Saturday, January 28, 2012

What you take from a place, and what you give

First of all, apologies for not getting back to my blog sooner! I was at the beloved Abbey of Gethsemani for five days, and then, with my colleague Karen Kirner, another five days at the Liturgical Composer's Forum, being held in St. Louis, under the wise direction of my Jesuit friend, John Foley.

So it's time to backtrack a bit! When I wrote, a while back, about our heading into silence, I wanted to also follow up on this retreat experience with our students.

Over the course of the weekend, a representative from each of the classes gave a talk. And this was followed, at the end of each day, by a reflection from our chaplain, Fr. Drew Gawrych, c.s.c. It was a joy to watch how these talks progressed, starting with the freshman perspective ("the trauma of joining this musical community!") to the upperclassmen (two superb talks, one on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela and the other on stepping into something challenging and uncomfortable). As each year progressed, you could see how the world was getting larger, wider with issues, full of questions and hope and promise.

Our time together was focused on the famous prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, the "Serenity Prayer." And when we make these pilgrimages, we usually have three complete days for peace and quiet – which, in a way, is a good thing, because we're also able to create a "triptych", a threefold presentation of a particular spiritual insight or way of living.

Such a rich reflection is the Serenity Prayer! It fit, hand-in-glove, into this three-day journey of meditation used by our students. The goal of the words is to petition for serenity; but that gift cannot be had without two previous requests, one, for courage, and the other, for wisdom. Only with these two can the last, the sense of peace, be found.

I always marvel at how much we take from a place that, ultimately, has only silence to offer. We had a lot to offer as well – a beautiful concert on Saturday evening before the entire monastic community, and music to share for their Sunday eucharist as well.

But Monday morning came, and I found our students almost reluctant to strap on their earbuds and jump back into the wired life they've grown accustomed to. The silence had found their way into their hearts. Yet leaving is what we had to do. And as the bus wound its way through the Knob Country of Kentucky, surrounded by winter frost and early morning sunshine, we all had the chance to reflect on what we had taken from this kindly, quiet place.

So much to be taken, and so much to give, written on the canvas of quiet.

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