Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Walking The Labyrinth

As promised, I'll continue my post from yesterday about my New Year's experience at The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine convent.

Here is the program we followed:
Friday, December 31
9:00 am Registration, refreshments
10:00 am First Retreat Session: Celebrating the Past - A Blessed History
12:00 noon Eucharist followed by silent dinner
3:00 pm Second Retreat Session: Visioning the Future - Your New Year
5:00 pm Silent Supper
7:00 pm New Year's Eve Vigil
7:30 pm Third Retreat Session: Finding your symbol in the Labyrinth
9:00 pm New Year's Eve refreshments

Saturday, January 1
8 - 9:00 am Silent Breakfast
9:00 am Morning Prayer
10:00 am Final Retreat Session: Sharing the Light
11:30 am Eucharist followed by talking dinner
1:30 pm departures

General Retreat Rules:
- there is no obligation to participate in any of agenda items
- no cell phones, alcohol, drugs or smoking in the Guest House
- silence in all sleeping areas
- spirit of quiet throughout the building
- Talking in the Conference Room, sitting rooms (with door closed), or outdoors
- meals are silent except for New Year's Day dinner

The balance of silence and talking was perfect. I'd never participated in a silent meal before, and it is quite a unique experience. I found it forced me to eat more consciously. At the end of the meal one of the sisters rings a bell, as a signal that the meal is finished. Everyone stands and says a brief thanksgiving. It was just one of the many enlightenments I enjoyed.

One of the highlights for me was walking the Labyrinth on New Year's Eve. The convent has a beautiful, eleven sided, stone Labyrinth modeled after the labyrinth at Chartres. Each stone in the labybrinth was laid with prayer and the sacredness can be felt upon approach. Before we entered the labyrinth, C.J. (our retreat leader) gave us all some notes on how to use the labyrinth prayerfully, meditatively. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has no dead ends. There is one path into and out of the center. As you walk the path, you move closer to, and further away from the center. The center of the labyrinth can symbolize the goal of your life, God's heart, the center of the world - anything you want it to. Once you reach the center, you can stay there for as long as is needed. It is a place to focus, savour, release, connect with all of your senses, receive grace and enlightenment. The inward path and the outward path are opportunities of reflection. It is a personal journey. Some questions we were encouraged to ask ourselves as we made the journey included: What am I thankful for, what do I bring with me to the labybrinth, what am I leaving at the center, what am I taking away with me, what causes me to alter my path, is there a symbol that might represent this journey?

Despite the rain, almost everyone at the Retreat walked the Labyrinth. The following day, New Year's Day, we shared our experiences during the last session. The stories were profoundly moving. Some people created artwork that represented the symbol they received during their journey. Each piece of art and story was a gift of inspiration.

The opening of the New Year was kind and gentle to us all.

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