I attended my first session of the Academy for Spiritual Formation this past week and I have got to say that was probably the most powerful week of my life so far. I made some amazing new friends and I am incredibly blessed to have them for traveling companions for the next two years. I had my passion for learning rekindled thanks to our amazing faculty and I'm definitely grieving the fact that they will not be continuing on this journey with us but I am at the same time excited to see what else we will see and do and learn.
I think the most amazing and powerful experience was simply the schedule we followed, which was based on the benedictine model of life. We began each day in silence which was broken during our morning prayer service. After the service we had breakfast and then our first faculty presentation. That presentation was followed by another hour of silence for meditation and reflection. At the end of that hour we had a plenary session for asking questions and discussing some of our thoughts/experiences. After that we had some "community time" for various announcements and the occasional other presentation, and then lunch. After lunch we had some free time (during which I generally honored the Sumatanga tradition of "flat time" and took a nap!) After that we had another faculty presentation, another hour of silence, and another plenary session. Following that session we had an evening Eucharist service and then dinner. After dinner we usually had a little more free time (if we didn't get caught up in conversations at dinner!) and then would meet in our covenant groups. After covenant group time we would come back together as a whole community for evening prayers. At the end of evening prayers we would observe the "great silence" until the next morning.
In case you're keeping track, that was 12 hours a day of silence. A good portion of that time was spent sleeping, but it was literally half of our day. I loved it. I learned a lot during that time, not least of which was about myself!
So now I'm home with my bed and my husband and my dogs. It's great to be home, but it doesn't feel exactly "right". As I write this, it's closing in on 1 am and I'm wide awake. That could be due in part to the large amount of caffeinated soda I had tonight (which has been a much less prominent feature in my life during the last week!) or the sugar-filled milk shake I had for dessert. But a part of me feels that the thing I'm missing in being able to settle myself is the service of night prayers and the silence and solitude.
I wasn't completely isolated during this week. No, I didn't have cell phone signal but I did have internet access to check e-mail. I used my iPad every day to take notes and read books. I had technology accessible to me. But the change of pace was really nice. I'm sure after another day or two I'll settle back into life here and things will feel more "normal" here. But I kind of like this discomfort and what it may prod me to do.
Part of this was also the making of a personal covenant for disciplines we will practice. This is my covenant:
Exercise 3 times a week
Read scripture, pray/meditate, and journal every day
Observe 20-30 minutes of silence each day, apart from the previous task, to simply "be" rather than "do!"
Participate in worship (without a leadership role) at least twice a month
Fast from technology for 24 hours each week - computer, internet, e-mail, TV, and phone. This may not always be the same 24 hours depending on my work schedule, but I will do 24 hours a week!
I'm hoping that my readers will be able to help keep me accountable to this, but also know that I will probably do some of my journaling/processing on here and I can't promise it will always make sense, but if nothing else it may be somewhat comical!
I'm already so excited about this journey and the places where the road will lead next.