The introductory night of the Kindom Journey began in the relaxed, sheltering atmosphere of the Lodge at Cedarbrake with a meal of hot lentil soup and fresh baked bread prepared by Josefina Castillo and Susan LeVieux. The cooks for all our meals, who were also the retreat leaders, were guided and inspired by Susan who lives to garden for herself and others. Many of the vegetables in the meals were from her garden.
After dinner, we moved to the community room, where we took our places in the circle of twelve seats arranged for those of us who were physically present. However, one of the retreat leaders who was participating on zoom appeared on a laptop screen, joining the circle from miles away. This leader on zoom is a good representation of one of the changes within our community.
In our new form as a dispersed Episcopal Christian Community, we can offer membership in our community to people living in Austin as well as other parts of the country. The participant on Zoom, Sister Virginia Marie Rincon, also a Priest, is a Professed member of St. Hildegard’s who lives in Albuquerque, NM. Gathered in the circle were many who are members of St. Hildegard’s as well as new participants and two long time enthusiasts who would celebrate becoming members during the retreat.
As we spoke from our chairs by the fireplace, our voices brought into the circle individual experience of outer concerns such as for the fear and uncertainty experienced by the immigrants who are in Sanctuary in two churches in Austin and for the immediate need for action to remediate climate change, as well as peronal joy and sorrow in our lives and the path that brought each one of us to this retreat. Hearing from community members who have moved away and those who have remained in Austin, and all participants was the opening to our time together.
We next entered into a “standing if able exercise” led by Josefina. The dinamica is a community activity that Josefina led during the years she led workshops with women in rural Mexico through the auspices of a program of Popular Education which was created by women in Mexico City.
The exercise involves moving your body and following your imagination to portray and act out our relationship to Mother Earth while standing in the circle and interacting with those on either side. Josefina provided the narrative for our activity.
We began in an imaginary meadow where we planted trees and vegetables with digging and careful planting gestures. Then we called the clouds to come over us and water all the trees and vegetables. We imagined the clouds coming and mimed the falling raindrops showering over us and the tree and vegetable seeds. Through the rain our plants and trees flourished and produced fruit. Now we gestured picking fruit from the trees which we collected in bushel baskets. These were very heavy to pick up and pass along for storage. Next we gathered peas, corn, onions and various other vegetables to pass along and share in tasting. The last fruit that we passed along the circle, while pretending to take bites and smiling, was a large watermelon. Finally we thanked Mother Earth, the sun and the water for giving us all that we need. In this dynamic movement, amidst laughter and appreciation for all that sustains life, we experienced a passage from our daily lives and concerns into expectation for what we would create with the help of Spirit in our time together.
Reverend Judith Liro then presented the theme of the Retreat by reflecting on changes in the world and society, listing increasing violence and environmental degradation among other challenges to the Earth community. She gestured to a mandala painted to depict a vision of St Hildegard’s, All Beings Celebrate Creation, which was on the hearth bench beside her. There in growing concentric circles are painted the heads and wings of angels and humans surrounding an inner circle of light. She spoke of how the concern we have for the state of our world can be met with courage when we contemplate this
mandala. Our love and deep connection to the Earth is shared with the Angels and Creator God. They are with us in the work of healing. We are part of the mystery of creation, able to act within the world as well as gain insight and courage from realizing our belonging to the community of life, seen and unseen.
Following Judith, Sister Helena Marie, our Chaplain, who is a leader in the Community of the Holy Spirit at Bluestone Farm
near Brewster New York, introduced the hours of silence that would begin as we left the circle to prepare for sleep, and continue through the following day until 3 in the afternoon. She told an interesting story from a retreat in Manhattan where part of her Community lives. After questions and clarifications about the silence, Helena Marie led us in singing Open My Heart. Then we entered the silence.
The next morning after a silent breakfast, some of us went out into nature while others created soul collages in the lodge following instructions from Sister Helena Marie. We gathered for a silent lunch then made our personal choices about how we would spend the silent time remaining.
At 3:00 we gathered in the lodge in silence together. After a transition imagination led by Judith, we began to speak of our experiences
Alisa reported that she was walking toward a ledge that rose above the river on the campus of Cedarbrake when she heard a voice that said, “Lay down on the rock.” Alisa lay on the rock feeling the warm sun and relaxing. When she was ready to go back to the lodge, a voice said, “Take off your shoes. You modern people need to not wear shoes. You need to walk with your barefeet on the Earth.” So Alisa took off her shoes and walked back to the lodge.
Sister Helena Marie said that she walked along the river and saw Alisa laying on the rock. Sitting or laying on the rock looked inviting to Sister Helena Marie, so she hiked up to the ledge, sat down and looked out on the river below. Her vision was pulled upward and
she saw two eagles flying. After a while, the eagles flew closer to Helena Marie and seemed to be looking into her eyes.
As Josefina was making her way to the river, she encountered Alisa walking toward her barefoot. After enjoying the river, Josefina saw Sister Helena Marie up on the ledge. She decided to find her own spot on the ledge. When she found her own spot to sit down, Josefina observed the view. She saw green all around and felt the wind as well as listening to its movement through the tree leaves and branches. Josefina heard the sound of the river passing over the rocks below. She took all this in and felt gratutude. As she walked down from the ledge, Josefina saw two eagles.
Listening in the circle, I felt that the connection woven between the three women on their walks was like a silent conversation between the women, elements of nature, including animals, and, with Alisa, a spirit guide
All around the circle we spoke of our experiences during the silence; of nature and of our own soul in this time away from the distractions of our usual duties, joys and sorrows. At some point in the breaking of the silence, someone said, “Coyote!” We looked out the big windows along the entrance wall and saw a tall, robust, silver coyote facing the windows as if interested in knowing our conversation.
In the inner soul space prepared by the time of silence we entered into the heart of St. Hildegard’s Community’s Kindom Journey: the Three-fold Pattern for Deep Transformation described in our Rule of Life. This commitment to nurturing contemplative inner life within a community of disciples which supports our outward justice work is our community’s path of following Jesus Christ. It is a Trinitarian pattern found in Hildegard of Bingen’s theology and way of living that has been our community’s spiritual foundation from the beginning.
Three of the leaders, each sharing from her own personal experiene, gave presentations followed by time for participants to listen to their own inner stirrings. Small circles of three or four then gathered to share what was gleaned from their inner listening. These small groups stayed the same as we explored the three elements of Deep Transformation: inner call, outer justice work in the world and life in community.
Friday night after dinner I spoke about the call to inner journey in my life. Then we all had time alone to reflect before meeting to share in our small groups. On the following morning, Saturday, Josefina presented a talk on outward journey-our calls to transform the world with compassion, peace and justice, which was followed by individual reflection and conversation in our small groups. The third talk, on intimacy and healing in community, was given by Sister Virginia Marie.
As a final touch, Judith gave the picture of the dynamic, generative dance of these three elements, which brings balance and joy to life. During this time of thoughtful contemplation and prayer, we were able to reacquaint ourselves with those who have been living outside of Austin as well as learn more about our visitors and parts of their life journeys.
The day ended with a party. There was an informal time of conversation and then Annie, a visitor who has come to worship at St Hildegard’s before, gave us an introduction to a path that she has been involved with, which began with the Mayan star knowledge and was rediscovered in Mexico during a process of inquiry stretching over 40 years. Annie shared with us thought provoking revelations from the star lore of the indigenous people of Mexico as well as personal insights and experiences that have occurred in her life through her study. In a playful fashion, Annie gave us a way to imagine how the Mayan star lore could speak to each of us.
On Sunday morning we worshiped together, having created elements of the liturgy in groups of two and three. Our Eucharistic Prayer, composed by Mary Ermey was We Sing In Deep Joy. This musical accompaniment to the consecration of the bread and wine is a song celebrating the Holy Healing Earth and the Creator Spirit.
For the interactive sermon, Judith shared “Hildegard’s Way” that is also found in our Rule of Life. It is a spiritual path that evolved in our twenty years as a Eucharistic Community as our lives were inspired by Hildegard of Bingen’s way of embodying God’s love in the world.
After Judith gave a description of each of the ten elements, the opportunity to speak our heart’s response went from person to person around our seated circle. Listening for our own word of insight or understanding and listening to the others’ words became mixed with the warmth of our time communicating together over the past three days. I felt as though a ring of love was holding us all.
Following worship, we shared a wonderful lunch together and then a final scurry to say what we wanted to say before departing each other’s company and returning to our daily lives. I felt that our time at Cedarbrake had brought me a feeling of belonging that I have been missing since moving to Portland in 2018, and I was grateful to enter into that feeling again.