Saturday, September 1, 2012

Pilgrimage to Daylesford Abbey: On Retreat with Barth, Ignatius, and Lochman

A view of the Abbey from the fields
It was not until I was a freshman in college that I started to appreciate the church fathers, mothers, mystics, and contemplatives who saturated the first fifteen-hundred years of the Christian tradition. My Christian experience, up until a pivotal course on "The Foundations of Christian Spirituality," assumed (falsely) all that was good, right, and true for Christian theology and praxis really began in 1517. [1] Despite my maternal family's rich Catholic heritage, I was a Protestant.

However, my studies and meditations, both in college and seminary, led me to reclaim the first fifteen-hundred years of Christian spirituality as critical witnesses within my own faith heritage and tradition. I began to covet spiritual conversations with my grandparents, whom knew more than I ever realized about the saints, patristics, and mystics, and I soon read selections from the likes of Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, and Teresa of Avila. [2]

I was captivated.

This past week, my appreciation and gratitude for these witnesses took on a whole knew level. I spent two days on personal retreat at the Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, PA, "a community of priests, brothers, and lay associates of the Norbertine order." [3] The disciplines of solitude, meditation, contemplation, and personal retreat, which lay at the heart of the Norbertine order and communal life, are often the first casualties to the hurried rhythm of Protestant pastors and ministry directors. We become so inundated with ecclesial responsibilities, intellectual ascent, and homiletical preparation that we confuse doing the work of Christ with the person of Christ. [4]

This is, at least, true for me. After nearly a decade of church work, study, and ministry, this past Thursday and Friday was the first time I EVER spent extended time away...alone...for prayer and contemplation. The chapels and fields of Daylesford Abbey provided fertile grounds for sacred pilgrimage through the invocation, petitions, and doxology of the Lord's Prayer. Guided by adaptations of Ignatius of Loyola's, Spiritual Exercises, Karl Barth's, The Christian LIfe, and Jan Milič Lochman's, The Lord's Prayer, I was blessed with the opportunity to rest in, wrestle with, and give thanks for the very real presence of God as Father, whose Spirit invites us all to live into the Kingdom of the Son personally and vocationally.

Below are a few excerpts from my readings, alongside photos that do no justice to the beauty of the Abbey. My hope and prayer is for all Christians, myself included, to make regular space for pilgrimages to places like Daylesford. These spiritual excursions take us on intense inward journeys that enable us to be sent outward to be the people of God in and for the world. They remind us that while God's love and grace are certainly universal, they are also deeply personal.

This is a truth that I am tempted to forget. Thanks be to God, who through the space, landscape, brothers, and fellow pilgrims who ventured to Daylesford Abbey, I was reminded once again.

On Retreat with Barth, Ignatius, and Lochman [5]

"The colloquy [6] is made properly by speaking as one friend speaks to another, or as a servant speaks to his master, now asking some favor, now accusing oneself for some wrong deed, or again making known his affairs to Him and seeking His advice concerning them." (Ignatius 56)

Chapel of the Baptist from the 1700's
"Prayer is a movement of the heart, whereas theology is a conceptual exercise, a scientific effort open to objective testing and publicly presented. Can we combine the two? Might not the attempt at combination merely result in alienating them? I believe that it is possible and even necessary to relate the two...Heart and mind cannot be separated from one another." (Lochman 1)

"Prayer as this inner dimension embraces and accompanies the whole polyphony of human life. In this sense all thoughts and actions that respect God and his creation are acts of prayer." (Lochman 6)

Inside the Chapel of the Baptist
"Being a disciple of the kingdom of God means constantly trying to confront situations with promises and promises with situations. This is an urgent and relevant task today...It makes a decisive difference to culture and society if there are groups within them that amid the oppressions of time keep their eyes open to the kingdom of Gοd, praying for it and following it in the direction that Christ's promises indicate, that is, by taking up the cause of the poor, acting on behalf of prisoners and the handicapped, freeing the oppressed, and especially proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lοrd, the liberating future of God. The state of the world will be renewed" (Lochman 62-63).

Cross on Chapel of the Baptist
"[God's] will is not an iron will. It is a living will with the vitality of love. It is not already fixed once and for all. God is not an abstract principle after the model of 'let justice be done even though the world perish.' His will is capable of dialog, of rethinking, of repentance in the sense of free reactions to the differing responses of his creatures. it aims at their salvation, liberation, and reconciliation" (Lochman 70).

"The Father invoked by Christians is not just called such when deep down and in truth he is no more than an idea or epitome of fatherhood. Deep down and in truth he is really Father. He is thus a speaking and hearing subject, a subject that acts personally." (Barth 52)

"If it is a matter of God, then seriously, properly, and strictly Christians cannot speak about the Father but only to him" (Barth 51).

Bronze Sculpture of St. Norbert
of Xanten & Risen Christ
"Christians who regard themselves as big and strong and rich and even dear and good children of God, Christians who refuse to sit with their Master at the table of publicans and sinners, are not Christians at all, have still to become so, and need not be surprised if heaven is gray above them and their calling upon God sounds hollow and finds no hearing" (Barth 80)

"He is not a Christian and a member of God's people for his own sake or for that of the church but in order to be a light in the world!...A Christian concerned only about himself and the church and not also, in his personal and communal Christianity, strongly and totally concerned about the world too- the world that does not know God but is loved by him and reconciled with him in Jesus Christ- would be a contradiction in terms..." (Barth 195).

"Speaking about God's kingdom could only mean telling his story" (Barth 253).

Bell Tower
"Jesus Christ is the new thing. He is the mystery that cannot be imprisoned in any system of human conceptuality but can be revealed and known only in parables. He is God acting concretely within human history" (Barth 252).

"Aiming at God's kingdom, established on its coming and not on the status quo, [Christians] do not just look toward it but run toward it as fast as their feet will carry them." (Barth 263).


[1] One of my favorite courses taught by Dr. Christopher Hall. Also, 1517 was the year Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, thus beginning what would come to be known as the Protestant Reformation.

[2] Grateful that one of my best friends gifted me with Richard Foster's, Devotional Classics, prior to my first day of classes. Still one of my favorite books!

[3] I am eager to learn more about St. Norbert of Xanten, who founded the Norbertine order in the 12th Century. The Norbertine community follows the Rule of St. Augustine and the charism of St. Norbert. The Daylesford Abbey professes a related mission, "to enrich the church by our Norbertine communio nourished by contemplation on God's Word, made visible in worship and service within the local church." Read more here.

[4] A great song by Shane Barnard, "Received," says it very well, "Heard a rumor I guess/ but I wanna know who told me so/ Told me serving You replaced me knowing You!"

[5] This is the rational for my retreat hybrid of deep contemplation and prayer along with rich engagement with the theology of Barth and Lochman.

[6] The colloquy, i.e. dialogue and/or verbal exchange, is the prayer that, along with the "Our Father," concludes each Ignatian exercise.