Richard Foster's amazing book, Celebration of Discipline, has captured my imagination and heart in a way that few books have. In fact, I believe that only the Scriptures and the Book of Common Prayer have affected my faith life more than this book. I bought the 1988 25th anniversary edition from half.com on a whim a year ago, and I started to ponder it and all its implications.
The chapters on meditation, solitude, prayer, and silence grabbed me the most. This book created much of the basis for our church's women's contemplative retreat last spring. It's not as if I didn't KNOW this stuff, after all -- but I didn't know how to move it from an intellectual level to a practical, applicable level. And being able to do so has moved my faith life into new and suprising places -- deep watering places, joyful adorational places.
So when I found that my neighbor (everyone in our small town is considered a "neighbor" -- that's life in a mountain town of 700 homes) loved this book as well, it seemed only natural that Sheri and I should study this book together. First we found an objective study guide, then Sheri showed me a journal study guide as well, which I had to obtain immediately. We used both as we delved into one discipline each week during the summer -- studying the chapters on meditation, prayer, fasting, and study, with simplicity and solitude still before us.
Summer -- that blessed, lazy time of year when home schooling doesn't enter the brain (once next fall's books are ordered, anyway) and deep study can actually be a possibility, despite my four children (and Sheri's three girls with a fourth (a boy) in the adoption process) and their assorted buddies flying in and out the front door. So either sitting at my husband-made school table in my living room, surrounded by pine board walls and a hulking stone fireplace, or else lounging at Sheri's kitchen table, alive with the scent of fresh coffee and green tea, we share our ideas and musings on a discipline while seven kids patter in and out of the rooms. We are distracted from the study of solitude by the approach of a crying child ready to display his latest "owie" or by fighting siblings who refuse to share as we study simplicity.
It's not a perfect situation, but it's the best that can happen in our current place in life. And underneath the groaning as another "catastrophe" is dealt with by either mother, we know that mothering and educating these young beings is truly where our hearts lie.
However, last Saturday Sheri and I escaped! We left children with their sweet, gullible fathers and drove, tea and coffee in hand, to the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside. One of the latest and certainly the largest of the California missions, it boasts a retreat center that is breathtaking. A courtyard is filled with green grass, rose and flower gardens, and a pepper tree whose large branches are uneasily supported with logs. We dragged our beach chairs under a tree near a bright bouganvilla, set out our books, and enjoyed a mild day of sunshine and ocean-tinged breezes. Thankful that the forecasted drizzle had dissipated into a sunshiny day in the mid-70s (so different from our near 100 degree weather at home!), we sat silently: reading, writing in our journals, praying, sharing a Bible.
We ate a salad bar lunch in a dining hall hung with tapestries of different saints, with high windows allowing the sun to stream in. Then back to our shady spot and silence until 3:00, when we shared our findings and our hearts, then toured the Mission museum, church, and cemetery. The church! Very Spanish -- very Native American -- very strange! The wall paintings were brightly colored, definitely influenced by the Native cultures of the area. But the statues! Besides the tall front altar which had three levels of life-sized statues, side altars also held statues, including one of the Suffering Christ that had real hair and porcelain teeth and moveable limbs. It freaked both Sheri and I more than a little in its bizarre reality. But overall, the church was a grand and glorious place, with its shiny dark wood pews, its ancient bapistry tucked into a rear corner, the shrine to Mary off one side of the cross-shaped church which used to be the mortuary, and the bell tower cupola soaring high above our heads.
Then we got lost. Although I had been here twice before for retreats, I couldn't remember how to get out into the cemetery. We wandered around, the last ones admitted to the museum and church, and the idea kept occurring to me that we would ge locked in overnight! But then I remembered that the shrine to Mary, the former mortuary, had a little hidden door that opens into the graveyard. We felt like explorers, opening up this ancient wooden door and finding ourselves squinting into the late afternoon sunshine, surrounded by crumbling as well as shining new tombstones.
The cemetery is still being used as the Mission is an active parish, so we silently skirted the families who were paying their respects here and there and explored the central fountain, surrounded by wooden benches. Sheri's husband, Luke, had blearily informed me that morning that Sheri had "a thing" for cemeteries; I was delighted, for I do as well. Nothing could have pleased me more than looking out Vera's windows when E and I stayed in Upstate New York with her recently and seeing a little graveyard across the street! I LOVE old graveyards -- don't know why, exactly. Perhaps it's the sense of history, or the beauty of old upright stones and crosses, or the peacefulness and reverence that accompany such a place. Anyway, I found the cemetery relaxing and beautiful at the Mission.
Sheri and I finished up our retreat with walking the Stations of the Cross in the parklike area behind the Mission, then started the long drive back to home and children and the Tyranny of the Urgent, ducking into coastal Carlsbad for pizza on the way back to "real life."