Two weekends ago, 40 women from FN went on a silent prayer retreat. Ines McBryde, director of Women’s Ministries, shares her reflections on their time together below. (You can also read another account here from Alison Chino).
We stood in a circle on Saturday afternoon, about 40 us, before the Communion Table and I noticed that the table beautifully summarized the beginning and end of our retreat time together:
At one end of the table was a broken, red heart made out of metal.
The night before we had immersed ourselves into Luke 24 and joined the saddened, downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus. The journey started marked with loss and grief. Hope deferred. Wounds. Pain. Regrets. Confusion. Emptiness. Clenched fists. We all came with the same cry of our hearts “search me Lord”.
Then after the broken heart was a small trail of rocks and candles in the shape of hearts,
These symbolizing how the hearts of the disciples were burning when Jesus spoke words to them on the road. This path of rocks and candles reminded me of the journey we began Saturday morning. We woke up in silence, got ready, had a delicious breakfast without speaking to anyone, and then took off by ourselves for hours. We were on our own solitary path of silence, listening to the words of Jesus. Some sat by the lake, some under the gazebos or benches, some brought lawn chairs, some entered the peaceful prayer garden (more like a forest with trails!). During our silent journey we followed a prayer guide that started with the Cleansing Room, then the Abiding and Comfort Room, Identity Room, and finally, the Thanksgiving Room. We allowed the Spirit to speak. Some even chose their own path as the Spirit led them.
The path of rocks and burning candles led up to the Bread & Juice of Thanksgiving at the other end of the Communion Table.
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we looked back at our hardships, situations, wounds, pain, loss, hopes, questions, doubts, and realized that Jesus had been there all along, we just hadn’t seen Him. The grief sometimes is too much to bear. But as we stopped, stood still and listened to His voice for about 5hrs, we couldn’t help but notice that He was present. He illumined our minds and our hearts. It was in the breaking of bread and thanksgiving time that He was most recognized as being with those disciples. Yet, He had been there all along. The journey that had started with loss and grief had ended in praise & thanksgiving. By the time we broke the silence at noon, we had bumped head on with the Grace of the Resurrection, Redemption, and Communion. All of which we already possessed, just hadn’t remembered, because we are forgetful daughters sometimes.
The sharing time after lunch & breaking the silence is one of my favorite parts of the Silent Prayer Retreat. The intimate things that were shared cannot even be uttered because they were so deep. Some women wrote poems. Some said even the trees, rocks, and clouds spoke to them. All read Scripture. We did some sacred journaling. But all women listened. Spent time with the Master. Slowed down our hearts.
We finished praying around the Communion table. One-word prayers. Love those. We just spoke one word that God had burned deep in our hearts, out loud, as well as writing the word on one of the rocks on the table. We left joyful and changed back to our community.
I’d like to end with this joyful invitation taken from a Mennonite Songbook that we read before taking communion:
This is the Welcome Table of our Redeemer, and you are invited
Make no excuses, saying you cannot attend; simply come,
for around this table you will find your family
Come not because you have to, but because you need to.
Come not to prove you are saved,but to seek the courage to follow wherever Christ leads.
Come not to speak but to listen, not to hear what’s expected, but to be open to the ways the Spirit moves among you.
So be joyful, not somber, for this is the feast of the reign of God,
where the broken are molded into a Beloved Community,
and where the celebration over evil’s defeat has already begun.