Tag Archives: retreat

Seed of Silence

As a spiritual practice, I sometimes write journal entries in the present tense to give the memory depth and meaning. The following is one memory regarding my early introduction to practice of silence.

Olympic Lutherhaven Bible Camp

Ten miles from my adolescent home in Bremerton, Washington, is a small Bible camp named Lutherhaven.  Situated on the west side of Wildcat Lake, the camp has two sections.  The first is a picnic area with a large picnic shelter for congregational gatherings, a softball field and a small swimming beach with a short dock.  Across a small footbridge and deeper into the tall fir forest is the camp itself.  Six or so small sleeping cabins with metal frame bunks line a path in the woods. They feel ancient and bare-bones to my teenage  senses.  The path leads to the tall A-frame building with cedar shakes, through which I can see the sky.   The building holds the kitchen, open dining hall/chapel, and a small office/storage rooms.   My first trips to the camp had been for the annual confirmation retreat that always seem to coincide with the fishing opener so that my pastor could spend the early morning on the dock fishing.

My strongest memory and an essential seed to my spiritual path is a High School retreat.   Jerry and Nada Torgerson are my church Luther League advisors and I am about 16 years old.  Nada is a student at the Lutheran Bible Institute and they often bring engaging Bible lessons or spiritual practices for our Luther League gatherings.  At this retreat of a dozen teenagers Nada invites us to practice silence for several hours one evening, instructing us to be silent and pray or read scripture.  We are free to move about the camp but not to engage in conversation with each other.

At first I am surprised that they want us to be silent.  Usually they want us to talk about Jesus, God, the Bible, or other religious material.  I don’t think I will like the silence, a whole evening to sit, pray, and reflect alone.  After all I enjoy talking!

 I wander into the kitchen wondering if there might be something to snack on. After looking and finding nothing appetizing, I sit on a counter and just observe the other people there.  Even though we are not talking, we are interacting – something about the silence seems to draw us into deeper intimacy – as if we have peeled back one of the masks we are often wearing and now are seeing each other without the persona.  A feeling of contentment enfolds me. I silently pray a word of gratitude.

In the chapel, I read a short piece of scripture and start to pray my thoughts, but my mind wanders after a bit. The silence is disarming. Is God truly here? What time is it?

After awhile I go outside, down to the dock to sit.  The stillness of the night strikes me.  I feel the cold air as I breathe.  I look up and marvel at the night sky and the silent forest around me.  I sense that there is more here than I am ready to receive. I am drawn into the silence yet unsure how to be with it.  I am trying to analyze it and figure it out.  I have glimpses of something special going on, but then my mind moves on to other ruminations and thoughts.  The evening ends and we all quickly jump back into conversation.  We talk about how cool the silence was, but it is a novelty that we are not quick to repeat.  

I sense that the evening of shared silence was healing and significant, yet I am not sure how to move deeper with it.  I have no instruction about how to deal with my relentless thoughts and ideas.  I vaguely hear a call or whisper in the silence but unsure what to do.  A seed of silence is planted, but it would take decades for it to sprout and grow. Not until I pick up the daily spiritual practice of Centering Prayer (in my sixties) will the silence begin to show its true depth and beauty.

If you sense a whisper or call to silence, sign up for the Introduction to Centering Prayer on Zoom that I will be co-teaching, starting Tuesday, November 10 at 9am.  You will learn how to build a daily spiritual practice of twenty minute silence and how to “manage” the ongoing thoughts, feeling and sensations that accompany us as we consent to God’s presence and action within us.   More information and registration are at https://www.minnesotacontemplativeoutreach.org/enrichment.html#intro

Being the Beloved

Some people have an idealized image of their pastor as a person of automatic piety and prayer. They like to believe that their pastors are always walking with God, constantly filled with love of God and neighbor. But if one talks with a pastor for any length of time, one discovers that he or she is human, filled with flaws, failings and foibles. Yet hopefully, she also know where to go for restoration.

After a busy and emotionally draining season of church work, I knew my own flaws, failings and foibles were rising close to the surface. Fortunately my 12 step spirituality group had schedule a Step Eleven Retreat: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out.” We had chosen to spend 1-2 days at Pacem in Terris where each of us would spend time in our individual tiny cabin called a hermitage.

Like anything new, I approached the retreat somewhat awkwardly, wondering if I had brought enough clothing for the sub-zero or enough reading material. It turned out I had plenty of each.

My Hermitage for two days

My hermitage for two days

The staff warmly welcomed me at the central house, gave me a brief orientation (“this is a place to rest your body, soul and spirit, so if your body needs a nap take it.”) and then took me out to my hermitage. Laura presented me with a basket of bread, cheese and fruit, showed me how to operate the gas burner for tea and how to light the sole gas lantern for light at night. Then she left me to be alone with God.

St. John the Beloved signEach hermitage is named after a saint, and mine was St. John the Beloved. I took that name to heart and read from John’s Gospel and I John, relishing the promise of God’s love

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, John 1:12

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. I John 3:1

I reflected on a piece of mission statement I wrote nearly twenty years ago

Created in the image of God,
baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,
and empowered by the Holy Spirit,
I am a child of God,

In our culture, even the church culture, our value is often determined by what we produce: what have I accomplished, achieved and acquired. Yet in God’s economy, our value rests solely in being his child.

What a valuable reminder to rest in that promise.

When or where have you spent time alone with God?

Lord Jesus, thank you that I am your beloved.

Next post: Inside the little cabin in the woods.