Tag Archive | retreat

Progress

imagesLast week I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare in Wisconsin Dells again for a 4-day, solitary getaway. I packed heavier than usual this time. It took me 9 trips to bring everything from the car into the condo. I had one small suitcase with a few clothes, 3 briefcases full of books and notebooks, my computer, my piano keyboard with its ironing board-like stand and folding bench, a step stool so I can reach the top shelves of the kitchen cupboards (where the wine glasses are kept), an ice chest, and a bag of groceries. I’m not a backpacker when I travel. I like to have everything with me that I might “need.” Needless to say, I make myself comfortable in my 1100-square-foot timeshare.

I spent most of my 4 days sleeping, reading, working on my latest writing project, and going for walks when it wasn’t raining or snowing. I had a nice, relaxing time, and I made good progress on my writing project.

fullsizeoutput_2052Several months ago, when I stopped blogging weekly, I defined my next major writing project to be a daily devotional book that will be reflections on 365 of my favorite hymns. I started the project last fall by creating a list of all my favorite hymns and sorting them into the most appropriate month for each hymn.

By October, I was ready to start writing about the hymns for November – mostly hymns related to All Saints Day and Thanksgiving. I did my research on the background of each of those 30 hymns, and I contemplated my personal reasons for liking each hymn.

I designed a 2-page spread to follow for each hymn. The left page will include the hymn title, the tune name, the author of the hymn text including a brief bio of the author, the composer of the tune including a brief bio of the composer, the scripture the hymn is based on, and finally the story I want to tell about the significance of the hymn – what will make the book a devotional rather than just an annotated index to hymns I like. The right page will be a lead sheet for the hymn. I plan to create these lead sheets myself using Finale music writing software in order to address copyright concerns.

I have done most of this thinking, organizing, and writing during a few 2- or 3- day writing retreats at Christmas Mountain over the last several months. At home I’m too busy with other things to focus on such a big project. Over the past 10 years, most of my Christmas Mountain getaways have involved some writing – either writing blog posts or working on bigger projects like this.

fullsizeoutput_2051Late last fall when I had about a quarter of the November hymn devotions drafted, I decided to jump ahead to December’s hymns.

When I was about half done with December’s hymns, I decided to jump ahead to January’s hymns.

When I finished writing all 31 of January’s hymn devotions, I decided to change my approach. Rather than organizing the hymns seasonally, I decided to come up with 12 themes or styles of music, and to organize my favorite hymns within those 12 categories.

Each month will have a particular focus, rather than just being a collection of 30 or so separate hymns that loosely relate to the time of year. I’m currently envisioning this project as being twelve 68-page, self-published booklets. When they are all written I’ll decide whether or not I want to re-publish them as a single book.

My 12 themes, subject to change, are:

  1. Psalms
  2. God’s Love
  3. Lent
  4. Easter
  5. New Life
  6. Nature
  7. Classic Hymns
  8. Spirituals
  9. Gospel Songs
  10. Contemporary Styles
  11. Thankfulness
  12. Christmas

Obviously, many of my favorite hymns could fall into more than one category. Maybe I’ll incorporate cross references in the introduction to each section.

fullsizeoutput_204fI decided to start with Psalms because that’s where church music has it’s beginnings. In my “Introduction” to the Psalms booklet, I wrote:

God loved us so much that God gave us the ability to express ourselves through music. And God told us to use that gift. We are supposed to make music. The Bible is filled with examples of how to do that.…

The book of Psalms is often referred to as the hymnbook of the Bible. It consists of 150 poems set to music. Many of them are songs of praise addressed directly to God. Others are laments, sometimes blaming God for the sorry state the singer is in. Some of the Psalms plead with God for help. All the Psalms can be viewed as tools that can help us express our feelings to God, all kinds of feelings, both good and bad, or maybe it’s better to say happy and sad, peaceful and frustrated….

Over the years, many of these Psalm-based hymns have become favorites of mine. I can identify with the words, and the music helps me express the feelings within my soul….

I started the Psalm booklet with what is perhaps the most widely sung song throughout the English-speaking world today, Psalm 100, “All People That on Earth Do Dwell.” This well-known paraphrase of Psalm 100 was written by William Kethe for the Anglo-Genevan Psalter, published in 1561. The hymn has been published in more than 1,000 hymnals since that time. It is usually sung to a tune called “OLD HUNDREDTH,” composed by Louis Bourgeois in the mid-1500s.

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But this isn’t the only hymn out there that’s based on Psalm 100. About a hundred years later, Thomas Ken, an Anglican priest, wrote another paraphrase of Psalm 100, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” often referred to as the “Doxology.” This hymn is also sung to the “OLD HUNDREDTH” tune. (This is the hymn we sang every Sunday while the ushers brought our offerings to the front of the church in the Methodist church where I grew up. We also sang it as the blessing at potlucks.)

About the same time this hymn was first being sung in England, Joachim Neander, a German Reformed Church teacher, wrote a much looser paraphrase of Psalm 100, and adapted a German folk tune to serve as the music for “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” This tune is now referred to as “LOBE DEN HERREN.” Two hundred years later, Neander’s paraphrase was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth. Her translation of this hymn has been published in more than 300 hymnals.

Over the centuries, many other hymns have been written based closely or loosely on Psalm 100. One of the most recent hymns that falls into the “loosely” category is “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah” written by prolific contemporary hymn writer Marty Haugen. He used a Caribbean folk tune to carry his joyful hymn.

The first 8 pages of the Psalms section of my devotional hymns project are devoted to Psalm 100, as expressed in these 4 hymns.

037615d43a4eb23542337b122c5d54d1The original song writer of Psalm 100 must be delighted to know how far and wide this Psalm has spread, especially considering that the Psalm begins with the words, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing…” [Psalm 100:1-2 KJV] Millions of people have been singing this song of praise for thousands of years. I’m delighted to be counted among them!

That’s why I’m committed to undertaking this large writing project. I want to become even more aware of how valuable God’s gift of music is, and I want to share that awareness with others.

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Awful August – except for …

Broken Glass grass and skyDoes it ever seem like your world is shattered? That life is suddenly broken? For some of my family members, that’s what August has been like this year.

I guess I would describe August 2014 along two tracks of events. One track is affecting my broadly extended family. The other track is affecting Mim and me mostly, and a few other unrelated people. I feel like I’ve been running as fast as I can along the “Mim and me track,” but the “broader family track” keeps pulling me over to slow down and cry with my family and wonder what’s happening in our world.

Sandy and Conrad looking out their kitchen window while hospice volunteers did spring yard work.

Sandy and Conrad looking out their kitchen window while hospice volunteers did spring yard work.

Perhaps I should begin by explaining who my “broadly extended family” includes. My brother, Danny, married his high school sweetheart, Sandy, shortly after they graduated from high school in the mid-1960s. They had two kids, Cindy and Kevin. As Danny and Sandy matured, they grew in different directions and divorced when their kids were still young. Danny and Sandy still stayed in contact over the years, primarily because of their kids. They both remarried twice, bringing more in-laws and nieces (no more nephews) into the family. We’re a big, complicated (but probably fairly typical) extended family. I think of Sandy as my first sister-in-law. She is still part of my “broadly extended family.” I knew Sandy in high school, even before she dated my brother. I’ve always liked and admired Sandy. She made me laugh a lot with her quick wit.

Sandy and Conrad holding handsSandy has been in declining health for the last few years, even though she’s only 67. Several months ago Kevin took the picture of his mother and her husband, Conrad, holding hands when she was in the hospital. Kevin had gone to visit her, and he found them both asleep but still comforting each other.

A few days later she was released from the hospital, to go home on hospice. Conrad would take care of her at home.

On Monday evening, August 4, Conrad went to Subway to get sandwiches. He was killed in a car accident on his way home, on the street right in front of their home.

Sandy was devastated. She lost all will to live. She died 16 days later. Her funeral is today.

Kevin has three daughters and his sister Cindy has two sons – all who lost two very loving grandparents in August. It’s been a very sad month. We’re reminded of the observation in Ecclesiastes 3, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” But it’s really hard when two deaths – of people you love deeply – come so close together. Too much time to weep. Too much time to mourn. And no time to laugh and dance.

Farmhouse exterior - summerOn the “Mim and me track,” our farmhouse is moving quickly into its next phase. As you may recall, six years ago we turned the farmhouse into a bed-and-breakfast style spiritual retreat center. We named it Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. A year and a half ago we put Whispering Winds on hiatus and agreed to rent the farmhouse to a family who needed a place to live for a couple years. On August 3rd the renters moved out, five months earlier than planned. We were okay with that because the renters were able to buy a home of their own sooner than they expected, and we really wanted to spruce up the place and try to sell it.

A few days before the renters moved out, I received an email from someone (Jeff) who wanted to talk with me about collaborating on reopening the farmhouse as a retreat center. Eventually Jeff would like to buy the place, but for now he wanted to see if we could work together to reopen the farmhouse as a retreat center. We scheduled a time to get together at the farm and talk. That meant Mim and I had just over a week to “spruce” up the place before our meeting.

We quickly realized that we had a bigger clean-up job on our hands than we had anticipated, and we would need help. Amazingly, within that one week in early August, we had two women from a cleaning service deep-clean the five bathrooms and the kitchen; five men from a landscaping service spend a full day weeding, pruning, and removing three truckloads of brush from the yard; another handyman mow our 3-acre lawn and spread 8 more yards of mulch (he had spread 10 yards earlier in the season); our HVAC service man clean the furnace and repair the central AC; and a friend help us carry a dozen heavy boxes of dishes, glasses, flatware, and other furnishings up from the basement. With all that help, the house was presentable for our meeting with Jeff to explore the possibility of collaborating on a retreat center.

The next week, we had a friend paint walls and ceilings as needed throughout the house, reinstall parts of the kitchen cabinets, and replace the garbage disposal and faucet in the kitchen sink. Mim and I worked, too – mostly moving around furnishings to make the house look like a B&B retreat center again. It was an amazing transformation! Oh, and we also bought a new range to replace the one that had been accidentally damaged beyond repair by trying to clean the self-cleaning ovens with a spray-on oven cleaner. (Caution: Don’t ever do that!)

We were amazed. With the help of half a dozen friends and half a dozen strangers, our farmhouse was completely transformed within a couple weeks – all within the same timeframe between Conrad’s death and Sandy’s death.

Stone Meadows Condominiums

Stone Meadows Condominiums

The day after our meeting with the retreat guy (which had been a great time for sharing ideas, but probably not the beginning of a retreat collaboration), our realtor showed the house to a prospective buyer. Thanks to all the help we had received over the past week the house and 3-acre lawn were completely ready for showing!

But then everything changed. Our friend Sharon, who was renting one of the condos in the duplex next door to ours, was told that her condo had been sold and she would need to move out within a month or so. Sharon is the friend who had welcomed “Mary,” one of the 93-year-olds we care for, as a short-term roommate because we didn’t have room for her in our condo.

So… that’s what the next phase is going to be in the life of our farmhouse… Sharon and “Mary” are going to move into the farmhouse next month. Sharon may also invite her 90-year-old parents to join her for the winter months. We’ve talked with our real estate agent and have decided to take the farmhouse off the market. It seems pretty obvious that this is where Sharon and “Mary” need to be for the next several months.

That’s August 2014. Track one is filled with sadness. Track two is filled with fast-paced problem-solving and lots of hard work. Between the two tracks, we’ve been able to deeply sense God’s presence, God’s comforting love. I guess that’s why I played “God Will Take Care of You” for the prelude last Sunday in church. The awful August of 2014 demonstrates this truth. We’re not in this world alone. God is with us, as are the friends and family God has sent to comfort us, as well as the kind strangers God has ready to help us with our various challenges.

Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you;
Beneath God’s wings of love abide, God will take care of you.

Refrain:
God will take care of you, Thru ev’ry day, O’er all the way;
God will take care of you, God will take care of you.

Thru days of toil when heart grows frail, God will take care of you;
When dangers fierce your path assail, God will take care of you.

All you may need God will provide, God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied, God will take care of you.

No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon God’s breast, God will take care of you.

[Civilla D. Martin, 1904]

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How do you talk with God?

My mom and me looking pious for a program in church about 1955.

That’s something I’ve been trying to learn ever since I was a little kid. I remember the first prayer I ever learned: “God bless our food. Amen.” I said that prayer and then my brother and sister said the Norwegian table prayer, and then we could eat. My mother never had the patience to teach me the Norwegian prayer.

In kindergarten, I learned the prayer I still use before meals, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed. Amen.”  When my sister (eleven years older than me) went away to college, my mother dropped the Norwegian prayer, and whoever was at the table recited the “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer. It was easier for everyone. And, I guess that prayer let God know we appreciated God’s providing for our physical needs even if the words were English. The prayer didn’t have to be in Norwegian.

As I grew older, I sometimes thought that we should say a more mature prayer like visiting ministers or missionaries would sometimes say, something like “Our Father, thank you for the food that Thou hast provided, and for the hands that have prepared it…” When I was asked to pray in front of guests, I sometimes tried to say something like that, but was never quite sure I was saying it right. I hated to be asked to do the prayer. It didn’t feel like I was talking with God with that kind of prayer. I was doing a ritual for the approval of the guests around the table.

My bedtime prayer was always more spontaneous. Typically it was something like, “Dear Jesus, thank you for keeping me safe today and for giving me a good day. Take care of mother and daddy, Nancy and Danny, grandma…” and whoever else I was thinking about that evening.

In Sunday School and confirmation classes, I learned that my prayer should include several sections: praising God, thanking God for specific gifts to me and those I love, praying for the needs of others, and lastly, praying for my own needs. My bedtime prayers got longer, more inclusive, and more structured.

But praying before meals and at bedtime didn’t really cover all the times I felt I wanted to talk with God about something. Inevitably, there were moments of crisis when I wanted to pray to God for help or protection – like needing to do well on a particular test in college, or walking alone on a street in Chicago when I sensed someone was following me. That’s when I really wanted God to hear me, and I wanted to have God reassure me that I wasn’t alone.

As my understanding of how to talk with God continued to develop, I discovered that music was an amazing way to communicate some of my thoughts and feelings to God, and to gain new insights into what types of communication were possible with God. One old gospel song that helped me envision what my relationship with God could be like was “In the Garden” by C. Austin Miles.

I come to the garden alone,
while the dew is still on the roses;
and the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain:
And He walks with me,
and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share
as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
and the melody that he gave to me
within my heart is ringing.
Refrain.

Over the years, music has become one of the most meaningful ways for me to visit with God. I don’t sing, but I take a hymnal, sit down at the piano and pray the words as I’m playing the music. I can spend hours having a conversation with God through the hymnal.

A few years ago I came upon the book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I’ve mentioned this book several times in this blog. It’s a book of daily devotional writings, with each day’s entry written as though Jesus is talking directly to me. Scripture citations are listed at the bottom of the entry as proof that the Bible really does say those things. This book has been very helpful to me in making my conversations with God true dialogs rather than just me stating my immediate concerns. Here’s today’s entry.

Welcome challenging times as opportunities to trust Me. You have Me beside you and My Spirit within you, so no set of circumstances is too much for you to handle. When the path before you is dotted with difficulties, beware of measuring your strength against those challenges. That calculation is certain to riddle you with anxiety. Without Me, you wouldn’t make it past the first hurdle!

The way to walk through demanding days is to grip My hand tightly and stay in close communication with Me. Let your thoughts and spoken words be richly flavored with trust and thankfulness. Regardless of the day’s problems, I can keep you in perfect Peace as you stay close to Me.

James 1:2; Philippians 4:13; Isaiah 26:3

I know I’m not alone in wanting to know how to have a conversation with God, because the disciples also asked Jesus how to pray. In Matthew 6:5 Jesus told them, “… whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Then Jesus went on to say what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.”

So what prompted me to write about talking with God today? Saturday I participated in a centering prayer workshop at Whispering Winds. Prior to this workshop I had a vague understanding that centering prayer was a Christian form of meditation, somewhat similar to the meditation practices of eastern religions. Saturday’s workshop was led by three leaders who had been trained by Contemplative Outreach, the organization founded by Fr. Thomas Keating in the 1970’s to develop methods of reviving the contemplative dimension of the Gospel. (More about centering prayer and this organization is on their website www.contemplativeoutreach.org.)

In the workshop we learned practices to help us quiet our mind and sit silently with our eyes closed for periods of 20 minutes or longer. At this point, I’ll have to admit that I’m somewhat intrigued by centering prayer, although I’m not about to say it’s the “sliced bread” of prayer. The process of sitting still and emptying our minds of distracting thoughts so that God can fill us is suggested by the Psalm that I have always loved reading, “Be still and know that I am God.” [Psalm 46:10]

One of the key messages from Saturday’s workshop was that as we continue to develop our own personal relationship with God, prayer – or communication with God – takes on many forms, not just one. I can still say “Come, Lord Jesus…” and know that I’m including God in our mealtime. I can pray for my friends and family and others as I understand their needs. I can worship God and ask for help in my life by spending time at the piano with a hymnal. I can read the Bible in a variety of forms to hear God speaking to me. I can go for a walk and hear what God has to say through the songbirds and the rippling brook just down the road from Whispering Winds. And, I can sit silently in a straight-backed chair with my eyes closed for 20 minutes of centering prayer.

God wants to talk to me – and you – just as much as we want to talk with God. We have a lifetime to learn all the ways to do that.