Tag Archives: retreat

Becoming an elder

For Christmas, a friend got me a subscription to a magazine on spirituality. I was enjoying the articles in the first issue, on topics from resilience, joy, domestication and healthy hips.

And then I got to the retreat section, featuring spas and meditation centers in places like Costa Rica and Mexico. I skipped those pages since they are unlikely destinations and went to the more-possible selection of sites in the States. Then I landed on one called modern elder academy, and I thought, this is for me, seeing as how I am an elder (71 years old) and I am reinventing myself (modern?).

But it seems that in modern parlance, I am probably more of an ancient because this retreat is geared for elders who are in their forties. You read that right—forties!

When did forty-year-olds become elders?

Has life expectancy dropped precipitously?

I was confused.

I thought we were in a period of having the most centenarians in history. If forty-year-olds are elders, what is someone who have lived more than one hundred years?

elder-wisdom-vulnerability

Then I remembered back to the late nineties (when I was in my forties) and my first essay was published. I started getting emails asked me to become resident expert from a variety of e-journals and blog sites. At first, I ignored them because I didn’t understand why I was getting them. Expert? What could possibly qualify me as expert?

But the requests kept coming, so I finally responded to one and was told that since I published an essay on forgiveness, I qualified as an expert. One essay? An expert? I don’t think so.

elder-wisdom-vulnerability

A few years after that, I started working with post-college graduates and realized that in the thirty years since I was twenty, a lot had changed. These young people said things like, “I have been doing (insert activity) for years.” “You are only twenty-something,” I would reply. “How many years can it be?” The answer was usually “two” or “three.”

At the time, I was also teaching knitting to mostly twenty-somethings who were going on two-year overseas service assignments, and during one of my knitting classes, one woman asked if I had been knitting for long. “Not too long,” I said. “Maybe ten years.”

“Ten years!” she exclaimed. “That’s almost half my life. That’s very long.” Perspective, I thought.

Then there was the young man who had meditated for fifteen minutes a day for thirty days and raved about how meditation has changed his life. “That is a good start,” I said, and then added, “Come talk to me when you have been meditating fifteen minutes a day for fifteen years.”

Those are now the people who are hitting their forties, and given their confidence in their twenties, I can see that at forty, they might consider themselves full of wisdom—like elders.

Me? I finally accepted my expert status when I was in my sixties and am just now settling into my status as an elder, at seventy-one.

Mother Teresa speaks to me

Mother Teresa has been speaking to me recently. Not directly, of course, but through a daily reflection book I have been reading this year, Do Something Beautiful for God.

Sometimes, they are pithy sayings like the entry for October 19:

Life is an adventure; dare it.

I, too, believe that life is an adventure, and I am doing my best to dare it, by taking risks, traveling, saying yes to opportunities. I am doing things I love and enjoying life. I wonder, though, if that is what Mother Teresa meant. Her life seemed totally devoted to service, so when she says adventure, what does she mean?

Last month, I participated in two opportunities to serve meals at two churches in the city, and I was reminded of the importance of direct contact with people who live closer to the edge than I do. Most of the volunteer work I do now is organizational (boards and committees), so cooking and serving meals felt like an invitation to return to the kind of service I used to do. A different kind of adventure.

Other times, Mother Teresa’s words seem to be inviting me to a movement in prayer. The entry for October 14: Every moment of prayer, especially before our Lord in the tabernacle, is a sure, positive gain. The time we spend each day sitting with God is the most precious part of the whole day.

This one spoke to me on several levels. First, I don’t tend to spend time before our Lord in the tabernacle, perhaps because it was not part of my religious upbringing and because I have to go someplace to find a tabernacle. I pray in the morning at home, but I know that when I have prayed in chapel (on retreat mostly), I have found it peaceful. When I read this reflection, I wondered why I don’t go to chapel more often.

That led me to reflect on my time in prayer every morning and if it is the most precious part of the whole day. I know that when I am on retreat, spending a whole week in silence and focused on God 24/7, my prayer seems to be deeper and more precious.  Perhaps the invitation is to be more attentive to God throughout the day—on retreat or not.

The entry for October 16: If you were to die today, what would others say about you? What was in you that was beautiful, that was Christlike, that helped others to pray better? Face yourself, with Jesus at our side, and do not be satisfied with just any answer. Go deep into the question. Examine your life.

When I left Pennsylvania nine years ago—after having lived there for twenty-eight years—friends had a going-away party for me and one after another, people said all kinds of wonderful things about me. My friend Ted said it was like being at my own wake, and I still smile when I recall that party. One thing that stood out to me was how many people thanked me for doing some small thing that I did not even remember doing—a kind word or some small favor that meant little to me but had a big impact on them.

That reminded me of Mother Teresa’s saying: Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

What I want

Last week Rachel Mankowitz wrote about hearing and trusting her internal voices speaking of what she does and does not want to do. I resonated.

I learned early on (probably before I was five) that what I wanted or did not want mattered little. I did what I was told—whether I wanted to or not—and rarely got anything I wanted, so I learned to stop wanting.

The depth of the disconnect was made clear to me when I was twelve years old and had my tonsils removed. On the way home from the hospital, my mother stopped at the grocery store and said I could pick one thing I wanted. I had no idea what I wanted and was overwhelmed by having to pick something. I remember standing in the store paralyzed by indecision. What did I want? No idea.

So, I picked something practical, something I thought my mother would like—dill pickles.  

God-trust-affirmation

I have spent a lot of my life doing things other people wanted me to do—out of guilt or not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings or some other version of making other people happy—while ignoring my own desires.

Therapy in my early thirties started a process of discovery, and by my late thirties, I began to identify some things I wanted.

I took my first real vacation, a windjammer cruise, when I was thirty-seven. It was thrilling to realize that I knew what I wanted and that I could make it happen.

At the end of a retreat in my early forties, I read Coming Down the Mountain by Thomas Hart, and I have kept a “cheat sheet” of questions from that book that I refer to regularly.

God-trust-affirmation

These questions have helped me gain clarity, and after years of asking them, I am much better at knowing what I want.

But I can still fall into the old patterns.

When I turned fifty, I made a “travel wish list” of places I wanted to visit over the next decade. Other than the Holy Land, my destinations were in the U.S. or Europe. Included at the end of that list was a thirty-day retreat, something my friend Jim had done, and he thought it would be good for me to do. I put it on the list more as a reminder because I could not foresee a time in my fifties when I would have the money and time to do it.

My sixties’ travel list included the retreat, along with the Holy Land and some of the European counties I had not managed to visit, but my sixties were full of upheaval, and I did not do much traveling. So my seventies’ list closely resembles the sixties’ list, including the retreat.

Now, I am in a place where I can do the thirty-day retreat, and so I signed up. I told my spiritual director, expecting her to be thrilled, but instead, she asked why I wanted to do a thirty-day. “Because Jim thought I should,” was my first response, and even I could hear how lame that sounded.

She suggested I pray about the retreat and ask God for clarity. So, I prayed, and I got clarity.

I realized that I feel passionate about European travel. I am energized by my volunteer work (especially supporting survivors of sexual assault) and the consulting work I am doing. I am excited about the Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and have clarity around how I want to use what I have learned (mainly in helping people process the experience of pilgrimage or mission trips). I am also drawn to officiating at weddings and funerals.

Where is the retreat in all that? I am indifferent.

Discernment is a big part of Ignatian Spirituality and following the process has helped me gain clarity about where God is calling me, and what I want to do.

God-trust-affirmation

A poem on retreat

One of the requirements of the Internship in Ignatian Spirituality is a silent retreat (at least five days). I have gone on silent retreats for more than thirty years, but several of the people in the program had not. Last year, one of them, Amy, happened to sign up for retreat the same time as I was going to be there, so I offered to meet her before we entered the silence and give her an orientation to the retreat house, the grounds and the neighborhood (for walks). Amy returned to Manresa Retreat House for retreat this year and sent me this poem she composed while on retreat, which she dedicated to me. I am so touched and honored.

Summer Solstice Psalm

For Madeline who introduced me to Quarton Lake

All creatures of our God and King,

Lift up your voice and with us sing.

Alleluia, Alleluia.

 (William Henry Draper with inspiration from St Francis)

May you open your self to the light like the lily that blooms in muddy water.

(a gem from my yogi friend, Sharon)

Light beams.

Geese swim.

Robins sing.

Fish flop.

Wood ducks lift

and land

and flap.

Herons stalk

and jab

and fly

with wide wings

oh so low.

Cottonwood fibers sail past on the breeze.

Metallic blue fireflies mate in midair.

A painted turtle soaks up the sun.

Walkers chat on a gravel path and side step               the geese.

In the surrounding neighborhood,

homeowners weed

landscapers mow

and earth movers dig.

Drills whirl.

Saws spin.

Roofers pound.

Huge houses emerge.

Down at the water’s edge, a pilgrim rests.

She spies a tiny black insect on a white petal.

Consider this lily

that bobs on the water

with the deep joy

that nudges our hips to sway

when we hum spirituals.

Amy Fryar Kennedy

June 21, 2022

Leaving my losses at the foot of the cross

Jesus-sorrows-healing

In the early 1980’s. while working at University Lutheran Church at the University of Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to go on a Palm Sunday weekend retreat with the Taize brothers from Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. I felt privileged to be among this group of pilgrims preparing for Holy Week. The retreat house was in rural Maryland, and signs of spring were all around us.

The small chapel where the brothers led us in Taize prayer services was dominated by a large wooden cross, and we were invited to meditate on the cross.

I remember sitting in front of the cross on Saturday afternoon and imagining the scene on the day Jesus died. I imagined Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalen (my patron saint) at the foot of the cross, overcome with sorrow, crying out in anguish. In my imagination, I joined them at the foot of the cross and looked up at the dying Jesus. I gasped at the sight of Jesus in agony.

As I sat with Mary and Mary Magdalen, I joined in their questioning the scene before them. Poor Mary, recalling the prophesy of Simeon that her heart would be pierced. How right he had been!

Poor Mary Magdalen, losing the only man she truly loved, the man who had given her hope and loved her into wholeness.

How could this be? Where was God in all this? How could God abandon Jesus and us?

Even though Jesus had suggested bad things would happen in Jerusalem, we had no idea he meant this bad. I wondered how I had missed the signs, how I had misinterpreted what Jesus had been saying. How blind I had been, how comfortable in my denial.

As we watched Jesus dying and heard him cry out to God in his abandonment, my heart broke, and I wept along with Mary and Mary Magdalen.

Tears streamed down my face as I thought of the losses in my own life, of times when things did not go as I had hoped, of unmet expectations and crushed dreams. I joined Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalen in the depths of despair. I questioned God’s love and care for me.

And then, one of the Taize brothers approached me and gently invited me to lay my burdens at the foot of the cross. “Lay them down,” he said, “and walk away.” He told me to trust that Jesus would take up whatever was weighing me down.

What? Just let go of the hurts I had been carrying around for so long? Let go of those losses that had shaped me? Those painful events that I had survived and carried as a badge of honor?

The brother sensed my hesitancy, my resistance, and reminded me of the resurrection. God did come through. God is faithful.

By the time we left that retreat house on Sunday afternoon, I felt ready to enter Holy Week, believing that God’s love would transform my sorrow into resurrection joy.

Originally published in Manresa Matters, Spring 2022.

On a journey

I signed up for Ignite the Fire, a five-week, virtual program presented by a Martina and Pat Sheehan who live in Cork, Ireland, and who facilitate retreats and offer spiritual direction. Two years ago in May, I was supposed to go on retreat in Wales with Martina, but Covid happened, and my retreat did not—at least not in person. Martina and Pat have offered several on-line retreats since then, and I have appreciated their offerings.

In the first session, we heard about two Irish saints whose feast days had just been celebrated—St. Brigid (February 1) and St. Gobnait (February 11). (I imagine St. Gobnait may be a new name for some of you; I only learned of her a few years ago.) Both Brigid and Gobnait were seekers, which was a theme for the first session.

We were invited to ponder the quote “anything is possible” (Luke 1:37), and Martina talked about being a pilgrim, embarking on a journey and seeking places of resurrection.

Most any talk of a journey resonates with me (which is why my blog is called On a journey).

Since leaving my job last summer, I feel like I am back in pilgrim mode, seeking and trying to be open to what comes my way.

After seven years in the same job, I am exploring options for using my experience, skills and talent in some way other than a job at one organization. I am exploring various avenues (e.g., non-profit consulting, spiritual direction, officiating at weddings and funerals) and trying to keep an open mind when opportunities are presented (e.g., the man who called me the other day and asked if I would be interested in being a project manager at his company, which is something I have never done before).

In the first session of Ignite the Fire, we also talked about some basic dispositions toward life and were asked to pick one as a journaling prompt. These included:

•           Living with uncertainty

•           Seeing setbacks as opportunities

•           Letting go of trying to control the uncontrollable

•           Practicing altruism.

A memory came to me of a talk about managing stress. The speaker talked about a crisis being both a danger and an opportunity. Since that memory came to me, I selected seeing setbacks as opportunities as my journaling prompt.

Setbacks have been part of my life journey as far back as I can remember. Learning to see the opportunities in those setbacks took me a while to develop, but once I came to fully believe that every curse has a blessing, I handle setbacks with a little more ease. I don’t look forward to them, but I am not completely thrown by them as I once might have been. I can still be disappointed, but not devastated.

We are nearing the start of Lent, which is also a journey toward resurrection, a pilgrimage, and I am looking at Ignite the Fire as a way to help me be more aware of where God is calling me.

Pilgrimage-God-Lent
Some day, after mastering the winds,
The waves, the tides and gravity,
We will harness for God the energies of love.
And then, for the second time,
Humankind will have discovered fire.
(Pierre Teilhard De Chardin)

Called by name

Jesus calls the twelve (Mark 3:13-19), and he gives three of them nicknames: Simon, he calls Peter (the Rock), and James and John, the sons of Boanerges (thunder). How playful, I thought, and how descriptive. What did he see in them that prompted those nicknames?

I imagine Jesus saw something in Peter that seemed steadfast and unmovable (like a rock), but Peter faltered on more than one occasion. He had flimsy filters and blurted out things that caused Jesus to say, “Get behind me, Satan” and call him a “stumbling block” (Matthew 16:23). Ouch.

In the end, Peter denied knowing Jesus and fled the scene as Jesus died. Not very steadfast.

James and John must have been wild and high-spirited or just plain loud to be called “sons of thunder.” I wonder if their chests expanded when Jesus nicknamed them—proud to be seen as raucous—or if there was an edge to the nickname, a hint they may need to tone it down. That is the thing about nicknames—they can be taken in different ways.

What nickname would Jesus have given me, I wondered.

Fr. Shawn Tracey, O.S.A., once introduced me for a retreat talk, comparing me to the dark clouds swirling around the October sky. Just as he made this comparison, the sun shone through, and he added this to his description—how I could light up a room.

God-Jesus-name

Fr. Tracey knew me well. He knew my dark moods and my stubbornness. He also knew my passion, my love of laughter and my desire to grow.

Would Jesus also consider those characteristics in coming up with a nickname for me?

As I prayed with this reading, wondering what nickname Jesus would have given me, I remembered the Baptism ceremony and how parents are asked, “What name do you give this child?”

My mother had chosen Marlene for her first-born daughter, but my aunt beat her to it and so I became Madeline (Magdalena in Polish), and I have always felt connected to Mary Magdalene (my confirmation name is Mary). She has inspired me by her love of Jesus and her dedication to him. I wonder if Jesus had a nickname for her.

Growing up, I was sometimes called Magda by family, and in my twenties, I was known by a shortened version of my name—Mad. I used to wonder if that was a nickname or just a descriptor, because I was quite angry in my twenties. At some point, though, people started calling me Madeline, and I remember thinking I must not be so mad anymore.

A few people called me Boss, when I was their boss, but I have never had a nickname the way Simon, James and John did, something they were always called.

I think Jesus could have called me Rocky or Thunder, because I am loyal/steadfast and can be quite loud, but might something else also work?

Do you have a nickname? Have you ever wondered what nickname Jesus would give you?

Speaking of miracles

One year on my annual silent retreat, I shared with my spiritual director a memory that surfaced during my prayer time. He suggested that memories often hold invitations for some new insight or understanding, and he encouraged me to spend some time with the memory to see if I could learn something new.

Since then, I have tried to pay closer attention as memories surface. I often write to the person in the memory—even just a note to say, “I am thinking of you”—and I try to keep the memory present to see if it is offering some insight or invitation.

Over the years, I have come to see a similar invitation when random conversations or events happen more than once in a short period of time. This past week was such a week—three times, I found myself talking about miracles.

I believe miracles happen, but I don’t often think about them or talk about them. Yet, three times in one week…I decided I needed to pay attention.

While pondering these conversations about miracles, a woman I once lived with came to mind.

Her name is Catherine, and we lived in a housing coop designed to bring together people who have developmental disabilities with those who don’t. Catherine was in her thirties, and she relied on others to meet her basic needs. She lived on the first floor of a large house with a couple who saw to her daily needs, and I lived in an upstairs apartment.

A year or so after I had moved out of Catherine’s house (and to another state), I attended a healing service at a local church. I wasn’t looking for healing for myself but went more to support the person who had organized this event.

During the service, we were all invited to come forward to be prayed over. The presider said that even if we were unaware of where we might need healing, we were welcome to come forward. Or, he said, we could call to mind someone else who needed healing and think of that person as we were prayed over.

Just then, Catherine came to mind. I hadn’t been in touch for months, so I did not know if she was actually sick, but I walked forward thinking of her.

A few months after that prayer service, I was talking with Catherine’s mom, and she told me Catherine had been in hospital for an extended period and no treatment seemed to be helping her get better; they believed she was going to die. And then, miraculously, she said, Catherine got better.

I remembered the healing service from a few months earlier and asked when this had been.

Catherine’s mom remembered the exact date because the change in Catherine’s condition occurred in an instant—it was the same time I was thinking of Catherine and being prayed over.

I don’t know why these conversations about miracles occurred, but I am grateful for the reminder that miracles do happen.

The best is yet to come

My life has been turned a bit upside down recently by my mother’s death and my leaving the job I have had for the past seven years. Two big losses at the same time and lots of empty space in front of me.

No more dinners with my mother or shopping for her or calling or stopping by to check in.

And no more work emails or office to go to or meetings to attend.

I have to admit that it is a bit scary to stand in front of this vast empty canvas without the commitments that have structured my life for the past years. And yet…

God-vulnerability-transition

I have decided to view the coming year as a sabbatical, a time to pause after thirty-five years of working in nonprofit management, to reflect on and say goodbye to what has been, and to prepare for what is to come.

Almost as soon as I made that decision, two retreat opportunities presented themselves—one is focused on discernment for people in transition and the other is for writers. I had not been looking for either one, but both seem opportune, and I signed up for them. One is virtual, and the other is in Texas—my first flight since the pandemic lockdown in March 2020.

As a child, I had no idea what I might be when I grew up—no passionate hopes or dreams to be this or that. As an adult, I tended to fall into jobs more than selecting them with a goal in mind.

So here I am in the third third of my life, still deciding what I want to be when I grow up. Only now, I have lots of experience and a pretty good idea of my gifts and talents.

And that knowledge and awareness energizes me—standing on the precipice of the next chapter in my life is thrilling.

My friend Jim used to say, “The best is yet to come.” I am in total agreement, and I am looking forward to what the next chapter of my life holds.

God-vulnerability-transition

On retreat–I had hoped

On the sixth day of my retreat, my spiritual director suggested I pray with Luke 24:13-35, the Road to Emmaus. The story is that two disciples are walking to Emmaus from Jerusalem after the crucifixion. They are sad and disappointed.

Then Jesus is walking along with them, but they don’t recognize him. He asks what they are talking about, and they relate what has happened in Jerusalem and what happened to Jesus. “We had hoped…” (Luke 24:21) they said.

Those three words jumped off the page at me, and I repeated them a few times. “We had hoped.” Then I personalized it to, “I had hoped.”

What had I hoped?

I had hoped…

  • To be loved, cherished, valued and respected;
  • To stop the negative messages in my head;
  • To go to college after high school;
  • To visit Poland again;
  • To live in l’Arche for the rest of my life;
  • To reconcile with a friend from Winnipeg, and on and on.

It turns out I had a fair number of dashed hopes. Like the disciples who were feeling let down, I also had hoped and been disappointed.

After a few hours of creating a list of my unfulfilled hopes, I went back to my Bible and finished reading the Road to Emmaus story in Luke.

Jesus says to these two disciples, “How foolish you are and how slow to believe…” and then he explains what happened to him from a different perspective; he reframed the situation.

What Jesus says to these two disciples on the road to Emmaus is that their hopes and their vision were too narrow, too small. The resurrection was bigger than anything they could have imagined or hoped.

Jesus says the same thing to me, too—my vision is to narrow, my hopes are too small, and what I need to do is broaden my vision, to get a different perspective. I need to think big thoughts, to focus on God’s abundance and to remember all the good things that have happened to me.

I thought back to the litany of blessings I had done a few days earlier and how I call myself “the luckiest girl in the world.” It is true that I have had unrealized hopes and dreams; it is also true that I have had opportunities beyond my wildest hopes or dreams.

God’s vision for me is much bigger than I could ever hope or imagine.