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Lenten Retreat Re-cap

As hard as it is to miss a Sunday morning at 508 Franklin Road, it was wonderful to spend this past Sunday morning on Monteagle Mountain with a group of twenty-seven folks from our church. We had spent two days together talking about prayer, practicing different ways of praying and sharing our experiences together.

This Lenten Prayer Retreat was an idea that grew out of my renewal leave this fall. When I applied for the Clergy Renewal Grant from the Lilly Foundation, one of the questions on the application was, “How are you going to help the congregation connect with your renewal experience?” As I pondered that question, I thought, “Why not have a prayer retreat when I get back? And why not do it on the first weekend of Lent?” A great idea! But since only a handful of people can actually go on a retreat on a given weekend, I wanted to share with you some of what we learned and experienced together on the mountain.

When we arrived on Friday evening, we spent some time talking about our expectations for the weekend. Our reasons varied: to learn more about prayer, to carve out more time for prayer, to reclaim a discipline of prayer or just to have some time away with God. Throughout the weekend we practiced different ways of praying: silence, centering prayer, meditating on Scripture, contemplating icons and art, listening to music, drawing, writing, walking, using our bodies and reading poetry. The list goes on and on. Not every practice works for everybody, but praying in new ways can help open new windows to experience God’s love.

As we tried out these different ways of praying, though, one thing became clear: There is no magic formula that “gets us to God.” There is, as my son so wisely said in his children’s message the other day, “There is no wrong way to pray.” We don’t have to do spiritual gymnastics to commune with God or to have a prayer connection like “other people” do. God reaches out to all of us all the time. Communion with God is ours every day, in every place and every circumstance. Prayer practices merely help to open us and awaken us to that truth.

In my own prayer life, I have often fallen into the trap of telling myself, “If I could just find the right prayer technique, I will feel God more strongly. If I just pray the right way—longer, more often, more deeply—I will experience what other people experience in prayer. In fact, when I left on my renewal leave last fall, I was telling myself, “If I could just get to Iona, I know God will be there in ways that I’ve never experienced.” As if I had to go to a remote island to find God. What I was reminded of is that the God who met me in Iona is the same God who meets me in my kitchen every day. And, what’s more, I don’t have to “go find God.” God is always with me. Everywhere. All around me and within me. Always.

We affirmed that truth on the prayer retreat this weekend. Yes, our prayer practice is important. We need to stop, to listen to seek God every day. May all of us find ways to make ourselves available to God so that we can be reminded of the simple truth that God is always with us.