“On the Inward Journey” by Nat Reid

June 27, 2021

I understand that you have been focusing on the Trinity for three weeks, and are now considering the trinitarian journey – the “Journey Inward, Journey Outward, Journey Together.”  I am here to share with you today about the journey inward.  I will share from my own experience and my experience at Dayspring as the director of the Silent Retreat Center.

So, what is the journey inward, or the inward journey?  It is the journey into the self, by which we know ourselves more deeply, including the things we feel guilty about and suppress, our fears and regrets, as well as hidden treasures.  We also come to know more fully the mystery of our own soul, where we are touched by and in relationship with the Holy One, in our depths.  Gordon Cosby put it this way in the introduction to Elizabeth O’Connor’s book Search of Silence: “The one journey that ultimately matters is the journey into the place of stillness deep within one’s self.  To reach that place is to be home; to fail to reach it is to be forever restless.  At the place of ‘central silence,’ one’s own life and spirit are united with the life and Spirit of God.  The fire of God’s presence is experienced.  The soul is immersed in love.”  Prayer, meditation, silent retreat, immersion in nature, journaling and creativity are all aspects of the journey inward.  A part of this work is taking dreams and visions seriously, working to understand and assimilate them.

This work can be very difficult in our often superficial and materialistic culture, a culture that generally does not like mystery and ambiguity, or processes that unfold slowly, in their own time.  In this sense, it is counter-cultural work, and often lonely work.  A favorite poem of mine is called, “The Way It Is,” by William Stafford.  He hints at the loneliness of the inner work in this brief poem:

There’s a thread you follow.  It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change…..
But it is hard for others to see…..

See the entire poem from the volume Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems, Graywolf Press at https://gratefulness.org/resource/the-way-it-is-william-stafford/

The journey inward “is hard for others to see.”  Many of our friends and family might not understand it.  It is a journey we make by ourselves, but ideally with a community of support, so that it is also a “journey together.”

I want to share a little bit about my own call to the inward journey.  In some ways I was always drawn to it.  I was an English major, focusing on poetry.  I was interested in Eastern religions, especially Buddhism and Taoism.  But I lacked focus, structure and discipline.  I was also deeply drawn to nature, which I always experienced as spiritual.  This love of the outdoors brought me to farming, which I worked in for seven years.  Farming left winters free for travel, and one winter I went to Indonesia, driven by a desire for adventure but also this vague spiritual hunger which was stirred by the East.  On the long plane there, I was reading The World’s Religions, by Huston Smith.  As I read, I had a sinking feeling as I recognized a truth that had already been dimly stirring in me – I was looking for something outside which I would only find inside.  As the farmer, poet and essayist Wendell Berry put it, “…the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be a home.”  I had a good trip, with lots of memorable adventures, but all the while I knew that it wasn’t “the real work.”

About a year later this discontent led me to leave farming.  I was questioning everything – work, friends, pastimes…  I thought I would spend some time reflecting and figure out what was next.  I stayed with my parents, and met with several of their friends for career advice, but it all seemed to miss the mark.  Then my mother suggested I speak to Tom Peterson, a Jungian analyst she knew.  This was a fateful suggestion.

When I met with Tom, before long he told me that I was having “a religious crisis.”  I told him that I wasn’t religious.  It sounded funny, and wrong, to me.  But I knew that Tom, unlike the other people I had met, understood where I was and what I was struggling with.  Whether or not we call ourselves religious, religion speaks to all of us.  It addresses the inner life, the spiritual life, which all humans share.  (Thus, when I sit in a circle during introductions before a silent retreat, I don’t worry if someone introduces themselves as an atheist, or a Jew, or a Muslim…  We all have different languages with which we talk about our experience of the mystery we call God.  But as we listen to one another’s deep sharing, we realize that we are all talking about the same deep experiences, the same spiritual life.)

I should tell you a little bit about Tom Peterson.  Tom was serving as a UCC pastor in Idaho when he read Elizabeth O’Connor’s Call to Commitment in the late 60’s.  He was so stirred by it that he left his job and drove his young family to DC to become a part of the Church of the Saviour.  Eventually he would go to Zurich to study at the Jungian Institute and become an analyst.

After working with me for a while, Tom suggested that I get to know The Church of the Saviour.  He encouraged me to go to the Potter’s House and seek out Gordon Cosby.  So, I looked it up, and went to Columbia Rd. and found this strange, dark little building that was the Potter’s House.  It was closed.  It was a very weird, and uncomfortable, act, going to a church and looking for a stranger.  But, it stirred something very deep in me.

That night I had a dream unlike any I have had before or since.  There was a woman who I loved, who did not know me, and I knew I was not worthy of her.  But I met her, and as I came into her presence, all of my shortcomings, all of my failures, all of my anxieties were known to me and to her.  And yet, she embraced me, and held me steadily as this excruciating self-knowledge flooded me.  But the embrace never wavered, though she knew everything, and eventually I relaxed, I let go more than I ever had before.  I was, in a sense, HOME.  When I awoke, I was utterly gripped by this dream.  I didn’t want anything but that feeling, the feeling of being fully known, as we really are, and fully loved.  When I told Tom about this dream, he took his sandals off, like Moses before the burning bush, and said that we were in the presence of the holy.  To this day, this dream stands as the most vivid taste of divine love I have had.

God often speaks to us through the unconscious, through dreams and visions.  These are “inward,” and if we would grapple with God, we need to take these things seriously.  

Well, on my next trip the Potter’s House was open, and I found this Gordon Cosby character.  Again, I knew that I had met someone who could help me on this difficult journey.  I became deeply involved with the Church of the Saviour, and worked at Jubilee Housing, the Potter’s House and Jubilee Jobs before coming to Dayspring 17 years ago.

In our Psalm for today, Psalm 130, we read, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD./ Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!/  If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?/  But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.”  God’s love is perfect, and cannot be earned.  It is the very thing we hunger most deeply for.  And it is merciful, it is full of forgiveness, so that we may receive it, and God may be “revered.” 

I believe that there is no coming into the presence of the living God without deep, sometimes painful self-knowledge.  But there is a reason that Jesus speaks the phrase, “Don’t be afraid,” more than any other in the Gospels.  Divine love, which Jesus embodied, is merciful and forgiving.  And this love is transforming.  It is healing.  “…hope in the LORD!  For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with God is great power to redeem.”

In our Gospel reading (in Mark 5) for today we read about the woman who had been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years.

27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

These stories are incredibly succinct, but that invites us to read into them.  After being healed the woman is overcome with fear to the point of trembling and throwing herself on the ground before Jesus.  I have no doubt that she is overwhelmed not just by the knowledge of having touched him and having been healed, but so much more – perhaps years of guilt, shame, confusion suddenly flooding over her…  But he blesses her, reassures her gently, telling her that her faith has made her well, and says to her “go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  

 So, I have shared with you a little bit about my own hunger, my own call to the inward journey.  This call led me to Tom Peterson and the Church of the Saviour, and eventually to my work at Dayspring. 

We considered some common elements – longing, self-knowledge, merciful love which has the power to redeem – which are present in our Psalm and Gospel reading for today.  Now I would like to share a little bit about the retreat ministry at Dayspring.

Very early in the life of the Church of the Saviour, Dorothy Devers felt a call to the retreat ministry which led to the C of S buying the land that it named Dayspring in 1953.  Soon, the call to retreat became a call to silent retreat.  Retreat at Dayspring became a place of deep prayer for the church.  Weekend retreats became – and remain – a discipline; each member goes on a silent weekend retreat once a year.  It is a time of deep listening, of contemplation.  As the hour of daily study and prayer salts the day, so the weekend retreat salts the year.  I think it is significant that Dayspring preceded the blossoming of ministries that followed.  I believe that it is from the fertile ground of prayer, of the journey inward, that the ministries, like trees, began to grow.  Meister Eckhart said, “The outer work can never be small if the inner work is great, and the outer work can never be great if the inner work is small.”  There has been a lot of wonderful outer work done by the C of S community, and it is rooted in the great inner work of prayer.  This inner work is nourished in a special way at Dayspring.

When I became the director a friend asked me if I had a new vision for the mission of Dayspring.  I said that I didn’t – I believed in the practice of silent retreat.  I believe that this mission is timeless.  All wisdom traditions have stories about people going into the wilderness, or nature, to listen for God.  There are countless such stories in the Hebrew Bible, and there are many accounts in the Gospels of Jesus going into the desert alone, or sometimes with a few companions, to pray.

As many of you know, the line in Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God,” is foundational for retreat.  Here, the work of the person is to be still.  Through this quieting, the being of God is somehow known.  Entering the stillness of retreat is a way of coming into the divine presence.  Therefore, there is a difficult passage through self-knowledge, through confession, into the sacred silence.  And, though we might want to run away, to busy ourselves with this or that distraction, if we persevere we are received and loved with mercy and forgiveness, just as we are, with nothing to fear.

Over time, as the DC metropolitan area grows, and there is less wilderness and green space, the value of Dayspring as a spiritual oasis grows.  Julian of Norwich wrote, in the 14th century, “The first good thing is the goodness of nature.  God is the same thing as nature.  The goodness in nature is God.”  The natural beauty of the land of Dayspring is an essential part of the ministry.

And, as our culture becomes noisier and faster, more and more complicated by technologies constantly delivering news, information, communications and entertainment, the silence and simplicity of retreat become more essential, more needed.

In addition, the experience of spiritual community in our deeply divided society is more valuable than ever.  Our Open Retreats and Quiet Days are increasingly diverse, usually with a few people here for the first time.  On retreat, we always set a tone of deeply listening to one another with respect – not judging, not questioning, but honoring each person’s experience.  This allows for a wonderful sense of community to develop among people often very different from each other.  And this is like a drink of living water in our current divisive political climate.

Dayspring is a place, and silent retreat is a practice, to deepen the journey inward, supported by spiritual community (the journey together), and supporting the work we do in the world (the journey outward).  In the stillness, we know ourselves more fully, and rest in divine love. Thus, by grace, may we be transformed and strengthened to do as Jesus taught, to “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Amen.

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