Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Weekend as a Nun

Not really. If anything, this weekend confirmed that I will not become a nun anytime soon. But I did have a great time. What did I do? I went on a spiritual retreat at Villa de Matel. Specifically it was a Centering Prayer retreat. 24 hours of silence, solitude, prayer, and no contact with the outside world (no iPhone...the horror). 

Why did I do this? Well, to be honest, normally when I think of "retreating", I think of the Hilton in downtown Houston. In the past month I was beginning to fantasize about booking the Hilton for a night and just getting away from all the stresses in my life and having a couple of days of peace and relaxation. The only problem was the Hilton is over $100 a night and spending that kind of money would have been the opposite of relaxing. At the time I happened to be reading a book about prayer; in one chapter the author detailed the many kinds of prayer and she mentioned spending time at a monastery/convent. So then I started researching convents in the Houston area. And by "research", I mean I started talking to any and everyone about it. Eventually my friend Paula told me about Villa de Matel, I looked at their website, inquired about this centering prayer weekend, signed up, and here we are. 
These are the kind of stresses I'm talking about. 

Wait, that doesn't really answer "why"....it answers more "how". Hmm, why...? I did want to get away from everything, but it kind of became more than that. I did not really know what centering prayer was before signing up for this retreat. One of my coworkers gave me this book to read before the retreat. I highly recommend it, if you are interested in centering prayer (or spirituality at all). 

I believe God led me to learn more about centering prayer. About a month ago I wrote a post about the raw, which I now am understanding to be a higher level of consciousness with God. That probably sounds weird. In short (and this is definitely not adequate), I believe God exists on a higher level (of consciousness) than we do and I believe that where God resides is reality. We live in a shadow of reality, a form of it, but absolute truth, beauty, and peace are where the fullness of God's presence resides. Prayer is one way that we connect with God. The things of this world (food, entertainment, etc.) distract us from connecting with God through prayer and centering prayer is a conscious way to open yourself up to communion with God. 

Anyhow, I was there from Friday evening to Saturday evening. The facilities were really nice; I had my own little dorm room. There was one group session Friday night and three group sessions on Saturday and they fed us 3 meals and other than that we had free time to explore the grounds and commune with God in our own ways. They say silence is God's first language, so he spent a lot of time talking this weekend. My favorite spots were the porches with the rocking chairs, looking out at this giant magnolia tree. I also enjoyed the grotto, some gravel walking paths, and the chapel. 

We were not supposed to have our phones with us, but I didn't want to leave mine in the hot car. So, I put it on airplane mode and only took a few pictures in my dorm room. Normally, I wouldn't mind breaking the rules to snap a few pictures outside of my room, but it just didn't feel right. I actually enjoyed the freedom of not having my phone permanently glued to my hand. 

I also enjoyed the freedom of not being allowed to talk. It was am introvert's dream come true. I actually really enjoy talking to other people, but I did realize how much freedom I experienced in not feeling the need to be polite, make conversation, fill up awkward silences, etc. Also in not having to "make friends" with the new people I was meeting. I experienced relaxation at a deeper level than I have in a long time. There was no pressure whatsoever. I could sit in silence and peace, without feeling the need to be social...or sweep the floor...or read a book. Surprisingly, I also felt a deep sort of kinship with my fellow retreat participants. All we knew about each other was that we were all on a spiritual retreat, but that was enough. We're all human and we're all seeking God in some way. That's a more meaningful bond than realizing we've both read The Hunger Games series. 

I will leave you with some pictures and a small story. Saturday afternoon, I was sitting in the grotto and it was very warm outside. Suddenly a little lizard climbed onto the rock wall I was sitting in front of. The lizard was very dark brown in color and I was watching him just because I thought he was kind of cute. As I sat watching him I began to see a bright green spot in the center of his body. At first I thought I was imagining it, but over the course of the next 2 minutes the lizard changed from dark brown to bright green. I know lizards do stuff like that, but I had never seen it happen so quickly and dramatically in real life. As I marveled at the lizard's color change, I believe God communicated to me this phrase, "See Melanie, things that you don't expect to change, can change right in front of your eyes". Even though it is obviously not true, I often become bogged down in life with the thought that things will never change. So that little color-changing lizard was very encouraging. In a vague way. Which is so God. He really seems to get a thrill our of mystery. 
This Bible from the 70's made me feel a connection with my mom and a time in her life when she was growing spiritually

The view from my dorm room, on the 3rd floor. 

My BCP, Bible, book, and journal
This was above my bed.  
I discovered this verse, circled, in my grandfather's Bible. 

The nuns were all about recycling; it was really cute. 

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