During our retreat with Abp. Tutu, the meditations were offered in the chapel, in which the focal point was the altar pictured above. Interesting reredos, don't you think? I found myself somewhat distracted by it at times.
The first meditation was brief, and included much humor. Abp. Tutu loves to laugh, and at times literally danced around the lectern, giggling to himself. He began by telling the story of one of his early retreats after becoming Archbishop. The retreatants were a large group of women who had gathered for a conference. In an attempt to express his understanding of the inclusivity of God, he began with the statement, "Ladies, under this cassock we are all the same."
The Archbishop spoke highly of our new bishop, George E. Councell, whom he described as one who has "offered his giftedness to help heal a diocese who has been wounded." This is not only a reference to our bishop's commitment to pastoral care for all members of the diocese during this current difficult time; it also speaks of the healing that is beginning within a diocese torn asunder during the time of Bishop Doss. The Archbishop did admit to being a bit confused when one member of the diocese stated that Bishop Councell was "our first bishop who is also a Christian!" He followed this with a belly laugh, and everyone, conservative, liberal and moderate, gathered in that holy place, joined him. It's an amazing thing when humor, used to point out the absurdity of some of our struggles, can somehow move us past our carefully structured positions, and allow us to once again be open to something new.
In calling us into silence, the Archbishop used as his text Matthew 6:31;
Jesus said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.To be quite honest, most of us were not prepared to begin a silent retreat; this caught us all by surprise, including diocesan staff, who had planned various social functions during our time together.
I've been on previous silent retreats, and said mass for the sisters at a convent on Tuesdays for a few years. At times I find this discipline to be unnecessarily harsh. This was one of those times. The clergy get together only a few times a year, and this particular gathering was larger than most, due to the presence of the Archbishop. Many of us had looked forward to renewing old friendships, making new ones, and sharing what was going on in our lives with our brothers and sisters. But, what is one to do? This was the Archbishop of Cape Town. We entered into the quiet.
My notes of this first session end at this point, with a final scribble being something to the effect that if my vocation was to the monastic life, I'd be in a monastery...grumble, grumble, etc.
Due to the lack of content in my notes, let me offer a few words from Archbishop Tutu drawn from his book, God Has a Dream;
Far too frequently we see ourselves as doers. As we've seen, we feel we must endlessly work and achieve. We have not always learned just to be receptive, to be in the presence of God, quiet, available, and letting God be God, who wants us to be God. We are shocked, actually, when we hear that what God wants is for us to be godlike, for us to become more and more like God. Not by doing anything, but by letting God be God in and through us...Was he right? Of course. Two days of being instead of doing did indeed refresh my spirit.
...There comes a time when we evolve, we grow, and we realize that all that actually matters in prayer is being with our Beloved, being with God. Just being together, just like when we're together with the one we love, holding hands and savoring being together with them. Words give way; they are almost superfluous and totally inadequate. Just as if we were to describe a sunrise or the birth of a child, the most eloquent thing is silence. We don't need to always be talking with the one we love. Sitting there in silence or listening to music is always indescribably satisfying and sweet. That is what it's like to be with God in these times of satisfaction and joy.
Next; the radical inclusivity of God, and the tragedy of being absent.