I started getting congested the weekend before the retreat, and by the time I got to the abbey I had a full-blown sinus infection. The only thing worse than getting up at 3:00am is getting up at 3:00am with a head full of congestion and forgetting to take your sinus medication before Vigils begins. I tried to concentrate on the service, but all I could think about was a hot shower and the tub of Thistle Farms Body Butter I had in my room. My skin was unreasonably dry from the cold and wind
By the time I got back to my room, took a shower, and slathered myself with lotion I was wide awake. Plus, I decided that all of my naps the day before had not worked to my advantage and that I should try staying awake after Vigils. So I worked on my sermon. Fortunately, the coffee in the Common Room at the Retreat Center is ready by 4:30 each morning. When I got groggy working on my sermon I headed to the Common Room for some coffee and light reading. I started with Martin Laird's Into the Silent Land. I only got a few pages in, but I will definitely finish it.
The rest of the day was much like Tuesday. Instead of three sits, however, we only practiced one. And in the afternoon we walked the labyrinth before Fr. Guerric took us on a tour to tell us more about the Cistercians and the history of Mepkin Abbey.
I did a better job of staying awake during today's sit, although I still managed to doze off. And the second half of the sit, after the walking meditation, was only 10 minutes, so I appreciated that. The labyrinth was a great experience. Fr. Guerric suggested that on the way in to the center of the labyrinth we simply practice "letting go." I started walking thinking that I really didn't have much to let go of, but as I walked I started to realize how long I was. In fact, I got nervous that I would get to the center before I was finished letting go of everything!
There were some low spots in the labyrinth that were swampy from Monday's rain, but I even tromped through those instead of cutting through in order to give myself enough "letting go" time.
During some of the free time I took my camera and explored the grounds with my friend Abbey. Abbey was a stray dog who wandered onto the grounds one day and never left. She's not a snuggly dog, but she'll let you scratch behind her ears, and she's always up for exercise. She accompanied one woman from our group on her runs, and she went with me on my walk as well.
After Vespers we met with Fr. Guerric again to talk about how we will practice contemplative prayer when we return to our contexts. For some of us the barrier to the practice is time. For some of us it is space. And for others it was accountability. I realized that my barrier is distraction. I already practice contemplative prayer each day, but I practice in my office. There are distractions in the office, but I had grown to use those distractions as excuses to cut my practice short or to let my mind wander indefinitely. The decision that I made was to move my practice to the sanctuary where I wouldn't be distracted and wouldn't have excuses to stop what I was doing. I hope that during Lent I might invite others to join me in the sanctuary for the practice as well.