First Mariandale Weekend: So you want to be a Contemplative

I attended my first retreat weekend as part of the Contemplative Formation Program from Friday evening, September 28th, to Sunday afternoon, September 30th. There were 20 of us plus five facilitators.

The schedule went as follows: Friday, check in at 5:00 pm, dinner with conversation at 6:00, presentation at 7:00 followed by small groups to discuss, closing prayer at about 9:00 followed by silence through the night. Saturday, we had optional group meditation at 7:00 am, optional morning prayer at 7:30, silent breakfast at 8:00, presentation and small groups at 9:00, silent lunch at 12:15 followed by silent personal/integration time until 3:15 when we had our afternoon presentation and small groups, more silent personal/integration time at 5:00, dinner with conversation at 6:00, evening presentation and small groups at 7:00 pm, followed by evening prayer and silence beginning about 9:30 through the night. Sunday, we had optional group meditation at 7:00 am, optional liturgy with eucharist at 7:30, silent breakfast at 8:00, morning gathering and small groups at 9:00, closing prayer at 11:45, lunch with conversation at noon, and then home.

So quite a bit of time spent in silence. I took part in everything except the 7:00 am meditation. Saturday I woke up too late, and Sunday I spent that time gazing at the Hudson river. In fact any free time during the day I spent gazing at the Hudson.
 My overall impression was, "Wow, this is going to be wonderful, potentially life-changing." The facilitators and the participants all seemed wonderful. Everyone was incredibly honest, thoughtful, supportive, and insightful. Any doubts I might have had were chased away by the feeling that we were all there, imperfect, trying to find our way, and willing to pray for and help everyone else in any way we could. The periods of silence felt a little awkward at first, but at the end I said to one of the others, "I kind of want to hold on to the silence for as long as I can," and he said, "Me, too."

In our sharing sessions, I never knew what was going to come up when I began talking. Once I was close to tears as I remembered a very difficult time when Mary was in the hospital and our cat Ray was suffering from kidney failure. At another session, I remembered an encounter from a couple of years ago that I hadn't thought about for a long time. One of the lessons for me is that you never know where God is going to lead you, you never even really know if She's paying attention, but you know She loves you and is with you all the time, and you trust in that.

Extra bonuses, the food is very good (particularly the fresh salad ingredients and the desserts), and two of the people in the program are Marist brothers who live in the Bronx, about two blocks from me. One of them gave me a ride home, cutting about 60% off of my commuting time! And I only found out that he was from my neighborhood when I had lunch with him on the final day.

My final group session was with just the men in the program, and the facilitator said that this would be the case for every weekend, because "men's spirituality is different from women's." I don't think I agree with that, but I've got no problem meeting in an all men's group once a weekend. Any thoughts on how men's spirituality would be different from women's spirituality?

I also realized by the end of the week that the program's goal is to help me become a "Contemplative," which despite the name of the program was a surprise to me. I hoped to deepen my personal spirituality, but I didn't think my purpose was to become a Contemplative (kind of a Mystic, second class), per se. But now that I think of it, I'm okay with that, in fact I'm excited about that. This is such a wonderful opportunity! Thank you, Sr. Maureen, for recommending this to me!
I'm ending with a picture of this little statue I found near the Sisters' graveyard. I'm not quite sure who she is, but I was immediately fond of her. Sometimes you can just enjoy the mystery.

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