Sunday, August 26, 2012

Spiritual formation

Since I wrote it, you get to read it! This is the talk I gave at church today. One of a three-pronged "spiritual formation" focus -- I'm all about that!

I’ve been asked to speak about my experiences going on my Walk to Emmaus and how they shaped my spiritual formation.

Here is the scripture that I think is really enacted during the Walk to Emmaus weekend: “I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” The words of Jesus, spoken in John 10:10.

I went on Walk #584 in August, 1997, at the Omega Retreat Center in Boerne. I just saw in the Connections that Walk #1664 is scheduled in October, so there have been a lot of walks to Emmaus since I went!

At that time, my children were 3 and 1 year old! Needless to say, Dwaine and I were a little younger then, ourselves. When I went on this walk, we were attending St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in San Antonio, although we lived in our current home in Floresville.

The walk starts on a Thursday evening and ends on Sunday afternoon. The format for the walks is similar, so once you have been on a walk, you have an idea of what everyone else has experienced if they, too, go on a Walk to Emmaus. This spiritual retreat is ecumenical in nature and draws people from different denominations.

In fact, the Catholics started this retreat format, which according to my online research came from Spain in the 1940s. The Catholic version is the Cursillo, or short course. Apparently, all the early retreats in the U.S. were held in Spanish until the 1960s. That is why there is a Spanish flavor to some parts of the retreat, particularly the greeting you share with others who have gone on the Walk, which is, “De Colores.” (Of many colors) This is the theme song of the weekend, and it describes the vibrancy of life and God’s abundant provision for us. (I forgot to say that the Cursillo has morphed into the ACTS retreat, a fact that a friend gently recalled to my memory afterwards.)

The walks are held just for women or for men, although the musicians and speakers may be of the opposite gender.

When you attend, you have a sponsor. My sponsors were an older couple at St. Andrew’s, Jim and Mary Watkins. They wanted to make sure that I went on my retreat with no worries, and they drove me there. I remember my sponsors telling me, in all seriousness, that they could take care of my kids while I was gone! (Of course, my husband took care of the kids, very capably.)

During the retreat, you have a period of time and space that is truly “set apart” from daily life and devoted to God – a luxury that most of us do not experience in the rush and activity of our usual lives. There is a time of silent reflection, there are daily worship times, a band plays music and you have a lot of sing-alongs, and you work on projects together with a team of other people. You also listen to a series of talks given by clergy and lay people during the weekend. You receive all kinds of small presents that Emmaus groups have made, some quite lovely. You are asked to remove your watch, turn off your cell phone, and unplug for the entire weekend. That alone would probably be a real revelation for a lot of people! No email, no TV, no computers, and no text messages, for 3-1/2 whole days!

One of the best parts of the Walk to Emmaus is that there are several surprises along the way. These times usually end up being the most memorable of the whole weekend.

The Walk was the first time that it really sank in, for me, how deeply God loves me, and each one of us. I mean, it really sank in and has never gone away since. I really saw God’s community at work throughout the weekend, in joyous celebration and love.

I’d like to share something that our pastor at that time wrote to me about the weekend:

“I hope that you found your life deeply moved, your love of others and of God confirmed, your past forgiven, and your future opened up in ways that are beautiful and gracious to behold. It is my prayer that the kinds of grace you heard described during your walk, you will experience in your life. May God’s grace be graciously woven into your life, so that at your work or at home as well as at church, you will rejoice at how God is at work in your life. Then as we see you, hear you, and affirm you with our love, you will see emerging a newer sense of what it means to be fully alive – alive within yourself, alive to others you love, and alive to God in fresh and mysterious ways.”

Footnote: the above note was from our most dearly beloved pastor (mine and Dwaine's), Greg Robertson, who has had serious health problems recently and is very stooped and frail-looking these days. He was a powerful speaker and brought the Holy Spirit into our presence on a regular basis when he preached on Sundays at St. Andrew's. He and Dwaine must have been destined to become friends, as they share the same birthday (though not the same year). I have told Pastor Greg on more than one occasion that he was the one who saved our souls, mine and Dwaine's! Before we became Methodist, we were wandering, unanchored, spiritual drifters without a home.

We attended a reunion for St. Andrew's about a month ago and were happily surprised to see Greg and Donna there, despite his obvious trouble getting around! He has a walker and is able to walk quite a distance, though his body has become so deformed. He has been afflicted with a rare type of Parkinson's. Greg and Donna were known and beloved by the entire congregation, or so we always thought -- so it was a sad sight to find that the only people who went to sit with them at the luncheon were us! I think most people are so put off by a physical deformity that they feel great awkwardness in addressing such a person, in getting past that physical appearance which may be disturbing to see. Greg's mind was obviously still working at a high level, and he had a great many things to discuss with Dwaine (although Dwaine suffers from trouble hearing, so it was difficult to know exactly everything Greg had said!).

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