Last week I took a “quiet day” – just for myself – at the DeKoven Center in Racine. It had been several years since I attended an event at this historic spiritual center overlooking Lake Michigan, so I experienced that feeling of “coming home”. Founded over 150 years ago by Dr. James DeKoven, the retreat center was originally called Racine College and modeled after Radley College in Oxfordshire, England. For a pictorial tour of the campus, click on the link to Taylor Hall.
The retreat I attended was called “An Autumn Quiet Day for Busy Women.” Anyone who knows me understands my tendency to crowd too many things into any given day, and I know the importance of taking some quiet, meditative time for myself. The special attraction for me on this occasion was a woman I’ve been wanting to meet for so long – Holly Whitcomb. Holly is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ; she and her family live in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. She offers spiritual direction to individuals and spiritual retreats through Kettlewood Retreats.
Holly is also the author of three books and numerous articles. Her books are Feasting with God: Adventures in Table Spirituality, Practicing Your Path: A Book of Retreats for an Intentional Life, and The Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting. This last book, published in 2005, is her most recent and an excellent resource for retreats and book discussions. An excerpt from a review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat explains it well:
“In this well-done resource, Whitcomb explores the seven spiritual gifts of waiting: patience, loss of control, living in the present, compassion, gratitude, humility and trust in God. But to look at waiting in this way is to go against the cultural grain. We have been brainwashed by the media to believe that our desires can be fulfilled instantly. The pragmatism of our can-do philosophy exalts action over contemplation. We are convinced that we can fix anything and everything, if we just set our minds to it.
“But the problem is that not everything can be salvaged or saved. The more we push against the river, the more we come up against the mystery that will not give way to our egotism.” (For more of this excellent review, please check Brussat Review.
A good retreat leader knows how to draw from those in attendance – in our case a group of fifteen women from various faith communities. “What woman’s wisdom has most influenced your life?” Holly asked us to reflect – and I started making my list: my mother Vivian, my mother-in-law Mildred, my sister Wanda; poetry teacher Ellen, neighbor Louella, another poetry teacher Vi, another retreat leader- Sr. Marie, English teacher and mentor - Margaret. . .(When one approaches age 70, there are so many . . .if we just take time to remember and pay tribute.)
Then we were asked to reflect on how we inspire others. “If you were asked by a beloved friend to give her your ‘recipe for life’ or your ‘rules for living,’ what would they be?” Holly asked. I was reminded of Randy Pausch's “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon University in the fall of 2007. At the time, he knew he was dying of pancreatic cancer, so his lecture consisted of the best possible advice he could offer his students – and ultimately his young sons who would grow up without him. Professor Pausch had no idea what impact his words would have on so many – over 22 million copies have sold.
At the DeKoven Center, we each were given two recipe cards and asked to write our words of wisdom to pass on, keeping one copy for ourselves. Here’s what I wrote under “Recipe for a Happier Life”:
1) Take time to nourish your spirit – through silence, prayer and meditation.
2) Don’t get upset over “little” things. (So much, in retrospect, turns out to be “little” things – the molehills of life’s journey.)
3) Turn it over – “it” being whatever is on your heart, weighing you down. Turn it over to whatever spiritual power you can believe in.
4) When you feel devoid of faith in a spiritual power, pray honestly and sincerely: “God, I believe (or at least I want to believe.) Help Thou mine unbelief” (inspired by Mark 9:24 – King James version.)
The woman seated on my right passed her recipe card to me; she advised:
1) Always be willing to forgive.
2) Spend time with God -- as much time as you can find. It can be different every day.
3) Work on patience and kindness. We are all in this together.
Other women shared some of their collective wisdom. I liked this advice from a young mother: “Take time to just do nothing.”
Short periods of group sharing were interspersed with quiet “alone” time, and since it was a beautiful fall day, I headed outdoors. I was reminded once again that on any day of my life (when I can't be at DeKoven Center) I can make room for quiet times in my life and I can seek out other "sacred places."
In upcoming months Holly will be offering three retreats at the Cedar Valley retreat center in West Bend: “Following Your Own Star into Darkness and Light” (Dec. 31); “Tending to Our Hungers: a Lenten Retreat” (March 1, 2011); and Fourth Annual Conscious Aging Conference (May 13, 2011.) She can be reached through the Kettlewood Retreat website (see above) or at email@example.com.