Each year when contemplatives gather for a silent retreat at places like the Rosaryville Spirit Life Center, we walk the walk for a few days. Some of us literally walk the walk shown in this picture, under the oaks that line the entrance and the exit to the property. All of us who retreat around the world walk the walk that is contemplative prayer. We practice what we preach. We live the contemplative life we feel called to live. You might hear some of us, like me, talk about contemplative living. But first and most importantly we live it. We practice walking the walk, whether we talk about it or not.
In two weeks, one small group of us will be walking the walk in silence under those very trees, for five days of contemplative practice. To me, this annual retreat is like coming home. It’s not just the familiarity of the setting, though there is surely comfort in that. It’s the inner home I mean. Even the participants are different every year. So it’s not just the specific people who walk in silence. It’s the act of living in contemplation for a few days, with no other purpose than practicing the presence of God.
I can’t really explain how important it is to me to be walking this walk, living a contemplative life in the real world. I can’t quite say how the Presence became the most important home I know. But I can say this new form of monasticism, grounding all that I do and say in this Presence, has become my home now. And I choose to stay close to this home by walking the walk as often as I can.
Friday morning I got to practice the presence of God with just one man at Project Lazarus, our local residential treatment center for people with AIDS. Saturday morning I got to practice with 32 people in our School’s workshop on everyday mysticism. Sunday afternoon I got to practice with two women at my own church. Today I got to practice with five of us at one church and two of us at another church. Tomorrow there will be two more groups. Wednesday there will be two more. Thursday there will be three more. Day to day this is my home, walking the walk by being in the presence on my own and with other people.
Across this region people are walking the walk each day. In between our contemplative practices we are doing all the things everyone does: diapers, laundry, cooking, typing emails, texting, meeting with people, eating, driving. We have families, go to work, feel lonely, get stressed, walk the dog, worry about the future, and get too busy. But thanks be to God, we have also been blessed to find a treasure, an inner home to come home to.
So when we spend a few days in silence together on retreat we are only extending, lengthening, deepening the contemplative walk. Perhaps the visual mystics among us will see angels beside them. Or maybe the auditory mystics among us will hear heavenly choruses. But most of us will not be experiencing unusual mysticism. We are everyday mystics, simple people practicing the presence of God. We are finding our way home, together and alone, and this changes our service of the world. This walking changes our lives.
Tomorrow afternoon, when some of us gather with about 60 street friends, we will bring our inner home with us. We will connect with people from hearts that are being transformed. These street friends will sometimes have addictions, or mental illnesses, or PTSD, or just the multi-layered effects of poverty. Among them we will walk the walk that is contemplative service, connecting from our True Home with the souls of those we greet. Some of them will smell of sweat, or alcohol, or a weariness that extends from their skin to their souls. These we will welcome into our hearts. This too is walking the walk.
And if we mess up, get uncomfortable, turn away from the overwhelming need, breathe a sigh of relief that we don’t have to face all of this all day long, and look forward to the time when we will be done for the day, we can be forgiven. We are not saviors, fixers, miracle-workers, or endowed with super-human spirituality. We are just regular people who are in the process of being transformed, a moment at a time.
As best we can we are walking the walk of contemplative living: practicing the presence of God privately, in groups, and wherever we go. Tomorrow Margaret will serve alongside us for the first time. And if you ever feel so led, you would be welcome to come join us as a newcomer too. Come try walking the walk with us.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, now available as a Kindle book.