Retreat

To retreat.  The online dictionary first definition of “retreat” is in military terms:  to withdraw from an enemy force as a result of superior power.  While I’m not aware of “an enemy force” let alone “superior power,” I am going to withdraw from my day to day life for about a week.   I’ll be staying at a Benedictine Monastery in Northwest Missouri.  As there is no separate retreat house, I’ll be staying on the Monastery grounds as a friend of the Community.  I’m looking forward to participating in the rhythm of prayer throughout the day:  chanting psalms, singing hymns, and sharing quiet reflection. I also look forward to long walks on the spacious grounds of the monastery.  It’s a beautiful place of solitude in the rolling farmland.

One of my Buddhist friends asked if this would be a silent retreat.  I understood her frame of reference, but this will be far from a silent retreat.  I’ll join in meals and visit with the women who have dedicated their lives to following the monastic tradition of Benedict the Great.  He’s known as the father of Western Christian monasticism.  Benedict understood the life of a monk to be a balance of work and prayer.  As I visit with the members of this monastery, I’m sure that the common topics of conversation will be the spiritual life and what that means to live with reverence in this era of turmoil throughout the world.

Rather than being like a Buddhist silent retreat, I think my time will be more like my understanding of the observance of Jewish Sabbath.  A few years ago, I spoke with one of my students about her Sabbath observance.  She attended a couple of courses I taught on research in psychology which were scheduled from a Thursday to a Sunday.  Because of her religious practice as an Orthodox Jew, she could not attend the Saturday sessions.  I asked if she just stayed in the hotel room.  She explained that her mother traveled with her to the conference location.  After class Friday, they drove to an area where they knew there was an Orthodox community and stayed there. They attended Shabbat service and were invited to join another family for dinner.  Saturday, they stayed where they lodged and visited with each other, talked and prayed.  She told me that she was thankful for the Sabbath rest, the time for prayer and sharing with her mother, and, most of all, time to be thankful.  She explained that Sabbath for her was a time to be thankful for life. She went on to explain that life is the most precious gift we have.

As I think of my own time of retreat, perhaps it’s best to think of this as a week of Sabbath rest.  It’s a time for prayer and contemplation, for reflective conversations, and most importantly, a time for gratitude.  In the midst of daily responsibilities, it’s easy to forget to just be thankful for each moment of our lives.  Yet, our lives are the most precious gift we have received. Truly, just to be alive is something for which we can all give thanks.

(Photo:  Monastery of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adora, Clyde, Missouri.  http://benedictinesisters.org/)

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Change, Impermanence, and Living in the Present

It’s one of the best memories from that time in my life.  It was a routine that was simple, refreshing, and renewing.  In the evening, I’d walk Lincoln Road.  Some shops along the way were vacant. Others were newly remodeled.  Passers-by walked dogs; others skated by on roller-blades; a few were on bicycles. But there weren’t many people along the way.

I made my usual stop at the coffee shop called Gertrude’s.   It was named after Gertrude Stein.  I’d enjoy a cold beverage and sometimes a desert at a table on the side walk. I could feel the ocean breeze and breathe the heavy humid air.  It was the end of the day and time to relax.  As I was a regular fixture many evenings at Gertrude’s, people would stop, say hello, and chat a bit.  It was my spot.

I recently read a friend’s memoir.  She wrote of her childhood along this very same Lincoln Road.  She recounted similar warm feelings about the place.  But Gertrude’s wouldn’t have been part of her experience, nor young people on roller blades.  Her time along Lincoln Road was from an era perhaps forty years earlier than my own.  Lincoln Road as I knew it?  That wasn’t her experience.

Today, Lincoln Road is barely recognizable to me.  Gone are Gertrude’s, the card store, the book shop, and the other places I frequented.  They’ve been replaced by chain retailers.  Instead of a casual pace, dog walkers, and roller bladers, it’s now a fashionable neighborhood with different social mores’.

I’m writing about Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.  I lived in the area during the 1990’s.  My memories of evenings at Gertrude’s are from about twenty-five years ago.  Their recollection brings me a sense of warmth and happiness.  At times when I’m tired or stressed, I’d like to go back to those evenings.  I image walking Lincoln Road and the happy-go-lucky feelings I had there.  But it’s just a memory.  Lincoln Road remains, but it’s all changed.  Similarly, my recollection of Lincoln Road is far different from my friend’s childhood memories of the same place.  Both sets of memories are nothing like the Lincoln Road of today.

We know that things change.  Not only do places, styles, and ways of doing things change, we also each change, grow, and evolve.  Places change, are developed, and redeveloped. All this change, well … Buddhists call it impermanence.  Something about the word “impermanence” makes it seem noble to me. But my own experience doesn’t feel particularly noble. Instead, it’s as though something special has been lost.

Change is one of the most difficult aspects of life.  Most people have memories of times of happiness, contentment, or fulfillment.  Of course, like wine, with aging, these memories become richer and have a greater depth of flavor.  Our present situation just doesn’t seem as rich as times past. As we remember past events, it seems as though life was somehow better.  But there’s no going back to what was.  What was is gone and remains as a set of memories.  Those times and experiences are no more.

As for going forward?  We don’t know what to expect from the future.  Will it be good or bad, happy or sad, carefree or stressful?  There are no guarantees.  This makes change, life’s evolution and our growth, difficult for us.  We’d rather not change but stay with what’s comfortable and safe for us.

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to savor memories of times and places marked by happiness and other good feelings.  Such memories enrich our lives.  The problem is that when we become so focused on the memories, we fail to live fully in the present.

What made the evening walks along Lincoln Road such a special memory for me was that I was present to what I experienced.  In my memory, I can feel the ocean breeze and the heaviness of the humidity.  I remember people’s faces and even snippets of conversations.  I am able to remember those details because I was present in the moment and experienced it deeply.

Rather than being caught up in memories of the past, we are challenged to live in the present which we are now experiencing.  Recognizing that life is marked by impermanence, we can simply recollect and enjoy our remembrance of past events while living fully in the present. When we live in the present, fully aware, life’s changes aren’t a stumbling block to us.  By being in the moment as it occurs, we draw into us the awareness of life — and of living fully.  The experience of life changes moment to moment and becomes the natural flow of our lives.  We can savor it and find that the present is indeed very good. Perhaps it’s even better than the things we remember because the present is now.  It is alive with possibility.

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Prophetic Faith: The Spirit of Social Justice Today

We are living in a time of political discord.  This is true in many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and throughout the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.  To say that there are large segments of people in many countries who are dissatisfied with their political leaders is an understatement. In addition, the number of refugees in the world is greater than it’s ever been in recorded history. Rates of poverty are high, with more homeless people in developed countries than ever before.  At the same time, levels of wealth among the super-rich are beyond the conception of most people who are just struggling to get by.

Political and economic struggles are not new even though they appear to be extremely pronounced today.  There have been prophetic individuals who have called out the dynamics of economic and social oppression for exactly what they are.  One of these prophets was a man I met in my youth:  Dom Helder Camara, a Roman Catholic Archbishop of Recife in Brazil.  He visited my college. I was invited to be part of a small group who visited with him over lunch.  He was a quiet man with a penetrating gaze and piercing focus.  Working among the poor in Brazil, he is famously said:  “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

As many countries take steps to limit immigration, turn their backs on refugees, reduce spending on social programs, and stand by while millions of people suffer due to food insecurity,  there is a general societal expectation that churches and other communities of faith will help those in need through food banks and homeless shelters.  Indeed, communities of faith have a responsibility to provide tangible care. But more than tangible care, people of the Judeo-Christian tradition have a Biblical mandate to speak truth to power and advocate for the needs of those who suffer because of society’s injustice.

Throughout the pages of scripture, the Hebrew prophets routinely questioned the status quo and to name the ways the rights of people were being denied in society, including the rights of the poor, and of women, children, and immigrants.  The prophet Micah (chapter 3) accused the wealthy of “eating the flesh of the people.” Isaiah (chapter 3) charges that “the spoil of the poor” is in the homes of the wealthy. Ezekiel (chapter 18) exhorts those in power to behave honestly, generously, and respectfully.  The plea of Amos (chapter 5) draws our attention even today: Let justice roll like a river.  Yes, there is great injustice and immense suffering caused by governments and corporations.

While many people of faith see the need for societal and political change, knowing how to respond seems to elude most churches and religious communities.  We are more comfortable with the saintly actions of feeding the poor than the kind of advocacy which questions why the hungry have no food in the first place.

A  good friend and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Trish Greeves recently published an inspired workbook for congregations:  Prophetic Faith: Exploring Social Justice Advocacy as a Congregation.  In her work, the Rev. Greeves outlines a seven session process through which a local church or faith community can come to a greater understanding of the work of social justice advocacy.  This adult study begins by exploring private faith versus public practice and moves toward ways to increase public witness to the prophetic aspects of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  While written with specific references to the United States, Prophetic Faith is easily adapted to international settings.

It is a challenge for faith communities to learn to step into the public sphere and to name the clear injustice committed today by politicians and many corporations. Greeves’ Prophetic Faith provides an accessible process through which congregations can realize the importance of social justice advocacy in public settings as a foundational response to faith.  It is without reservation that I recommend Prophetic Faith to you as a critical resource in responding to the times in which we live. As people of faith, we are challenged to be like Dom Helder Camara and question why it is that policies keep people in poverty and want and marginalize them to the fringes of society.

Prophetic Faith by Dr. Trish Greeves is available at: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_15?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=prophetic+faith+trish+greeves&sprefix=prophetic+faith%2Caps%2C144&crid=J6VY22454V8L

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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