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As I was grabbing a few things to pack for this retreat, I uncovered the Journal of [Quaker] John Woolman and decided to leave it behind as I had enough books to tote. My mother, not a Quaker, had recently been cleaning, found the copy and passed it on to me. Eventually, I thought, I’ll read it, but not on this retreat. Besides, I was heading to a convent, nowhere Quaker.
In a welcoming e-mail, Susan, the retreat director, said I’d be staying in a cabin called “Simplicity.” Perfect, I thought; sounds pretty Quaker. While scouting out my one of the seven cabins, I came across, “Hope,” “Wonder,” and “Namaste´,” before uncovering mine. Why was I assigned Simplicity? I asked myself. Surely any of the others seemed to hold more significance for me: hope in figuring out my next steps in life, wonder at spending quiet time in nature and with God, Namaste´ because I practice yoga regularly and adore that word. Of course, I always want to simplify, but that wasn’t my intention for this retreat. That’s such a mundane, everyday kind of thing. But, come to think of it, I’m not really clear what my goal is, except to get away alone and write.
As I was settling in, Susan came by and welcomed me and, as she was providing a rich and endearing history of this commune of hermitages, permanent dweller Elaine arrived, asking Susan to move her truck. We were introduced and I was drawn to look Elaine square in the eyes and hold that gaze while saying: “I was led here.” Woops, that surprised me. She had a knowing face. Our gaze broke and she was off. So was Susan and I explored outside on my own.
After a rigorous afternoon crossing creeks, pausing at the labyrinth and peeking at the other, unoccupied cabins, I headed in to grab some tea and reflection time prior to the 5:30 daily prayer in the chapel only a few steps away. This is perfect, I told myself.
I picked up a journal with entries from others who have coveted their time at this cabin and was immediately mesmerized. One kept quoting Prevallet, who had some petty insightful things to say about simplicity. I soon discovered this author penned a Quaker Pendle Hill Phamplet entitled “Reflections on Simplicity.” This writer was a nun with a wonderful theological education (Ph.D) and a year spent studying Zen Buddhism in China. She also happened to teach spirituality and Scripture during a two-year tenure at Pendle Hill, a Quaker contemplative community near Philadelphia.
I mentioned to Susan after silent prayer that I had noticed the simplicity pamphlet. “Oh, yes,” she responded. “Elaine wrote that.” The Elaine with whom I’d shared a deep moment upon arriving. The synchronicity was a little too uncomfortable. In that same conversion, I also learned that a member of my Quaker meeting, Pauletta, had just spent time here. Spooky as I had brought her book of poetry, the gift of a small-press publisher/friends who had given it to me for my birthday though we’ve never really verbalized our Pauletta connection. I’ve known these friends well before I was ever Quaker.
After prayers and before and during dinner, I dove into the book on simplicity. Elaine's words, like her eyes, immediately reached in and grabbed me with “I listen for the decision rather than make the decision” in a discourse on basing them from your center, the place connected to God. And then she began to quote from John Woolman’s Journal. You know, the one I didn’t bring. And then I read more things that are exactly what I need to hear to discern my next steps and it really is all about simplicity.
So I am here, where I am supposed to be, savoring every moment. This is retreat.
• How have I experienced synchronicity?
• How long did it take me to connect that it was?
• How am I more open as a result?
• What’s the synchronicity of simplicity in my life?
• What is my usual mode for decision making?
only took me a year
to get here
can’t even really
tell you how I found it
or why I came now
of all times
except that it was
out of desperation
to be alone
and with God
and to listen
and to follow my sister
Pauletta and meet
my teacher Eileen,
be nurtured by Susan
and let my whole being
rest in the Godfulness
of this time and space