Monday, April 03, 2017

Mountaintop Experience:
Mentor Formation Retreat

Susan and I returned yesterday from three days at the University of the South, Sewanee, near Chattanooga, TN, headquarters for Education for Ministry (EfM). We joined Bob from Florida, Steve from Asheville (moving soon to KY), and Ethel Ware from All Saints in Atlanta.  Our mentor Sissie Wile modeled ways to formulate an understanding of spirituality through experiences that engaged our imaginations with all four of EfM's sources: action, position, culture, and tradition.

[PHOTOS:  Top - Sissie's home, where we visited with her dog and cat on Saturday, before dinner.

Middle - A branch finding a way through a manufactured space was, for me, an image of Incarnation - the Creator's sharing in our struggles and pain.

 Below - A "mandala" collage of images that help me to define holy]

Our sessions together began and ended with worship from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer.  Hearing familiar texts phrased differently, we're aware of new angles to old sayings.  For instance, "The Lord be with you / And also with you" is re-stated as an affirmation for all:" The divine Spirit dwells in us. / Thanks be to God."

Before we'd even decided what we meant by spirituality or by related terms mystery, holiness, and the divine, Sissie had each of us choose a photograph from an array published by the Kaleidoscope Institute. I chose a view of an apartment building, ten rows and twelve columns of balconies defined by concrete slabs, iron rails, and glass doors. For me, there's a mystery in that each resident is an individual universe of experiences, pursuits, and hopes; yet even near neighbors may be unaware of each other. So much life is visible at a glance; how can anyone conceive of the fact that all the individuals on our planet are equally self-contained universes?

We also each selected one psalm among those identified by author Walter Brueggemann as psalms for seasons of orientation (8, 14,33, 37, 145, 131, 133), of disorientation (13, 25, 50, 74, 79, 81, 86, 137), or new orientation (30,34, 50, 74, 79, 81 86, 137), all connecting to EfM's  theme this year of new orientations in our "journeys in faith." 

I chose Psalm 124 ("If it had not been the Lord who was on our side...), feeling that my life has reoriented towards care for Mom, following my fifty-seven years of responsibility mostly to myself, my job, my own projects.  The Psalmist seems to be clutching to the knowledge that, "We held on through tough times before; God will be with us at the end of this time, too." 

Again, after sharing, we reflected on aspects of spirituality revealed by this effort.  What we saw was deep connections across time and culture between us and the psalmist; the experience of relating concrete reality to metaphors; the awareness that interior conclusions may not easily be identified as true or false. We agreed that psalms have different meanings for us at different times in our lives.

The most intense thirty minutes of the weekend, for me, were spent searching through magazines for images that spoke to my sense of what's holy, then fitting them into a circle -- to form a personal "mandala," an image of the universe, or the universal.  During that time, we all milled around the room, and I, for one, was nearly oblivious to others while I cut, rearranged, and pasted.  My own images include preparation of food - a holy activity when done lovingly to bring people together; a lovely tree at the edge of a lake, reminding me of days spent in such places reading, or, even more, riding my bike, occupied solely with the cycling and breathing, enjoying God's gifts; a bed, which I've come to see as a raft for a nightly journey through dreams, in which we find rest and meaning-making; the dog - for many of us, a veritable angel in life, example to us of unconditional love and life in the moment (see my article Dogs are Poetry); and the crossword puzzle, signifying for me horizontal existence in time intersecting with the vertical existence of mind, memory, and imagination (see my article Theology of Crosswords).

We also had assignments to design experiences in spirituality for each other.  Bob and Steve presented a combination of lectio divina with the movements of EfM's process of "theological reflection."  Ethel Ware sent us away to sketch or describe something that illustrates what we mean by "the divine." (I brought back a sketch of an open hand, palm up: able to reach out, able to hold, to let go, and vulnerable to rejection).  Susan and I sent everyone out at dusk to bring back images (perhaps on phone cameras) of intersections between what we call "nature" and the human-manufactured world.  In these, we looked for the Trinity:  images of the Creator's joy in creation; of the Incarnate Lord's sharing the pain of creation; and, of the Spirit that flows through all life like the wind.  We were inspired by the analogy in our RRG of a night hike by flashlight:  what we see by "light" of our manufactured world is limited, and we'll appreciate much more of the night life in a forest, once our senses become fully engaged for a walk in the dark.

For a short time before dinner, we accepted Sissie's invitation to her lovely home overlooking a bluff, with a view west across the valley.  Such a short time was still a powerful highlight, reminding us all of another holy quality of hospitality, by which patriarchs welcomed angels. 

No comments: