Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pilgrimage to Living Water

Last weekend I had the pleasure and privilege of leading the very first (hopefully of many nationally) 'Pilgrimage to Living Water' Retreat with members of the Presbytery of the Downs (Uniting Church in Queensland). These pilgrimages have been designed by the Spiritual Direction Network of the Uniting Church in response to the Assembly theme 'Living Water, Thirsty Land'. I was a little apprehensive about leading a retreat with such a theme in that particular context. Within the bounds of that Presbytery are some of the worst-affected areas in the recent catastrophic floods. A significant amount of time had been dedicated in that Presbytery meeting to storytelling and debriefing about the impacts of the floods and also the responses of the church at various levels to help assist people materially and spiritually.

But on advice from the Presbytery Minister we persevered! I am not a trained retreat leader and by temperament I tend to be more of a 'fidgety activist' than a 'contemplative'. But I needn't have worried. They were very open to the theme and to the spaces for reflection, prayer, exercise and rest that the retreat offered. We journeyed through 6 'stations' culminating at a creek at the bottom of the glorious campsite at Cunningham's Gap. The highlight for me was the use of Rob Gallagher's stunning icon specially 'written' for the pilgrimages. I understand that to consecrate an icon it needs to be present at a celebration of the eucharist as it duly was. After a brief introduction to icons and how they might nourish our prayer and reflection (new to many) we then followed the icon from station to station engaging with it in various ways. We used 'lectio divina' (sacred reading of scripture), music, silent prayer, sharing in small groups and at the final station, reaffirmed our baptism. Personally I found it a deeply helpful exercise in experiencing anew the presence of the living God in a way that was deeply personal but experienced in community.

My thanks to our Spiritual Direction Network and also to the wonderful people of the Downs Presbytery for their hospitality and their openness to new (and very ancient!) ways of encountering God.

Now I'm off to the photo place to make multiple copies of the icon. Many of the participants want either to introduce it to their own congregations, or to have their personal copy to aid their prayer.