my gait and some of my toes now hurt. I was a hot mess. I sat down at the fire and pulled out my maps and copied pages from the trail guide. I was not sure exactly how far I could walk, but did know that I NEEDED to walk out, I had no choice, there was nothing else that could be done. It looked like there was a road about five miles up the trail, I thought maybe we could find our way to a town from there. A man across the fire assured me that it was nothing more than two tire marks in the woods. We started making plans for taking our time the next day, calling our spouses when we had a cell signal and perhaps staying an extra night in the woods, if need be. We had a plan and a contingency plan.

The swelling in my ankle came down before I went to bed and I was feeling better about hiking the next 11 miles. We thought that we would get up early and get on the trail right away, but we did not wake up as early as we thought we would and did not get on the trail until 9, which is not late but is not "early" when you have a good 11 miles ahead of you on hurting feet. Luckily my ankle was feeling better and some ibuprofen went a long way with helping with the series of minor foot pains I was experiencing.

It was a pleasant day for hiking and the trail was great. My feet were doing fairly well and we were making pretty good time, we were talking about coming out of the woods at 6 or 6:30 that evening, which was much better than the contingency plan of staying another night.

But then we heard a car. We knew we were coming up on the "road" but had been assured by someone else that it was not the kind of road that cars drove along. But then maybe five minutes later, we heard another one. The sound of a car, even a distant one, is a pretty noticeable thing when you have not heard any man made sounds outside of voices and footfalls for twenty-four hours. That was two cars going along a road, not too far from us. I wanted to pull our my map to see if there was a road that we paralleled for a while that I missed. Then something amazing happened. We came out on a legit road. Not a hard topped road, but a good solid dirt road, the trail turned down the road for 250 feet  before it crossed and continued back into the woods. I knew this I had looked at the map and  read and reread the trail book. I even knew there was a place to park your car here, but that does not mean people, that does not mean "civilization" that does not mean easy way out of the woods. Roads are meant for cars and hiking along a road could be grueling, cars go straight up and down hills like they are nothing. People, especially people experiencing foot problems, not so much. So we thought nothing of this road as we began walking down the little hill and around a bend, that is until we crested that bend and saw the parking area. This was a popular parking spot for day hikers and this was Labor Day weekend at about noon. There were people milling about and there were about twenty cars here. THIS was a way out.

We stopped, sat on some rocks and collectively agreed that we should not finish the last 5.5 miles we had scheduled for that day. We were going to use this parking lot as our way out and back to our car. I stopped a couple who were heading off the trail heading toward their car, we had passed them earlier and had just come down the road from the trail, how far town was and if they thought we could get a taxi to come get us. They told us that there was another parking lot 1/2 mile down the road that had a name and that it would be a better place to be picked up. And that is exactly what we did.

We aborted. We still had a peak ahead of us and half of the miles we planned for that day and perhaps we could have done it but, taking the chance that we would slow down and we would be coming out of the wilderness in the dark and then having to get to our car and find our way home, was not worth it. We called a taxi, he took us to our car and we headed into town had a nice warm lunch and were both home in time for dinner. We both feel we made the right decision. We will pick up our hike at that parking lot next year and include the peak we did not hike this year in our hike next year. Because, we really do love backpacking, even when things don't go as planned.

Sometimes you persevere and keep going no matter what, you change the plan, you buy a new pair of shoes, you do what you need to do. At other times you change the plan and save something for another day. Both decisions were the right decision at the time. Both decisions were made with thought and with what was best for all involved in mind.  This was the trip where were learned to change our plans, to make new plans and to be flexible and responsible. When it became clear that we should not, or perhaps realistically could not accomplish the goal we had set, we changed the goal.  We used caution, perseverance and wisdom. And we did not fail. We adapted and changed and that was the "right" thing for us to do. In all the ways that mattered we succeeded. When backpacking, as with so many other things in life, destination is not the point anyway, but that the journey is. We had a fun and interesting journey, and besides it makes a good story.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


This is the time of year for transition, kids are going off to school (some already have), college students are returning to their dorms, teachers are prepping their classrooms and professors are putting the final touches on their syllabi. Some the weather will change and autumn will be upon us.

I am transitioning.  Not only am I preparing my girls to go back-to-school next Tuesday But I am beginning to think about the Fall at the church. I am wondering about the plans for our annual Neighborhood Cookout which the second Sunday after I return. I am beginning to think about my first Sunday, my first sermon, and my first board meeting. I will walk into the church for the first time in twelve weeks on the 11th. I still have a week and a half.  I am thinking about my church again. I am thinking about re-entry.

Next Tuesday the kids go back to school.  Next week is my last week of sabbatical, in fact I will write my first sermon in three months, my sabbatical officially ends on a Sunday. I am excited about that. As much as I have enjoyed the leisurely pace of a Sunday morning where all you have to do is get your and yours there, I miss preaching. I love studying scripture, I love finding what it is God is saying to us this week and bringing that to my congregation. It is my favorite thing about pastoring.

I am also thinking about how I will be different. I have taken three months, I have rested, I have contemplated, I have thought, I have read and I have dreamed, now I need to take the person I have become back. I can not allow myself to return unchanged, to slip back into who I was. I need to allow this sabbatical to shape who I am, who I am becoming and take that person back to the pulpit, to the study, to my people.

I want to be a new pastor, a better pastor, a pastor with a new vision. These last days are the transition. Before I left, there was a time of transition where I set everything up for me to leave, where I prepared myself and the congregation for my absence. I set goals for my sabbatical, some of them I have kept, some of them have fallen to the wayside, but I did not just wander into my sabbatical and hope that it would all go well. Likewise, I can not just wander back into my office and hope that things will go well. I need to prepare. I need to be intentional, set goals, think about the person who is returning.

One of the reasons I am backpacking at the end of the summer is because something happens on the trail. Somewhere between immersing myself in nature and pushing myself to near physical exhaustion, I am able to think better. I am hoping that putting this trip at the end of my sabbatical will allow me to process and think about what it means for me to return. To nail down how this sabbatical has changed me and what that means for my future ministry.

So today and tomorrow as I pack my pack and gather my gear, I am not only preparing for my annual backpacking trip, but I am preparing myself to return to my congregation and preparing myself to process all the things I need to process as I move back into "everyday" life.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Wedding, Two Birthdays and a Funeral

I spent the last two weeks in Maryland, which is where my parents and two of my sisters live. This was the last major trip of my sabbatical. (I only have less than three weeks and my two day backpacking trip left.) Hard to believe that the Summer and my sabbatical are both almost over.

I usually visit with my parents sometime during the Summer but this Summer I planned my trip around a wedding. A young man who attended our church while he was at Harvard Law asked me to participate in his wedding as a wedding sponsor (sort of like a wedding God-parent - I presented the couple with a Bible as a part of the ceremony) this Summer and of course I agreed. My 40th Birthday was less than a week after the wedding so I was also able to be home with my parents and my sisters for my 40th Birthday (my husband and I will celebrate this weekend).  The trip also coincidentally coincided with my nephew's 13th birthday. So I went home for a wedding and two birthdays but then there was a funeral and as funerals tend to be, it was completely unplanned.

So on Friday I was a wedding sponsor for a couple as they began their life together, on Saturday my nephew turned 13, marking the beginning of the teen years for him and essentially his last stride toward adulthood, on Sunday I officiated at my aunt's funeral marking the end of her life, and then on Wednesday I celebrated my 40th birthday which theoretically marks the mid-point in my life. All I needed was a birth and I would have had a representative sample of all of life's major turning points that mark major changes in a person's life. A wedding, becoming a teenager, mid-life birthday and a death.

As my sabbatical is moving toward a close I cannot help but think more and more about my congregation. I miss them. I wonder what they have been doing. I wonder what it going on in the lives of the people I have grown to love over the past several years. I think about my ministry there. My role as pastor and I think about who we are as a congregation.

Weeks like this make me think about life in general. In many ways that is the point of sabbatical, taking the time to think about the path you are on.  The path direction of your ministry, the path you are taking as a person, as a pastor and the path you are journeying along with the members of your congregation.
With the differing events of the last week, I can not help but think, "What kind of marker is my sabbatical?" For my own life, as well as that of my congregation. I know it is a mid-life marker but how do I want this mid-life moment to shape my life and who I am for the second half of my time here on this earth. For a congregation it is sometimes hard to tell where we are on along the path that marks the life of a congregation. Are we a teenager, also struggling with identity but no knowing who we are, who we want to be, not understanding the changes we are going through and not fully comprehending what the future can or perhaps should hold for us? Is this a new beginning, not a wedding - but moment where we make a conscious choice to become something new? Are we having a mid-life moment, where we evaluate and re-evaluate who we are and who we want to be as we mature?  I wonder if we can chose?  What kind of moment do we want to have?

But my questions are not just for them. They are also for me. Who am I?  Who am I becoming? How can I actively shape my future so that I become the person I want to be, and not just allow the waves of life to take me to and fro, washing ashore where ever. I need to a rutter, I need to be at the helm of this ship that is my life.  I can not be adrift, I am capable of setting a course, plotting a route and taking it. I can and should do that. I can choose what kind of moment this is, a new beginning, a moment that marks a new future, a change in how I think about who I am and who I am becoming.

I will go boldly into the next forty years. I will not be passively riding along, but actively engaging this life and the direction I am taking into the future. I am not talking about not being lead by God but seeing where God is leading and directing and not just hoping (and praying) I will end up there, but actively moving in that direction, boldly grasping a hold of the journey and getting there, not just for me, but for my family, for my ministry for the congregation God has placed in my care. Using wild boldness to become the person, the mother, the wife, that pastor, the congregation God is calling us to be.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Finding Relaxation

We spent a week in Maine. A pastor on my district invited us to stay at his family's lakeside cabin for a week. It was wonderful. It was beautiful and I think it was probably the best week of my sabbatical thus far.
We arrived on Sunday evening and left on Friday morning. For one week we were planted. We did go into town once for food, but other than that, we did nothing. Went no where. We made no plans and scheduled no outings. We just stayed there. We began our mornings with reading and ending our evenings reading. Other than reading there was the lake, and there were canoes and kayaks. We all took turns in the two kayaks but Stella enjoyed it the most. She went out in the kayak at least once a day, sometimes more. We spent hours during the day reading, as well as enjoying the water.

There is really not much I can say about the week. This was the week we really did relax.  I read five books. All fiction. I was planning on bringing at least three "work" books. But when Mike saw me putting them into my bag, he advised me to leave work behind. All Summer, no matter where I have gone, I have brought at least one fiction and one work book with me and often times several of the later. I think he was mainly just asking me to pare down the amount of books I as toting around but I think the idea of really leaving all work behind, which is what we did, was really for the best.

This was the first week I really relaxed. I know it sounds odd, here I was halfway through my sabbatical (the Sunday we left marked the halfway point - I was six Sundays in and had six left) and had not really let myself go and completely relax.

In many ways I have been worried if I was doing sabbatical "right"? Was I doing what I was suppose to do? Was I doing the things that would benefit my congregation? This is suppose to benefit them as well as myself. I want to do right by them. I have taken time each week to read books that intended to help me become a better pastor, a better leader. I have worked to be intentional with my time, my energy, my activities. But what I learned last week was that I have not been relaxing, truly relaxing.

Last week I caught a glimpse of what that fells like, what that looks like. I am sure that truly relaxing looks different for different people, but for me it meant sitting in a hammock and reading a book, watching the ripples on the lake, watching the sun as it came up over the trees and tracing as it made it ways toward setting. It meant learning how to operate a kayak and watching my daughter figure out that is really good with this same new skill. It meant watching my girls play in the lake and joining them at time. It meant cooking when we became hungry and going to be when I was too tired to read by lamp light anymore and then waking up when the sun woke me up to do all that over again. No where to go, no plans, no agendas, nothing that needed to be done, outside that which provided for our nourishment and our immediate needs.

Somewhere there on that hammock, along a lake, I found relaxation. All the stress was gone. All the worry, all the press of day to day life, were gone. And I learned to just be where I was, to enjoy the sun on my face, the story in my book and this particular moment in my girls' lives. And for one week I was there for it all. I was not thinking about what I needed to do next. I was not making plans for the next thing. I just let all that be back in Boston and I stayed there by the lake and let the week be what it was. And it was great. Nothing exciting to write about. No great revelation, no clear picture of the future. I just learned to be there, at that moment and to enjoy it for all that it was worth.

My great accomplishment of last week was, after six week of experiencing several different levels of rest, I learned what it looked, felt like; what it was for me to really and truly relax.

Friday, July 22, 2016

New York City and Remembering My Call

Thanks to the generosity of some pastoral colleagues, who allowed us to stay in their flat on Roosevelt Island, my family had the opportunity to visit New York City. This was a first for Mike and the girls but not for me.

I "lived" in New York City one summer, while I worked with the Youth Group at the Lamb's Manhattan Church of the Nazarene, which was then located in the old Lamb's Club Building on 44th between Broadway and Avenue of Americas. Myself and a young man worked with the church's small youth group. It was the Summer between my Junior and Senior year and was an amazing Summer. I had wanted to work at the Lamb's ever since the mission trips my youth group had taken there when I was in High School.

Going back to New York reminded me of that Summer I spent there and remembering that Summer reminded me of the high school mission trips. It was after those mission trips that my best friend Jenn and I, both of us having been called into the ministry when we were in our early teens, began talking about urban ministry. We dreamed together about working in struggling churches, with hurting children, and teens (we both saw ourselves working with children and teens - perhaps it was too far beyond us at that age to imagine ministering to adults). I remember many discussions about the thrill of urban ministry and the burden God had placed on our young hearts for the city.

Prior to my trips to New York, I can remember having this odd bias against "the big city." I had developed the common belief that the city was a place of depravity and was marked by a wallowing in sinful indulgence, a place where evil was lauded and all that was right and good was stamped out. My trips to NYC showed me that people in the city was in need of the grace and love of Jesus Christ, just as much as we did in suburbia. But I did develop a heart for ministry among those who society pushed to the side.  Because of those trips Jenn and I began to see the city as not simply as a place to go and visit and retreat, but instead we began to see it as a place where we could do ministry.

While in college I attended two different churches, Dorchester Second Church and Bethel. Both are very different Churches, but both churches are located and ministering in urban settings.  When I was in Seminary, I attended Grace Church, again a church that was ministering in a more urban section of town. Everything in my early training was moving toward ministering in an urban setting.

But then the first church to which I was called was anything but urban. The first seven years of my pastoral ministry were spent in rural south central Kansas (outside of Wichita). And I began to lose the sense of calling I had felt for the city. I was pastoring and that was enough. I was exactly where God wanted me, at that time, and I was happy, and content to be there. I plunged myself into a completely different mode of ministry than that for which I had prepared myself and had envisioned for myself. I was the pastor of a small church in a rural town in the mid-West.  And I did that for the first seven years of my ministry.

But after seven years there, I returned to my East Coast roots and to Boston, where I had gone to college and became the pastor in Cambridge where I am now and have been for seven years. A person would think that after seven years of pastoring in Cambridge I would remember that I was called, while still in my teens, to the city, that when I was 16 years old I would lay awake at night thinking and dreaming about being an urban pastor. But I had not really thought about that girl in a long time. I think in many ways I had forgotten that I had seen the city as place God was leading me for a very long time.

I had  forgotten about the young lady who had spent the Summer working with teens in the heart of Manhattan. I had forgotten how she had felt then that God was calling her to THIS kind of ministry. I had forgotten but going back to NYC reminded me; reminded me of her, her calling, and the things she learned that Summer. I remember seeing for the first time the income disparity that is made so evident in the city. The youth group was made up teens from almost every socio-economic level. I took both the child of a soap opera actress and a young man who did not have enough change of clothes for a week away to Teen Camp. As a person, who even when her parents were struggling financially had what she needed at all times, the idea of not having enough clothes was an eye opener. I remember talking with a young man preparing for college about what it was like growing up in the middle of the city, being amazed that he had so much freedom in a place my parents were leery to send me for a week when I was his age. I learned so much from each young person in that group and I am forever thankful for them opening their lives to me and allowing me to minister to them, even as they were teaching me and preparing me.

And here I am 20 years after my 19 year old self spent a Summer there, taking my children back to that same city. And suddenly I remember a wide eyed 16 girl as she took in one of the worlds largest cities for the first time. And I remember the 19 year old trying to take in the struggles of the teens with whom she was working. I remember her, her wonder, and I could feel the palpable draw inside of her to THIS kind of ministry. She knew then, what I have forgotten now. God called me to not merely be a pastor, but an urban pastor. I am now a pastor, not only am I a pastor, but I am pastoring an urban church. In many ways I am exactly where both my 16 and 19 year old selves dreamed I would be. But I have been hesitant to call myself an urban pastor. In many ways I feel as if I do not fully understand the context in which I live. Now, even as I pastor the kind of church she envision, I would pastor, I struggle with thinking of myself as, or calling myself and urban pastor.

Growing up on military bases and in suburbia, my life was very different from that of someone who grew up in a city.  The challenges I faced and my parents faced were so different from those who have spent their lives in and urban area. I know this is where I am called, I can see how God has prepared me, formed me and shaped me to pastor here, but at the same time, I always feel as if there is more I need to know. I feel as if I am missing something important, something key to understanding the context in which I currently minister. I live here, but I am not FROM here. My continual question is how can I truly BE an urban pastor?  How can I develop a true understanding of the people to whom I am called? How can I be the urban pastor I know I am called to be?

I see the young girl, I see her dreams, I see the burden God placed on her heart, how can I be the pastor, the person the woman, she knew I could be?

Perhaps going back to NYC simply reminded me of the burning desire God has giving me to be here. To pastor in this place at this time.  I love the city, specifically I love this city.  And more than anything I love the little congregation and all the people who are in it, which God has given to my care.  THIS is where God has called me to be. And God has been calling me here and preparing me to be here for a very long time. And the burning in my heart is to the very best urban pastor I know how to be. But I think I am also aware more than ever that I need to continue to learn, to continue to grow and to strive daily to allow God to show me how I can learn and grow into a better and better urban pastor, for the congregation given to my care, for the neighborhood in which God is calling us to minister.

P.S. Jenn has also grown up to fulfill her calling, she does urban ministry with a Nazarene Compassionate Ministry Center in Oklahoma City.

Monday, July 11, 2016

No Rest

I spent last week on Prince Edwards Island in Canada.  Where it was unseasonably cool, but absolutely beautiful.  We camped at a little camp ground on the Western side of the Island, facing the Northumberland strait. We were in a quiet little cove and our site abutted the water.  I woke up in the morning to the sound of the waves slapping the small embankment that lead from our site down to the water. The grass was emerald green and the sky and the water were the bluest blue and the sand was brilliant red.  It was as if the world was a ball gown made of the finest blue silk on which the most exquisite broach was pinned, the stone, the most delicate green emerald set in an unimaginably red rose gold setting.  It was truly a fairyland and for one week a tiny piece of it was ours.

I was on Prince Edwards Island surrounded by natural beauty, a palpable calm and filled with joy to get to be where I was at that very moment, and I was far, far away from all the happenings which stained this country. Far, far away, does not mean out of touch, or unaware. I was amazed at how much the public radio on PEI talked about what was going on with Hilary and Trump at the beginning of the week. I did not realize people outside the US cared at all, much less enough for it to make a deal out of things done by one and said by the other. I was used to hearing the distanced perspective by the time I began to hear news of shootings, one, then two and then many!

I was living a life of rest in a fairy world made of nothing but beauty and peace and the real world was crashing and burning. We weekended with friends in Maine, as we made way back to Boston, and I sat and listened to another pastor preach a heartfelt sermon to his congregation trying to make sense of the violence and the broken society which birthed it and then provide his people with avenues of Christian response and responsibility in the midst of it all.

And I am away.  I am in the midst of my summer at rest.  I am removed from my "normal" life.  I am removed from my congregation.  I was not there for them when 50 young people were gunned down in Florida and I was not there with them as the events unfolded last week. I do not know the ways in which their hearts are breaking. I am not there to walk through this quagmire with them.  I know they are in good hands. I trust the servant of God who is with them, who is pastoring them in my absense.  

But because I am not there with them, because I can not hear how these events, which have occurred thus far this summer, are intersecting their lives, I find I am uneasy in my rest. It is almost as if I feel that I can not rest, when I know they are not finding rest.

But it is more than them.  How can I rest, when the world around me is not at rest? How can I live in a fairy world painted in green, red, and blue when the world around me lives in a real world painted in nothing but blood, violence, and hatred? Our world is so broken. How can I rest? People in the world around me find no rest. People I know find no rest. People I love find no rest. 

When there is no rest, how do I rest? How can any of us rest when there is no justice, when there is no end to the violence, when piece by piece the world around us crumbles and falls and only the privileged few find they have solid ground on which to stand? What does it mean to find rest, in a world where there is none. Who am I, if I manage to steal some? I stood on solid ground, in a brightly painted dream world, far, far, away.  And I looked down and saw the ground crumble beneath the feet of others all around. 

In my privilege, I sat under the sky and read stories to my girls, took them to see the homes of a storybook child and visited the birthplace of a woman who created an imaginary world which so many of us love. And I return, and try to fill a void I can not fill with words I probably have no right to write, but I know not what else to do? 

I am uneasy. My heart is troubled. 
I remember the promises of the Lord to give rest.
"My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." Ex 33:14
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,
   and I will give you rest." Mt 11:28

Give us rest!
Lord hear my prayer.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Two Days of Silence

How to talk about  two full days of silence?

On Tuesday I packed up a backpack and walked out of my house and walked the nearly three miles which lay between my house and the Monastery of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist which is situated along the Charles river right outside of Harvard Square in Cambridge. 

When I arrived, I received a brief tour and was sent up to my room/cell.  It was fantastic! It was just a bed, a dresser, a desk with a chair, an arm chair and a little altar at which you could kneel to pray. Nothing special, but it was wonderful. My window looked out over the garden and since I was on the second floor I could see the Charles river on the other side of Memorial Drive which was just beyond the garden wall. The sill was just wide enough for me to sit on and curl up and look out at the beauty of God's creation. In fact, I immediately turned off my room's air, and opened the window to let the river breeze in. Sure that means I heard the hum of traffic from Mem Drive, but it also meant I could hear the wind in the leaves, the coo of the doves which rested on the balcony above me, the sound of the row teams practicing out on the river and the lilt of human voices carried on the breeze. I loved it.

I was barely settled before it was time for Eucharist (I was there three days and received Eucharist three times).  Let me diverge for a minute to tell you about the schedule a bit.  The schedule is the same Thursday through Saturday. There is a Sunday Schedule, then they do not hold public services on Mondays because that is their Sabbath. Tuesday and Wednesday each have their own schedule.  Since I was there from Tuesday afternoon through Thursday afternoon, each day I was there had a different schedule and Eucharist was at a different time each day.

I began my visit with Eucharist. I do not think I could have planned the timing better. It was the right way to begin my retreat. Eucharist was followed by Dinner. It was also fortuitous that Tuesday evening is the only "talking" meal of the week. So I got to talk to several of the monks, a long term visitor and another lady who was there just a few days. I got to ask all my questions and felt like I knew something about the people with whom I worshiped for the rest of my time there. But once Dinner was over, there was no talking outside of worship.

By the time I returned to dinner it was almost 7:30 before I returned to my room. Which gave me about an hour before Compline.  I prayed and wrote in my journal about my expectations for my retreat and asked myself and God some questions for which I hoped to have answers before I ended (I never went back to them - they did not seem important by the time I left).  And then Compline, which was probably my favorite service, there was something right about asking the Lord to watch over us by night.  The tone of the service prepared me for rest. After Compline, I went to the kitchen made myself some rooibus tea.  I sat in my window, read and drank tea for perhaps and hour before I went to sleep.

There was Morning Prayer at 6am every morning. Although they provided a clock with an alarm, I never messed with it.  I looked at the clock to check the time but mostly it was the bells, which were rung 10 minutes before each service, and the services themselves, which shaped the schedule of my days.  The only time the bell did not toll before the service was for Morning Prayer. The neighbors would not appreciate the 5:50 wake up call every morning.  So each night I went to bed thinking I would awake in time for prayers but I never awoke before 6. 

Both mornings I woke up got myself ready and I went down to breakfast at about 7:30. On Wednesday I finished my breakfast and was back in my room by 8 am.  I had brought a pot of tea back to my room with me so I sat in my window, and watched the river with the entire day stretching out before.  There was nothing I HAD to do, nowhere I NEEDED to be before Eucharist which was at 12:30.  And it was then when I had 4 1/2 hours before me that I realized what it truly meant to be alone and silent. My morning was filled with prayer, scripture and journaling. 

When I came to the point when I felt I had to do something, go somewhere, I went up to the third floor, where I was told there was a library.  I stood in the middle of the library and looked at all the books.  I love books.  I had books in my room, but these were different books.  I love looking at books, I love holding books, I love looking at books, so I think I would have been just content handling books until I found one that caught my interest, but before that happened my eyes fell on a basket which held small clumps of clay next to a set of instructions. That began, "When word are few, When it is hard to pray."  I almost cried, that was where I was. THIS was what I needed right then. I had come to the library because I was stuck, and I did not know what to do next, I had said all the things I had planned on saying to God, I had prayed all the prayers, and I had grown weary of reading (a strange experience for me I am one who can usually lose myself in a book). So I played with clay. I prayed and made three little sculptures through which I talked to God and God talked to me. And I was with the clay until Eucharist, which was followed by lunch.

Following lunch I took a nap. One of the Monks had told me that there were two things that surprised most people about silent prayer retreats. First was how hungry it makes you and he encouraged me to eat my fill and reminded me that the guest kitchen (which kept me supplied in tea the whole time I was there) was always available to me. Secondly, was how tired it make a person. He told me to not feel guilty about taking a nap in the afternoon, put it into your schedule if you are a schedule writing kind of person. So after lunch, I read for a short time and took a nap.  After my nap I went out into the garden, I explored the small space there. I tried to be mindful of my surroundings, I watched the birds, I watched the wind in the trees, I listened to the voices that could be heard, and I prayed. By this time the pace of my world had slowed to such a point that I did not feel restless sitting and watching, watching and thinking, thinking and praying for undesignated amounts of time. In the morning I checked the time often, wondering how long I had done something, how much longer I had before Eucharist.  But that afternoon, I just was.  I knew the bell would ring and I would be called to Evensong.  The monks knew what time it was and they would let me know when time became important again. And that I how I spent my afternoon.

Then there was Evensong and dinner, prayer before Compline and then tea and reading before bed.

Thursday morning, I woke up a little after 7.  I was down stairs and had just gathered up my breakfast when the bell rang.  I went into the kitchen, it was 7:35 and thought, why is the bell ringing now?  That is odd the bell should not ring to cal the monks to their communal devotions until 8:50. So I ate my breakfast and went up to my room to check the schedule (remember that because of the days I was there the schedule was different each day) but I thought that I had missed Morning Prayer and that the next communal service would be at 12:30.  But I was wrong. On Thursday Eucharist was at 7:45, the monks asked for all guests to come to Eucharist each day. I looked at the clock it was 7:52, I was late, but not super late.  I debated for a minute was it worst to not go at all or show up late. 

I decided that if i waited to long my waiting would make a decision for me, so I grabbed my key and made my way quickly to the chapel. A monk was giving a short homily, as I entered and I waited in the door until he was finished and quickly found the nearest seat.  I felt abashed and ashamed, I had walked in late. There as no way of hiding it, the stalls are set up facing each other, there is no slipping into the back, everyone (there was perhaps 20 of us altogether) saw me. And because of our silence, there was no quiet apology to the person next to me or quick explanation about forgetting and being in the middle of breakfast. 

I was late, I had missed nearly half of the service and I was alone in my lateness. I could not cover it with words. I was thinking about the things I could do to "atone." I was already committed to prayer, I give myself that as penance.  I thought that I could stay and silently read the section of the service I had missed to myself, but then reminded myself that there was no way to make up for missing the sermon, it would go forever unheard. My penitential thoughts were almost immediately interrupted as we launched into the prayer of forgiveness, "Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and what we have left undone . . . For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us."  

I was not quite to the point where I was envisioning self flagellation as a means of penance but I was nearly there. Here I was trying to figure out what the appropriate "punishment" for my err in ways was, and God was already forgiving me. I was not sure if being late to Eucharist was something done or something left undone, but here I was through the order of the liturgy, asking forgiveness. I wanted penance, something I could do to make up for the wrong I had done. and before I could even figure out what that looked like, liturgy had an answer for me, ask the Lord for forgiveness, repent and move on, there was no grand gesture to prove my sincerity and proper contrition.  I was late to chapel, I felt bad, I asked forgiveness and God gave it to me, just like that. I know God is free with forgiveness. But how quickly and how easy it came surprised me. The service went on and I stood forgiven. I partook of the sacrament with a clean heart. It was beautiful.  

The morning when on.  I had some very special moments with God. My silence was filled with words and prayers and there were tears. I think the forgiveness in the chapel before Eurcharist was a turning point in my conversations with God. I can not quite tell you how or what difference it made, but being forgiven that morning meant more than forgiveness had meant in a long time.  To explain the words in the silence, the prayers, and the moments I spent with God, is not something I think I can explain, except that all that needed to be said, was said, all the prayers were prayed, and I heard God when God spoke, I was never lonely, even though I was almost always completely alone. It was everything I hoped it would be and it was everything that it should be.

Morning gave way to Noonday prayer, followed by lunch, packing up and leaving.  I walked home with a full heart and a heart full of thankfulness for time spent with God.

I will do this again, soon.