Monday, June 27, 2011

2011.06.27 MIRAMAR of Beauty

I’ve just returned from a week’s silent retreat at MIRAMAR in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

MIRAMAR is a five star retreat center, my review.

Entering into the silence is always daunting no matter how may times I tell myself I’ve done this before. I’m afraid of myself.

So I came with armor: a satchel full of books few of which I read, and comfort food, though the meals were ample and I ate everything in sight. Praying and strolling, breathing and gazing into beauty makes me sooooo hungry.

I brought M&Ms. I ate 25 the first night and never touched them again.

MIRAMAR as its name suggests provides a view of the sea, a long distance view, a streak of blue across the horizon. Beaches and a full view are in easy distance but the streak is all I needed because I felt part of a painting, a great work of art.

I came feeling sad and left rejoicing. No, I didn’t forget or cease to love my usual retreat place Mercy Center, closed for renovations. I simply learned to appreciate Godde’s many and varied outfit changes. What a closet!— and we think women are wardrobe addicts.

The grounds of MIRAMAR deserve special mention. They are tended lovingly by a gardener named Yvonne.

Her predecessor was the late “Spike” Dudink of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), the order that owns and manages MIRAMAR. Dudink, an artist, created a Zen garden, exquisite in every blossom, tree and fountain. Retreatants, I was told, used to weep watching Dudink tend each small plant with a tenderness of the quality that assures thriving. This man prayed the gardens into being, an artist like his Creator.

He also created a tabernacle the like of which I’ve never seen. Most are ugly brass vessels, dumpy and unlovely, not fit for any food let alone spiritual food, my opinion. But this one is made of 6 concentric circles, the outermost one about 4 feet in diameter. The outer 3 circles, made it would seem of sturdy wallboard painted in blues from pale to vibrant; the center three of hammered silver, the centermost a raised metal sculpture of Jesus with his two friends, a woman and a man, breaking bread together and recognizing each other in meal and gaze.

The image is from the biblical story of the road to Emmaus in Luke and of course the Christian eucharist, but the blessing of being daily in sweet communion over good food is like a dream to me and perhaps to others. (How many happy-family meals end in tears I wonder?)

Gardener Yvonne is not a monastic and I don’t know her spirituality but you only have to look around to discern divinity in her designs, her prunings and plantings. If a tree is sick it gets immediate attention. This gardener is a birther and healer of plants. I understand why Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus after his resurrection for a gardener. Not a mistake.

And the two trees with their two trunks I mentioned in my last post, the two that grew into one and brought forth a third and altogether different tree? Is that resurrection or what?

(OK I know I project the beauty of some basic Christian ideas onto everything in sight but who could argue with new life ever-renewed & transformed, abundance, and the divinity of all things?)

There is also much human beauty at MIRAMAR. The staff smiled. They greeted you with a nod. They were silent and they spoke. The inside is as well cared for as the outside. The hierarchy or role and rank was obvious but not intrusive, just part of the fabric of life. Some cooked and some cooked eucharist. Some preached using words and some proclaimed truth with breath.

I have to mention the geese, notorious pests. They reminded me a bit of sheep, all day grazing and fouling the grasses and the small pond, their camp ground for now. They are waddly critters unsteady of gate. They followed the leader well. I never saw them fly except to catch up with the line-up doing a quick hop-flutter.

The flock of nine were military, patrolling the grassy slopes in a wobbly line around the pond. The poor things could hardly thread their way through the pond waters because it was so full of their poop. Clockwork regular, they bedded down at the foot of a line of shrubs every night at 8:15 p.m. in a huddle. (The birds, au contraire, stayed up to party and rose before dawn rose.)

At night I heard the geese make muffled grunty sounds too subtle to be croaky pond frogs. Do geese snore? I listened for the odd sound as a child might for a lullaby.

Geese!? I’ve romanticized. But ah, when they fly off in perfect formation, they touch heaven.

Jessica Powers, OCD, a Carmelite sister and fine poet—published!—sums up the spirituality of MIRAMAR and my retreat experience best.

“The desirable thing about beauty is that we can find great rapture in it, without any consideration of our inadequacies. In this vein I have often thought that the beauty of God is more than the love of God. When I think of the love of God, I become aware of my own emptiness of heart; when I think of the goodness of God, I remember my own failure; when I think of the beauty of God, I cease to exist at all. I become a living adoration.”

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