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A Virtual Holy Week Retreat: The Call and The Response

Ravine
Looking Down the Ravine

It was an out-of-the-box idea, but one that I thought was worth trying—a virtual Holy Week retreat. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought this would interest so many—and from all over the world. Providing three recordings each day as well as a Zoom gathering that broke participants up into small groups, this online program provided choices for participants based on their needs and their time availability.

This successful first run will be followed by future programs—even Wisdom Schools—online. Also, this Holy Week program will return next year and will be expanded into a full Lenten retreat. Stay tuned!

Rather than try to explain the intricacies of the week, let me instead share some of the results.


Bill and Sarah said,

“Our journey through Holy Week with you was breathtaking, even from the Imaginal. The day before the week began, I was in the car, listening to Bill Bryson’s account of climbing Mt. Washington, including his description of emerging at the summit, exhausted, to find all the auto-road tourists. The very next day I’m back on Mt. Washington with you! 

“There is so much to comment on. I was going to urge that you create more of these programs. Yes! We will be in line to sign up for another virtual Wisdom event.

“Some thoughts and feedback in no particular order:

“We loved getting into the three sessions per day rhythm. We began each day at dawn, sitting as the light emerged during the meditation and movement.

“Having a Wisdom School in our home was a real, somewhat unexpected treat! Sarah especially felt that it brought the Wisdom teachings here, with us, in our home, in a way that seems to make it easier to “bring the Wisdom into our ongoing lives.” 

“Especially enjoyed your weaving strands of psychology, Wisdom, and Christianity. The metaphor of the climb. Emerging into multiple conclusions to the week/climb.

Boehme
Illustration for “The works of Jacob Behmen” (Boehme)

“If meaning is resonance, there was a heap of meaning in your program. Your voice, the music, the metaphors, and of course the content all resonated in beautiful harmony. At times it all but carried us away. I can’t stress too much how your voice added a dimension to the daily sessions. These were qualities to your program that are actually hard to reproduce in a residential retreat.

“It was intense! By Wednesday night I wasn’t sure I could make it to the end. But I got a second wind Thursday, and carried on. I don’t really know how to describe Monday night’s session. What I know of the concept of the Imaginal Realm, and chiasm, would apply. Sarah and I have both struggled with family members having passed away, or with serious illness. This has brought to us both a fair amount of psychological pain related to regret, or betrayal, or childhood wounds resurfacing. Your recording Monday night seemed to speak directly to us and to these issues.

“The comment about our yearning being part of the creation of the program echoes what little I know of Jacob Boehme’s vision on the creation of the universe. Something comes from nothing through yearning.

“It is so apparent that you poured yourself into this work. We are grateful!”

In Silence and appreciation, Frances shared,

“In response to your request for reflections on Holy Week, I want you to know how profoundly I was affected. I didn’t even know how hungry I was for a deeper experience of the Paschal Mystery. I attend a wonderful Episcopal Church here in Santa Fe. There were daily services and prayers following the journey through Holy Week of which I attended most. But something was missing. From the first day of your Holy Week retreat, I felt the depths opening; the silence and the music, your voice and words, the meditation joining with others, the reflection questions all kept inviting me beyond my mind into heart and soul. And of course the inclusion of Mary Magdalene and her transformative role and abiding love brought tears of joy. All that being said, the real meaning of the week and the soulful opening it offered me goes beyond words. I imagine I will be integrating (I certainly hope so) for quite some time to come. Indeed, something has transformed and opened in me. I offer you a great sigh of gratitude.

“I studied with Cynthia at three of her Wisdom Schools over the years when she taught at House of Prayer in Minnesota. I’ve read all of her books. Along with Centering Prayer and yearly silent retreats, Cynthia’s wisdom teachings form the cornerstone of my spiritual life, the axis mundi around which I navigate the Divine. But managing to come East for continuing studies became more problematic. You walked me through an experience of the Wisdom way even though I was skeptical it was possible online. I encourage you to hold to your intention to create a virtual Wisdom School. What a Godsend that would be for me and no doubt others!!

Barbara said,

“I am so grateful to have been part of the retreat last week. Thank you for offering it. Because of work and time/travel constraints, it is difficult for me to get to residential retreats. 

“I had cleared my schedule so that I was able to intersperse the various components of the retreat throughout each day and evening. It all worked very well on a practical level, anchoring me to increasing depth and connection to Christ throughout the entire week.

“Especially transformative were the guided evening practices, the questions, and the teaching. I also loved meeting my fellow pilgrims and talking in depth with them. The readings were wonderful, as was the focus on Mary Magdalene.

“I found that I was given a stillness and love deep in my heart that I had not accessed previously despite many years of meditation in traditional forms. Although I initially resisted looking at my faults yet again, there was a breakthrough in the exercise on self-forgiveness where we focused on the heart space. Since that time, the self-judgements have been less intense and I am able to release them sooner than before.

“Also, there is much more stillness within and in a felt sense, maybe a cracking of my defenses that block receptivity to love. 

“A call I received was to go deeper with this work, and I am committing myself to that. When you mentioned you would probably offer some Wisdom Schools on the zoom platform, I was delighted.

“Another call is to continue in my role as an activist for the earth and social justice. With the inner work, the outer will hopefully be more profound.

“There are still many changes from this wonderful retreat that will reveal themselves as time goes on, but I do hope I have been able to articulate some of the immediate ones.”

Mt. Washington
Rolling Hills, Mount Washington NH Photo courtesy of Ben Ferenchak https://www.flickr.com/photos/benfff85/

And Helena, from the Czech Republic, wrote,

“Thank you for the unforgettable Holy Week! I have waited for such an event for many years.

“The whole program structure, the teachings and practices, the mountain parable, the Zoom meetings – everything constructed a unique experience to me. Yes, it was very difficult to squeeze in almost 3 hours a day in my daily program, because I really wanted to concentrate on each piece. But it was a meaningful and impactful time, worth the effort!

“I do belong among the “Christians of the broken heart” – as Cynthia Bourgeault calls us in her books. Having been brought up in a catholic family, I went through a long “dark night of my faith”. To my questions, only dogmas came as a reply. I have however felt subconsciously, that there must be something more about His teachings. It is wonderful to listen to words that my ears and heart can understand.

“Thank you for a having prepared a program for those who share the same perspective, but who do not have the possibility to join the Wisdom retreats personally on far away locations. Just reading the feedback on Amazon on Cynthia´s books makes it clear, that the number of those sharing this perspective of Christianity is growing immensely worldwide.

 “I am grateful, that you provided a platform, where despite distance, all of us may join.”

Mt Washington
Bird’s-eye View From the Summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire https://www.flickr.com/search/?user_id=24528911%40N05&view_all=1&text=mt%20washington

In response to my own experience in creating and leading this virtual retreat, I sent out a post-script to this newly formed virtual community. This included the following:

“This program has been struggling within me to find expression for nearly ten years. In fact, it was about that long ago that I wrote an initial and abbreviated piece that I expanded into the ‘Invitation,’ the first recording. I love the metaphor of climbing a mountain and linking it with doing some of the challenging work of Holy Week. And because Mount Washington—a peak I have climbed on more than one occasion—also has an auto road that can take you quickly and safely to the top, the contrast between driving and climbing seemed apt to the choice before us on Passion/Palm Sunday.

 “Let me struggle to find words for this next part. As it also happens when I am sitting in a circle of participants of a residential Wisdom School, I have been aware of a dynamic by which your yearning and your presence in this retreat became an attracting and compelling force that helped to draw the teaching up from the depths and then through me. That may sound a little fanciful, but I have come to sense the deep truth in this. Who, then, is responsible for the material as it became manifest? Well, I am, of course; but you are, too, for it was your desire and your yearning that drew it up through and then out of me. Your desires, in no small way then, bear a responsibility for what became manifest in this program.

 “This experience has changed my life in some very interesting and, I think, profound ways. First of all, through my own participation in the program, I myself find ‘that nothing appears different, and yet everything has changed.’ The interior of things seems rearranged such that, even though things look the same on the outside, the connective tissue linking everything is now much more evident. And the seeing of this—the witnessing of this—seems to even strengthen these bonds.

“There is a power of going through the eye of this needle with others. And even though we have not been able to be in physical proximity, I can sense the deep connections, nonetheless. And I am just so grateful for your participation. It has meant the world to me.

“This virtual Holy Week experience has changed the focus of my work life as well. I now see both the wide-ranging need and pervasive yearning extending out over the entire planet. In the way that Cynthia Bourgeault has led Wisdom Schools and in the manner I have followed in her lineage, these Schools have been populated by participants who have the time, the resources, and the geographical accessibility to these residential events. Often, these Schools are filled with folks who have already attended multiple other Wisdom Schools. And there is no criticism in that—except that it has meant that there are still vast numbers of hungry seekers out there who are not being served. For me, then, this venture into the virtual realm has changed all that. I am quite sure I will still do some residential Wisdom Schools, but I feel strongly called to do more of this kind of work that was initiated in our virtual Holy Week retreat.

 “Although I have not yet firmed up any plans, I now hold the intention to create a number of virtual Wisdom School that will cover what we have presented in residential Wisdom Schools—Heart-Centered Living, Visionary Seeing, and Conscious Love. I will keep you abreast of this preparation and work. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this prospect!

“As I myself was listening to these recordings with you through the week (although I had obviously listened to them countless times before in their preparation), it began to dawn on me as we drew close to Easter that the teaching and work reflected in these recordings represent the culmination of my life work. As we lowered ourselves into the silent stupor of Holy Saturday, I wondered where I could possibly go from here. I found myself wondering if this might be my swan song. But then, out of the Silence and Stillness of Holy Saturday, came a new light and new possibilities. Not only were there thoughts about virtual Wisdom Schools that were forming, but also fresh ideas about new inroads into the depths of Holy Week began to come as well. Now I can say in all truth that, God willing, I look forward to working with you in the very near future and next year in Holy Week as well!”

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