On Ash Wednesday my dear friend Carmen and I arrived at the beautiful Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside, about 75 miles from my mountain home. The Mission hosted an Ash Wednesday Mini-Retreat, led by Father Larry Dolan, OFM, on Lenten Silence. Carmen, who attended graduate school with me twenty years ago, treated me to the retreat as a lovely birthday gift.
Garbed in the traditional brown Franciscan habit, Fr. Dolan is one of those people who exude the joyfulness of the Holy Spirit in their every glance, every word, every laugh. And he certainly had us laughing while teaching us deep spiritual truths at the same time.
We were told to bring our Bibles to the retreat, and we gave them quite a workout as Father Dolan had us flipping here, there, and everywhere, seeking Scriptures on God's silence in the morning and on our silence in the afternoon. In the morning session, Father Dolan told us to pray through the silence, when we can't hear God speaking as He continues to work through the silence, or what we perceive as silence.
After he spoke for an hour in the morning on God's silence and how God is always working even while we perceive silence, Father Dolan sent us out into the lovely retreat grounds (see above photo) to spend 90 minutes with God. I used the time to write in my journal and pray Morning Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer 2011. The weather was perfect--seventy degrees and beautifully sunny. Birdsong fluttered across the manicured lawns and blooming flower beds as I wrote, read, and prayed.
Carmen and I met for lunch in the dining hall where we met up with her friend Tanya, and then we returned to our retreat hall for another hour of talks with Father Dolan, this time about the value of our own silence, of quieting ourselves so we can hear God's voice speaking to us. Father Dolan stated, "Encountering silence is encountering God" and "Silence is being." When distracting thoughts occur while we pray, he advised us to look upon distracting thoughts as not being negative but rather as an impetus toward prayer, "something to be put on the altar." He also provided us with a prayer guide very similar to lectio divina, using many of the contemplative prayer tools I advocated in the retreat I led for Lake Murray several years ago. We were sent out to use the prayer guide or pray in our own way for another hour, and I settled into the corner pictured above, under a tree, to pray and read.
I most valued Father Dolan's sincere reminder that "Contemplative prayer is for everyone, not merely for mystics, clergy, etc. Contemplation is for all Christians." YEEESSSSSSS!!!!
At three o'clock we all met in the retreat chapel for Ash Wednesday Mass and Imposition of Ashes. Father Dolan placed the ashes on my forehead, with the traditional words, "Remember O man, that thou art dust, and to dust shalt thou return" (from Genesis 3:19). The ashes, he told us, remind us of our mortality, our sinfulness, and our being made Christ's own, marked with His sign, the cross on our foreheads.
Carmen, Tanya, and I walked through the grounds at 4:00, watching the shadows of the mission buildings stretch across the lawns and admiring the beautiful flower gardens as we chatted about the retreat and what we learned.
Spending Ash Wednesday at an all-day retreat in such a beautiful setting was the perfect way to begin the Lenten Season.
***If you would like to learn more about Ash Wednesday and Lent, please see my page above On Lent--a talk I gave last Shrove Tuesday to a small group Bible study at Lake Murray Community Church.***