Tuesday, March 16, 2010

An Unexpected Welcome: Retreating at Catholic retreat sites.

A gentle, smiling group gathers for simple fare at lunchtime. They have just completed noon prayers. Scriptures have been meditated upon, Psalms have been read and sung, and you have been prayed for. Yes you.

I've made it a habit to spend some time away with cloistered communities throughout my sojourn. I've visited them in deserts, mountains, in the sweltering south and in the Midwest. Each time, whether a community of nuns or priests, I find myself surrounded by welcome and peace. My spirit is invited to rest and pray.

In my book, The Runaway Pastor, the lead character visits a Catholic monastery for a time of prayer and reflection. The reason I chose not to mention a protestant one? I don't know of any. We don't have a similar long-standing monastic tradition. I encourage people of my congregation to go to such Catholic retreat facilities because there is no comparable place to go and pray within my tradition.

I've had a few critiques about this. "There are protestant campgrounds and retreat sites that welcome people to go on retreats," they say. "Why not go there?" And they are right, these places exist. But they are not the same. What one experiences in these cloistered communities I speak of is an atmosphere which has known continuous praying for the world and singing of the Psalms throughout the cycle of hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades and sometimes centuries or more. Prayer isn't retreated to for these people. It is their atmosphere...the air they breathe. This is the kind of holy place they share with us.

Yesterday for only two hours, I sat, shared stories, prayed and ate lunch with a Catholic sister whom I've known for twenty four years. Today is her eightieth birthday. Sixty seven of her years have been spent in community praying daily. And while she ventured out to teach school, serve in soup kitchens, jails, homeless shelters or as a speaker in retreat settings for literally thousands over the years; this sister has operated out of the strength drawn from roots deep in prayer and scripture--deep in God's presence. And yesterday, I enjoyed that place of peace and strength, and began a few days of vacation with prayer as my starting place.

You may not be aware of these places around you. Such communities are in countrysides and cities. And the people who find their home there work hard like you and I do. But they also have espoused themselves to prayer in community. And when they pray, they pray for you and your world. I would not want to see the world without such leaven.


david said...

I'm curious. Is this topic something you dare not touch or comment on? Or is it just boring? I find many protestants have a deep seated fear of all things Catholic. Is this the case here? Many people have been to the page and the time spent indicates they have read thi post. (Don't worry, my analytical program doesn't say WHO has read...just how many, how long and if i care to dig, what cities they come from, etc.
Be honest. Is Catholic Christianity out of bounds here? If so, I'm shocked. Maybe I'm way too open minded for those who typically read here? Feedback please.

Zee said...

:) finally snatched a minute to read it :) flagged it in my outlook, but didn't get a chance yet.

that actually has been a topic of many hours of pondering for me...

i love your description of the monastery as well as the Koontz' described the atmosphere there (that's in Brother Odd)...

peace... ah.

and yet, i am afraid, for some reason. afraid that i would want to hide from the world and won't do what i need to do - share the News with the people on the streets or somewhere... because i WANT to hide...

eh. gotta go back to working, but thanks for a piece of peace.

Zee said...

(btw, i couldn't post the comment from Google Chrome... maybe that's the reason why you didn't get a lot of comments)

david said...

Zee, Interesting discussion of monasticism in the third chapter (transformations) of a dynamite book entitled The Mountain of Silence. I'm not sure if you can read that far, but I noticed that on amazon.com you could read the first chapter or two at least with the "look inside" feature. I'm loving this book...but I'm weird like that. I enjoy studying Eastern Orthodoxy.

Anonymous said...

My hesitancy would be embracing Catholicism as just another "Christian" sect or whatever (do you embrace it as such?). Their devotion to the pope is scary to me. Their religion does not seem to be totally Christ-centered and Bible-based. Mother Teresa was always shown feeding the poor, but you never heard her preaching any gospel about man's depravity and need for a Saviour...the only Saviour.

Going there and spending time to do your own praying, however, seems okay.

david said...

Thank you for your comment and questions. I know that my ways of seeing the faith are different than many people. I think this is a result of many years of wondering, praying, and I believe seeking truth. I once would have written just as you have, but I guess I've changed. I pray I am not wondering from truth as I strive for it.

Yes, I consider Catholics to be Christian. I sure don't understand the pope thing. I've been to Rome, and was very frustrated by the riches piled up there by the church. It made me angry.

Protestantism however, leaves me with concerns of its own. When will enough "protesting" and thus dividing be enough? We continue to protest into our small sects, further dividing the body of Christ. Besides, my denomination has laid up some pretty serious wealth in its 100 years, compared with 10-20 times that (according to who you ask)for the Roman Catholics.

I long for unity in the body, yet stay with my small denomination--1.4ish million. (The list of denominations is almost that long. :) ) While there are 1.1 BILLION Catholics, 250 million Eastern Orthodox, etc. I know, I know...we all assume we've found the "narrow way." But I struggle with assuming my way is the purest form of following the Bible. Everyone thinks that. I get visitors to my office all the time asking what we believe. They go through their list of ten to twenty questions to see if we measure up to their version of "biblical." Then on the ninth question, they find out we eat food in the church building or don't receive communion each week, and they leave disgusted with our un-biblical ways. It is way too easy to define truth into a corner, and leave out so much other truth that doesn't fit our paradigm.

For instance, let me ask you how we stack up our judging of Mother Theresa to these words of Jesus? I quote Matthew 25:31-the end of the chapter.
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

The savior said these things.

Zee said...

Dave: I will check the book sometime.

It's not that I don't like eastern orthodoxy per se. I guess i just had a bit too much with "what it had become"... yet, like you said in the comment to Anonymous, "When will enough "protesting" and thus dividing be enough?"... we are not better than anyone else.

my only goal is to do what He wants me to do. i am trying to do that. and sometimes, i find my own kitchen at the office as holy as the Church's sanctuary...

david said...

I hear you. What orthodoxy became in the former USSR is really interesting to me. I've read of the tens of thousands of the church leaders there who were martyred during the revolution and especially during Stalin's (sp?) time. I can't imagine what that sort of purging must have left them with. I've met dozens of people who spent time in gulags because of their home prayer meetings getting busted. I remember Vova having read Fr. Alexander Mehn (sp?) during his first years as a Christian. I think his teaching had quite an effect on Vova. But I also remember feeling persecuted there because of the "state church." I'm enjoying my reading and my seeking. I think after 35 years of study and teaching, I want to venture beyond the theology I've learned which studies no church leaders older than Luther.

One more thing I'll add here for you and anonymous. The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that the western church--midst the scholastic movement and again in the protestant/enlightenment age--they believe the western church became more cognitive/philosophical. And while these are not bad, they left behind the mystical; and as a result, we left behind the deep belief in the spiritual side of our faith. Now we explain, we study apologetics and we have an itemized list of things we must believe; but we are clueless about how to pray without ceasing or how to strive in the spiritual realm for Godliness. We know the steps to do so, but no longer have great practitioners (spiritual masters) that we look up to. And while we should never worship men or women, people certainly admired the great men and women amongst the early Christians. Their reputations for spiritual fervor and power preceded them--even demons feared them.
I'm just thinking and appreciating all of your feedback...

Zee said...

Something I have thought of when I was reading your comment about mystical / practical / philosophical approaches: I guess living over here, the lines are not so distinct between the mystical and logical teachings. Even though we are a Nazarene Church (protestant, wesleyan, arminian, etc), the culture still was largely influenced by Orthodoxy. (I think we have discussed it some time last year...)

As to Stalin - yeah... At the same time... I may seem like I am still a kid or nuts or whatever, but those times were good for Church. Yes, the Christians were oppressed, but the faith was genuine...

and just like with those Christians in China or Sudan or India or Africa... the life is tough, but the rewards for those who don't give up are astounding.

talking about that... not sure if you have seen the link on my blog, but it's a great blog post by Stephen Brewster

david said...

Thanks Zee. I enjoyed that blog by the way. Your words about the tough things making us tougher, or in this case I guess--more holy, is well taken. We read the Philippians 3 passage today--"I want to know Christ..." That in essence is the essence of our calling.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I know. But I, too, have wondered, prayed, and sought truth. I just land differently.

david said...

Thank you for you response. Perhaps kinder than I deserved. I enjoy these discussions, and am thankful that God has not put me in charge of such mysteries. This morning as I pray, I find myself seeking one answer, Lord, how can I be more surrendered and thus like you. May he keep you in his good grace. And thank you and Zee for this conversation. I'll try to move to another soon. Grace and peace.