Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 3, 2002
Take the journey within
A spiritual pilgrimage can help you discover your own sacred place
By LASHA MORNINGSTAR
"Be still and know that I am God."
- Psalm 46:10
So why not take that same time and run your own amazing race to God and soul-satisfying rapture.
No map comes with this journey. No tickets to buy. No schedules to follow.
This expedition is a voyage within - a spiritual pilgrimage to find your own sacred place.
Anyone can do it. "You don't have to belong to an elite group or pay megabucks," assured University of Alberta religious professor Earle Waugh.
Since you are the instigator of this sacred quest, "you can define the perimeters and process - take ownership of it," explained Waugh.
Some feel more comfortable venturing into this strange land within a structured retreat setting.
"We help to guide a person so it is not quite so scary," said Providence Renewal Centre program coordinator Glenda Carline. Time in the quiet of the centre allows the spiritual "rose bud to blossom," said Carline.
The retreat person can access a wise, trained guide called a spiritual director who lets them see the sign of God in everyday life.
"It's easy to do when the pastures of life are green and full of promise," said Carline, "but so hard to do when life is a wintry desert."
Creating an artwork that evokes access to that inner sanctum is just the ticket for some folk. Providence Renewal recently held a retreat day that allowed participants to create a tabletop fountain.
"This allowed them to create their own visible personal sanctuary - a symbol that takes us to a deep space," explained Carline.
Retreat does indeed have a military link - retreat, regroup, restore and then advance again. And some going on that inner path are intent on this vigorous search. Others, like those taking part in poustinia (the Russian word for desert) just want to hear God's voice.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty in her book Poustinia writes that the first act of someone taking part in poustinia "is to fold the wings of his intellect and open the doors of his heart. . . . It is then, when one is deeply silent, that God begins to speak. The mind is purified, the heart is at peace and out of the depths of both come forth the gifts of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Quietly, imperceptibly, out of the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit comes a word, a thought, or a sentence."
Some find this silence easy to take. Others are scared silly by it, for that void of the quiet is quickly flooded with introspection.
"They often have condemnations from their past," said Waugh, "and feel they have wronged someone and there is no way they can right it. This is not a recipe for growth."
Noting that being perfect is a cultural, not spiritual, goal, Carline said, "You don't have to plunge in at the deep end."
Providence offers introductory sessions that ease one into this silence. One, dubbed mid-day meds, is a half-hour meditation given each weekday at noon.
This transformative journey may indeed be a tough one. But Linda MacIsaac, program coordinator of Star of the North, said the number of people going on retreat has increased dramatically over the past two years. While the bulk are still women over 30, more and more men are seeking the healing that comes from silence.
MacIsaac herself knows the power of retreat, having gone on at least 10, varying from university search, to vocation, to silent.
The Star has been a retreat centre for 50 years and MacIsaac marvels at the layers of prayer that warms and protects the sanctuary. One book contains participants' wishes for those coming after them. "This is Holy Ground. Be still and know God is present," wrote one.
"Agreeing sometimes to a slower pace and then to even being motionless for awhile enhances the possibility of pondering the marvel of God's presence," said another.
This pilgrimage within takes hard work and courage and offers rewards. But Waugh also sounds a cautionary note. Moving into a meditative state can distance one from others.
"Everything has its cost. Spiritual life without involvement of close friends and relatives can end up costing one dearly. It eliminates those who do not understand where you have gone to."
Taken to the extreme, the spiritual seeker changes friends, interests, even their commitment to their job.
But remember - that is the excessive practice of an otherwise valuable technique.
True spiritual pilgrims find interior journeying helpful in discovering their strengths and weaknesses at that point in their life, said Waugh. This evaluating is made even more powerful in that emotional feeling and logical understanding are given equal weight.
Such pilgrimage is transformative. And going within is, as Carline said, "the last frontier."
The clarity and resultant comfort "let you wipe the fog off your glasses," said Carline. "It is the invitation God has given to us. It is up to us to receive him."
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