Sisters on Retreat

Today’s post is by Francie Thayer

My two (biological) sisters and I don’t get to be together all that often. We live in different time zones and have lives that make it tricky. But once a year we do get together—just us—for a “Sisters’ Convention.” For two or three days in various locations, we gather and, oh my, we have fun. A lot of talking, a lot of laughing, a lot of praying. The crazy thing is: all three of us are spiritual directors, which we still marvel at. We do lots of different things at Convention. Hiking was central to one, another had melanoma removal in it—and we always take “minutes,” which we then read with great delight the next time we get together.

This summer our Convention found us in a unique situation. We were at Saint Mary by-the-Sea Retreat House on Cape May Point, NJ, for a ten-day silent retreat. Due to schedules, we could only stay for eight of the ten days. When we each told various friends our plan, they all cocked their heads—“Really? A silent retreat? For your Sisters’ Convention?” I must say, we were grateful for the road trips and ferry rides that book-ended our time at Saint Mary’s.

Retreat is always a rich time, but somehow this was even more so. Knowing my precious sisters were praying for me as I was praying for them, experiencing the silent post-breakfast duty of chopping vegetables together in the kitchen, walking on the beach each night after supper to watch the sun set into the ocean (and the moon rise out of the ocean as well!), it was so surprisingly and additionally tender.

We kept the silence pretty well, though I will confess, we did make a plan to connect in the lobby of the retreat house on Sunday morning at 10:30 to walk together to a nearby restaurant and share brunch and conversation…. just to check in, of course. At that brunch, we discovered that each of our retreat directors, with various words, was encouraging us to be with God in very similar ways. “Do nothing” was the message. As we talked about how difficult that can be, we each seemed to come to a deeper intention to live into that suggestion.

And we each did, in our own ways, “do nothing.” To actually spend six full days in deep awareness of being held by the Holy One (by the time we really slowed down enough to do it) was quite astounding. Quiet transformation that is not intellectually noticed, unfolding peace that goes way beyond understanding, deep soul healing that only months later begins to evidence itself… all gifts received because “doing nothing” was a priority.

One of our directors shared the poem “The Avowal” by Denise Levertov somewhere along the eight days, and all three of us ended up spending time with these words:

As swimmers dare

to lie face to the sky

and water bears them,

as hawks rest upon air

and air sustains them,

so would I learn to attain

freefall, and float

into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace

knowing no effort earns

that all-surrounding grace.

My sisters and I try to chat or text together whenever we can, and we ask each other what’s helping to return to that sense of retreat. The Presence is a little more fleeting in the busy-ness of our schedules, but there are always glimpses, if we would but prioritize again, even if just for a short part of the day, “doing nothing.” Our Convention minutes were very different this time, and we agreed: we will read them again together when we are on the Cape May Ferry next summer, on our way back to Saint Mary by-the-Sea for Sisters’ Convention 2018.

October 10, 2017 by Frances Thayer
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