off to the woods
i’m off to the woods, soon as i pack the wagon, stash the little library next to the umbrella, make sure i don’t leave behind the binder with the pages and pages of notes and thoughts and scribbles.
i’m doing something i’ve not done before, not for this many days and nights anyway. and i’m doing it in a sacred splotch of woods, a place so quiet you can hear the cardinal talking to the blue jay, and you can hear the bullfrog leaping off a log so wrapped in odd-planed fungi it looks extraterrestrial. i’ve walked these woods before, and the miles and miles of trails that snake around the lake, st. mary lake. it’s all on the grounds of an old seminary, and if you listen closely you can hear the murmurs of years and years — whole decades, a century and three quarters, actually — of prayers unreeled in all these woods.
last time i was there, i was one of the ones who’d gone to be quiet. it was a two-day mostly silent retreat. this time, i’m the one who needs to talk. who needs to weave and wend the soulful into morning, noon, and night. or try, anyway.
i don’t know anyone who will be there. not yet anyway. i’m told 16 soulful women have signed up, packed their bags, and will be looking to me for sustenance of the spiritual kind. oh, lordy. help me. (it’s why i’ve spent weeks reading, thinking, writing, scribbling all those notes.)
i keep wishing it was a chair sisters’ retreat. that all of us were finding our way to the woods, gathering in the kitchen to cook ourselves a feast, kindling logs in the fireplace, taking moon walks under heaven’s star-stitched dome. i wish we were all bringing pages we found soulful. or worthy of deeper study, thoughtful consideration.
maybe this is just the first step. a trial run. to see how i fare across three days, two nights.
i imagine there will be moments of blessing. once i chase away the butterflies. i worry i won’t be “churchy” enough. hope my turning to mary oliver, and celtic poets, to ralph waldo emerson and good ol’ thoreau — my pantheon of poets and shimmering souls — is enough to sate the thirsty.
the idea here — or at least the thread that weaves this all together — is rooted in that old Book of Nature i’m so intent on reading closely. the eruptions and raptures of springtime, this season that explodes right before our eyes (while typing here i spied my first goldfinch of the season, and this morning the redbud that reaches across my backyard is twice as swollen and pink as when the sun set last night) it’s a season rife with lessons and wisdoms and wonder, and we’ll be walking the woods in search of all of it. (snow is in the forecast for tomorrow, but i’m going to pretend i didn’t see that.)
we’ll weave in thoughts about the spiritual practice of paying attention, and carving out hours of stillness. and really, truth be told, these are all ideas i could spend a lifetime considering. my deepest attentions are drawn toward the liminal, the thin places and craggy edges where secular and sacred intersect. shimmer radiantly. come unexpected. i like it slant, as dear emily (dickinson) might prescribe.
so i bring my slanted theology to the woods today. and i pray my heart meets each and every one who finds me there. in between the five titled talks, simple shared conversation — over meals, during walks, curled in armchairs in the library — will be where souls are sparked.
and as always, the bookshelf offers hope. here, in the spirit of soulful edification, is the litany of books i’ve gathered and packed and will soon be tossing in the old red wagon.
Carmen Acevedo Butcher:
Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church: A Spiritual Reader
The Cloud of Unknowing
Ralph Waldo Emerson:
The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Modern Library); edited by Brooks Atkinson
The Contemplative Heart
Thoreau and the Language of Trees
The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere
Gina Marie Mammano:
Camino Divina: Walking the Divine Way
Literary Essays of Thomas Merton
Christine Valters Paintner:
The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred
Dreaming of Stones: Poems
Sacred Journeys: A Woman’s Book of Daily Prayer
Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons
In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season
Joan Sauro, CSJ:
Whole Earth Meditation: Ecology for the Spirit
David Steindl-Rast and Sharon Lebell, introduction by Kathleen Norris:
Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day
Waiting for God (essays: “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with View to the Love of God;” “The Love of God and Affliction”)
may your weekend, wherever it is, and however you spend it, be something of a soulful retreat.
what books might you pack for a string of days and nights of soul stirring?
Oh, bam, I’d finagle a day off and coerce a reluctant critter sitter with legal tender just to follow you into the woods on retreat. And, in addition to the classic nature tomes you’ve listed, I’d bring The Star Thrower, a compilation of Loren Eiseley’s greatest essays and poems, one of which, The Bird and the Machine, I’ve mentioned at the table.
Ah, have a lovely weekend of illuminating camaraderie.
bless your heart! i might need to go order that right now. my before-i-leave treat to self!!! can’t remember if it’s out of print…….(if we ever have chair sisters’ escape to the woods, all the hard shells are welcome!!!)
This retreat sounds divine! And a chair sisters weekend gathering sounds heavenly too!!! Mary Oliver would definitely be on my spiritual getaway book list. So would Anne Lamott and Barbara Brown Taylor and Padraig O Tuama. and maybe Anne Morrow Lindbergh too. All non-traditional theologians.
If I’m reading this correctly, you’re heading to the place my husband spent several years and which is right across the road from my old high school. Wishing you and the other soulful women many moments of blessing over the next couple of days.
you read right, darlin! i am headed to his sacred ground. and for the next iteration of this adventure i will definitely include padraig. the ones i chose were the ones who fit specifically into the themed talks. but don’t all of them fit always? xoxo
This sounds brilliant and perhaps we will gain some new chair sisters! As I move into a very busy weekend, I think I will send my spirit north (no matter snow) to sit in sharing quiet. You will be marvelous and a boon to those seeking inspiration and renewal. Your book list is one to copy and put away for those “thirsty” days.
I might bring books by Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystic and Episcopal priest. My last long ago retreat, in the desert, was lead by her. The Wisdom Way Of Knowing; Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart, is one of her books I return to over and over. Mystical Hope is another favorite.
Enjoy the full range of nature (and faith) over the next days. May you be as filled as those coming to break bread and share faith with you. xxoo
oh! wait, wait, wait! i can’t believe you went to a retreat led by her. egad! she is doing one with richard rohr and james finley. and i hadn’t known of her till one thing led to another (as it always does). when i get home i will poke around for those two books……and i will picture you right by my side. sending love, as you too enter into a busy weekend….
p.s. just as i was trying to quietly serenely glide out the door, i got an urgent text from my beloved senior in high school, who needs me to buy two prom tickets, STAT, before the sales close at 4 this afternoon. so i now dawdle awaiting a bit of necessary info before i purchase. like, what’s her name???? oxoxox
LOL. “like, what’s her name????”
Cynthia Bourgeault. I’m going to look her up! I am a fan of Barbara Brown Taylor. Also an Episcopal priest. We need some female Catholic priests.
Has he become prosaic? I would still plumb the depths of Imitation of Christ
by Thomas a’Kempis Sufficiently churchy? Wish I could be a dot on the wall of your gathering and relish the idea of a chair sisters’ retreat. Might
be spiritually overwhelming and require a subsequent retreat for recovery.
Embrace and engrave this time, dear bam.
ooooh, i love the use of the word, “engrave.” will do. and, oh, dear gracious, yet another book to add to my ever-growing list! you should see my writing room! the stacks are now vertical, and teetering!!! will check this out, and perhaps find in the library where i’m headed. bless you. thank you. xoxox
One of my favorite places… only not in the snow! 😯 Peace be upon you. And yes, PLEASE, for a chair sisters retreat! We could all bring a portion of the “talk” so the burden wouldn’t be all on you. Sign me up!
hullo beautiful! twas so lovely in the snow. i saw the cusp of spring, and i saw the tail of winter. all in one swoop. how blessed am i? xoxoxo