01 October 2014

A Few Notes on Retreat

[[ Hi Sister, are you home from retreat? Welcome home if you are! Did you have a good time? Can you share some details? I am one of those people who thought it was a little strange for hermits to go on retreat (or vacation like you've also written about) but I understood what you said about that last week. Are there really people who believe vocations can be forced on someone or that God wills it if it is unpleasant and even against what one feels in one's own deep heart? What kind of witness would it be if a person was always struggling to accept such a call. It must be even harder for someone to become a hermit that way! Like solitary confinement or something!!]]

First, yes, I am home from retreat. I and Aggie, the friend I drove down to Santa Barbara with, returned last evening. As part of that trip home Sister Susan (more about her in a bit) and I drove together from Santa Barbara to Santa Maria where the Sisters in her congregation retire. Susan works with these Sisters once a week as a provider of "spiritual support". Aggie  (who was not on retreat but visiting family in the SB and Santa Maria areas) met us there and, after leaving Sister Susan at the convent, we drove the rest of the way North together. We listened to an audio book on the way home from somewhere beyond Salinas or so and ended up laughing and laughing over some parts of it that we just found ridiculous. (It was meant to be an inspiring book and there were places where it was definitely so, but instead of just being a true story it mainly turned into a very long sermon by a physician playing theologian. If I dispensed medical advice the way this doc does theology she would be be righteously offended and I would be in prison for practicing medicine without a license or some kind of malpractice or something!) It did, however, make the long drive seem a lot shorter!

A Few Notes on Retreat

Retreat was good. Very rich in many ways.  Like all retreats it was not what I expected (of course it never is and I try generally --- and usually unsuccessfully --- not to have expectations); some parts of it were fruitful and prayerful in a straightforward way and some will take some time to process to see what God is doing with them in my life. One of the things I can say is that Jeremiah's quotation about God's plans for us was central during the entire retreat. I am sure you know the quote I mean: [[For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a HOPE and a future.]] Jer 29:11. It was important because of a conversation with my friend on the way to Santa Barbara as I related  a little more of my personal story from the years before I entered the Franciscans.

It was important as I met and got reacquainted with Fr Kenan Osborne, OFM, who had been one of my professors for an MA course in Grace back in the mid-70's, or as I met and even connected with several new people who are part of the parish at the mission. It was important as I got together again with Sister Susan Blomstad, OSF, who had been the Vicar for Religious and (mainly) Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Oakland when I first petitioned to become a diocesan hermit and who is now not only Franciscan to her bones, for which I really respect her, but someone I consider a good friend. (She is the source of John Shea's poem, After the End, which I quoted a while back.) Jer 29:11 was important in considering and processing some of the darker aspects of stuff that came up as part of this time away -- not as an intrusion upon retreat but as something which did not fit easily or obviously --- though I have no doubt it will continue to change and challenge me in some ways. Jeremiah's quote was even important to a lot of the laughing we did on the way back from SB while listening to the audio book -- which actually quoted it explicitly. In all of these events and more a recurring theme was a kind of looking back in light of where I have come to as well as a looking ahead to consider how I shall continue to live what I am called to; it allowed me to see all the more clearly what God has done with my life and what a magnificent weaver of coherent stories he is.

I arrived and began retreat late Tuesday afternoon. The more significant pieces of things are partly reflected in the blog pieces I did those first days so while I don't want to minimize those here, neither do I want to repeat them. To summarize briefly though, my days from @ 4:00am 'til about 8:00am were mainly the same as at home except for two days when I got to sleep quite late and rose (or at least awoke!) with the bells at 6:00am. The afternoons mainly involved quiet prayer, lectio and writing.  In the evenings I prayed Vespers, read different things, took walks around parts of the mission, prayed quietly in the stillness (the stars were incredible), and then prayed Compline. Mass was at 7:30am each day except Saturday and Sunday. Saturday Mass was at 7:00am at the Poor Clares monastery a short distance from the Mission.

The ability to spend time with both old and new friends was both a great blessing and part of the retreat's meaning for me. Most significantly, Sister Susan and I met Friday for lunch and ate at her place -- which meant I was able (after 30 years of knowing Sr Susan in one capacity and another!) to meet her 92 yo dad! Since Susan can REALLY cook (not like myself!), and since I really liked her Dad it was a great lunch. Mr Blomstad heard a few stories about his daughter's work with me for the diocese back in the 80's, some of the funnier aspects of trying to do something new in the Church when few people (including Vicars for Religious!) understand what that thing means, some other stories about Susan's time as Vicar and Director of Vocations, asked questions about dioceses and their attitudes (mainly resistance) toward professing hermits while we ate garlic soup (definitely an excellent new experience for me),chicken in a lemon and herb marinade, and veggies. For dessert we divided a SMALL (not quite minuscule) slice of apricot tart into three pieces (neither Bob (Mr Blomstad) nor I believed it possible, especially -- I thought -- not without a scalpel) and because of the richness of the tart these micro slices were really enough (though I will not presume to speak for Mr Blomstad in this)!!

Afterwards Susan showed me around Santa Barbara a little; we visited Ellison park where we walked, talked, and sat for a bit. (There is a powerful and evocative monument there and we visited that. It was done in honor of one Father's son who died from an addiction/overdose with figures both free and still freeing or assisting others to free themselves carved from a huge block of Italian marble; the figures are drawn from the marble to greater and greater degrees with one fully freed person at the top reaching down to others only more and less emergent from the uncarved stone. There was also a terrific little amphitheater shaded with Oaks, etc. --- a great place to sit and talk, swap stories, etc). In this way Susan shared places she came to pray and other significant parts of her life here while also giving me a chance to visit parts of Santa Barbara whose beauty and power I would never have seen otherwise. We took the scenic (indirect) route back to the Mission, and, the apricot tart now having worn off (remember, these were micro slices!), stopped for ice cream at McConnell's (there was another great story attached to Susan's decision to stop here) --- and I had  truly the biggest cone I have ever had (Salted caramel chip as in the picture below -- only in a waffle cone.

I saw Susan and her Dad again at Sunday liturgy --- the Mission is their parish church. It was a wonderful liturgy and the second reading from Philippians 2:1-11 -- Paul's hymn of praise to the self-emptying God revealed in an obedient Christ --- one of my favorite passages ---  was a real surprise. (I had looked at the Gospel parable the day before and thought a little about that, but I had not read the other readings.) The choir did a version of the Philippians text for their hymn during the preparation of the gifts which was both traditional sounding and a kind of edgy harmony in places. The composer was Lee Hoiby. I didn't know him, but it turns out that he was educated here in the Bay Area (Mills College) and then at Curtis; later (ironically for me) he became a sort of recluse who lived deep in the Catskills and spent his time composing. This hymn was one of the most beautiful pieces I have heard in some time --- especially in this context. (A version is included below, not the best audio but it was the only one I could find. This one has a more extended organ introduction, etc at the beginning than the version used by the Mission Choir on Sunday.)

In the afternoon we saw each other again and I was able to meet some of  Sr Susan's Mission friends at the annual parish picnic. (In case you are wondering about what happened to retreat, please understand that the ONLY food on Sunday apart from donuts after Mass or cold cereal and yogurt from the kitchen was the picnic food; the dining hall and kitchen was being used by the parish --- so of course, I just HAD to go, much as I hated to!) Anyway, I was back in my room by about 2:00 pm and the picnic (which included a bluegrass band!) went on for another hour. I made a cup of tea, opened my journal, and settled back in.

Your other questions will need to wait until another time, I'm afraid. I will put up a second post along with a third about community and diocesan hermits --- a set of questions I was asked just before I left for retreat and have yet to finish answering. Let me say here that your question about the kind of witness such a "hermit" (one forced to accept profession and/or consecration) would be is right at the heart of matters -- so, good questions.