Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you will come often. It is my hope that these stories and reflections will be helpful in your spiritual journey. I look forward to your thoughts, questions, or suggestions. Please leave your comments and join as a follower so I will know you were here. It is a privilege to share the journey with you.

If you wish to know more about me, spiritual direction or retreats visit my website. www.bunnycox.com. Blessings, Bunny

*See first posting in January, 2011 to learn why this blog is called "From the Big Red Chair."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hope in the Wilderness - Part 1

The winding road emerged from a tangle of dense woods and continued beside a ramshackle fence bordering a field of winter weeds.  Muddy ruts sucked at the tires of my car. When I diverted my eyes to check the tiny map on the back of the retreat brochure in hopes of discovering a recognizable landmark, I  narrowly missed colliding with a low-hanging branch as the road plunged back into the forest.  The chill of wet earth and remnants of rain plopping onto my windshield from bare branches above heightened my sense of loneliness and stirred flurries of apprehension. 

At best I am lost, I thought. At worst I am not.  What am I doing here? Why did I come? Whatever made me think I could spend a winter weekend in silent retreat far from home in the company of strangers? The answer was simple.  If I wanted to complete requirements to graduate from the Leading Contemplative Prayer and Retreat Program at the Shalem Institute of Spiritual Formation, I had to.

Joining the program at Shalem was an effort to reenter a world left behind when my daughter Tara and granddaughter Alden died and when raising Tara’s son Spencer became my calling. I knew if I hoped to escape the confines of grief and venture into new life, I must nurture tender stirrings of renewed interest rising within me. I chose a retreat during the church season of Advent at Dayspring Retreat Centered near Germantown, Maryland, titled “Hope in the Wilderness.” 

Damp earth swallowed the sound of my arrival at the rustic structure secreted by undeveloped fields and undisturbed woodlands.  In the moments before my presence was detected, I considered fleeing. What if solitude ripped away the bandage of busy-ness that had long concealed the wound of sadness? What if silence required sheathing the sword of distraction that kept demons of grief at bay?  

“I’ll leave you here to choose your room,” said the lanky young man who carried my suitcase to the Matthew hall as we passed others named Mark, Luke and John.  “Pick any room you like. You’re the first one here.”

I peered through open doors that lined the left side of the corridor.  A rocking chair, a dresser, and a desk with a small lamp furnished each chamber.  A large, single-pane window stretched from corner-to-corner on the far wall, opening each room to the silence of the forest and creating an illusion of spaciousness.  A handmade quilt of unique color on the foot of each bed was the only distinguishing characteristic. 

I entered the chamber at the far end of the hall and sat in the rocker by the window, my unopened suitcase beside me. Fog that settled into the evening woods, along with descending darkness, did little to calm my rising angst. “Something doesn’t feel right,” I thought. “I don’t think this is my room,” I concluded.

Back in the hall, suitcase in hand, I found a room closer to the entrance that seemed to invite my company.

“Tell your prayer partner how you wish to be prayed for this weekend,” said the retreat leader who divided our group into pairs when we gathered by the fireplace in the main lodge for introductions before entering the Great Silence. I considered requesting prayers for courage, but rejected the idea. Doing so would require explaining why I was afraid to be in silence.  Prayers for peace would require re-telling the story of loss that I preferred remain my sacred secret. I settled on prayers for clarity. “Other than being a compulsory part of the program,” I confessed to my prayer partner, “I don’t have a clue why I'm here.”  

I awoke the next morning grateful for the previous evening's swift descent into slumber that circumvented anxious thoughts during dark hours and deepening stillness. The smell of food prepared by cooks working in silence drew me to the lodge. After breakfast I wandered fields of dry winter grass that swayed about my knees. A bell summoning me to the noon meal interrupted the morning and startled me into an awareness of time. As the day lengthened, I wandered through fields, down a steep hill, and under towering trees, to a bench deep in the forest. I sat motionless, moving only my eyes, hoping not to alarm a deer I hoped might slip by under cover of waning daylight. None appeared.  Only tears awakened in the silence. Tears rose from their hiding place in solitude to invade the peacefulness. Tears crept into the stillness as raw and real as first-loss.
Fleeing to my bedroom, my hand upon the doorknob, my eyes fell upon a previously unnoticed rectangular plate attached to the door.  Above the words Matt: 9--Matthew Hall, room number nine--floated a large butterfly hammered into the metal by the hand of an artist.  How ironic, I thought. How appropriate that I coincidentally chose a room whose door was marked by a butterfly that to me was symbolic of Tara.  A butterfly adorns her grave marker as a symbol of her poem and a reminder of hope.* But in that moment, the butterfly brought memories of sorrow.  

As I lay in darkness upon my bed, tears spent, it occurred to me that the word and number on the door were in the same form as chapter and verse of the Bible.  I switched on a light, retrieved a Bible from the desk drawer, and opened to the ninth chapter of Matthew.  I gasped when my eyes fell upon a verse in the middle of the page that seemed directed to me. Tears once again flooded my eyes, but they were tears of gratitude, not of sorrow. I had discovered why I had come.

. . .to be continued "Hope in the Wilderness" Part II


"The purpose of the Church's year is to continually rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart's memory so that it can discern the star of hope."~Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

"Take time, slow down, be still, be awake to the Divine Mystery that looks so common and so ordinary yet is wondrously present."~Edward Hayes

"In the stillness of the quiet, if we listen, we can hear the whisper of the heart giving strength to weakness, courage to fear, hope to despair."~Howard Thurman

"Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."~Mark 6:31

-Do I need peace and rest?
-Do I find the prospect of quiet inviting? Why? Why not?
-What is my experience of grace in coincidence?
-Where have I seen the "star of hope?"

*"A Time for Peace"-From the Big Red Chair, January 2, 2012

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