Sunday, January 29, 2017

St. Francis Springs Prayer Center, Stoneville, NC

Two weeks ago Sunday, I drove up to Stoneville, NC to the St. Francis Springs Prayer Center for my first extended silent retreat.  Prior to this retreat, The Big Silence, I hadn't done more than an overnight retreat in silence.  More on the silence part at another time.  For this post, I want to focus on the retreat center.

This was a new retreat center for me.  I have been blessed over the past couple of years through being on the board of the Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders (FUMSDRL) to go to retreat centers each summer for board meetings and/or conferences (depending on the year).  I like to share my experiences in case others are looking for spaces for time apart and/or retreats.

St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, NC was a new place for me.  It was in a rural location, which made it perfect for a silent retreat in that the only external noises heard were those of owls, woodpeckers, and an occasional plane flying overhead at a very high elevation.  There was also some construction being done on site while we were there, but that wasn't disturbing to me.  I enjoyed hearing the sound of progress as stones were added to pillars and I enjoyed hearing the occasional Spanish spoken as I walked by.

When we arrived at the center, they were still decorated for the Christmas season, which was delightful. There were several Christmas trees around the main building, a huge nativity scene, and a smaller one. The decorations began to disappear on Monday.

Because the center is named for St. Francis, there are multiple St. Francis statues on the property.  I don't know how many total, but I found several. One of them I didn't find until the last day.

There are many spaces on the property for reflection, for quiet, for walking, for rest.  There are trails on the property, a labyrinth, a chapel in the woods, a chapel in the main building, an outdoor patio at the main building, a gazebo as you begin the trail, a peace garden, stations of the cross, a creek along portions of the walking trail, a waterfall constructed out of big rocks.

There is a meditation room in the main building as well as the chapel, along with a well-stocked library and other rooms for gathering.

The retreat center is beautiful, from the architecture to the layout to the outdoors.  They have done a wonderful job in creating a space for folks to take time apart.

If you've not heard of St. Francis Springs Prayer Center, I encourage you to check it out.  It was about a 7 hour drive for me from Chattanooga and worth it.

Here are some of the pictures I took of the buildings and the grounds.  There are rooms in the main building as well as hermitages and cottages for lodging.

entry way from main road

main building

entrance to main building

Christmas decorations in large room

chapel in the woods

St. Francis

Chapel in main building

Christmas decorations in hallway

St. Francis



reflection space on upper trail


St. Francis

Tau symbol (view from main building)

Check out their website by clicking here for more information and pictures.

Blessings on your journey,


Blessed are...

bulletin cover

Today I used the Matthew 5:1-12 passage from the lectionary, the beatitudes.  One of the songs that was used in the service was a new one for me.  It reminded us to be salt (shake, shake, shake) and light (shine, shine, shine) and used terminology such as "bullied" rather than "persecuted".  It was a fun song, with a catchy tune and an important message.  Check it out below:

The lyrics:

Verse 1 Blessed are the poor in spirit Those who see the sin in their hearts Blessed are the ones who are weeping Cause sin has torn the whole world apart

Verse 2 Blessed are the meek and humble God will freely give them all things Blessed are the ones who are hungry And thirst for justice and wait on their King

Chorus We are the salt of the earth We’re going to shake, shake, shake like a salt-shaker We are the light of the world We’re going to shine, shine, shine ‘til the night’s no more We’re going to shine, shine, shine ‘til the night’s no more

Verse 3 Blessed are the merciful Whose sins are forgiven and so they can forgive Blessed are the pure in heart God will show His face to them

Verse 4 Blessed are the ones who make peace Loving others with the Savior’s love Blessed are those bullied for their faith Great in God’s kingdom will be their reward

Copyright © 2013 Matt Mason/Mandi Mapes/Brook Hills Music, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

In preparing for today, I couldn't get a song out of my head.  The lyrics that were going through my mind were: "everybody needs compassion".

As I had read the Scripture in preparation to preach and had studied, I kept coming back to living into this different way of living that Christ modeled and taught and how compassion plays a key role in it.  I looked up the song that was swimming around in my head.

It was a Hillsong United song, "Mighty to Save".  I found the lyrics and shared them in today's message.  They seemed to fit.


Everyone needs compassion
A love that's never failing
Let mercy fall on me
Everyone needs forgiveness
A kindness of a Savior
The hope of nations
My Savior
He can move the mountains
My God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
So take me as You find me
All my fears and failures
Fill my life again
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in
Now I surrender
Shine your light and let the whole world see
We're singing for the glory of the risen King...Jesus

Compassion.  Hopefulness. Simplicity.  There were the thoughts that came from today's Scripture and readings, sharing that Jesus calls us to follow as disciples on this discipleship journey.

I am reminded that because God is love, there is a foundation for both compassion and hope.

May the love, light, compassion, and hope of Creator God continue to shine brightly in the dark places so that all people recognize that they are loved.

Blessed are they.

Blessings on your journey,


Friday, January 13, 2017

Reflections on Entering Into the Silence

It's almost here. The silent retreat, The Big Silence, that I signed up for several months ago is finally here.

I'm excited.  I really am.

For those of you who know me, you know I'm an extrovert.  Yet, I'm an introverted extrovert.  I've learned over the years that I need my silence and solitude in order to be who I'm created to be.  I live, love, and lead more effectively when I take/make time for silence and solitude.

The Academy for Spiritual Formation and SOULfeast, among other offerings from The Upper Room, have been life savers for me in learning that rhythm of inward and outward flow.

The Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders (FUMSDRL), also known as Hearts on Fire, has also spoken into my life through retreats and board meetings.

I have done a Centering Prayer day retreat up at St. Mary's Sewanee a couple of years back (and another 1/2 day one during lent or advent one year).

Last year I did a clergy group in which we took a retreat at the end (after studying Ruth Haley Barton's book on Silence and Solitude) and spent quite a bit of time in silence up at St. Mary's in Sewanee, TN.  That was super.

Recently, I found the SoulCare Project here in Chattanooga and have participated in a couple of day retreats with silence and time for my soul to catch up with my body.

I don't make it as often as I'd like, but I try to make it to a Centering Prayer group here in town.  When I do make it, my soul is refreshed.

However, taking a 4 day silent (mostly all silent) retreat has not been something I've been able to do yet.  It has been on my bucket list.  Yep.  Not as something to simply do and cross off, but rather as something to live into and continue as I can.

As Rafiki from the Lion King would say, "It is time."

How do I know?  The timing has been affirmed over and over.  I was hesitant to sign up at first, but after prayer and discernment, I took the plunge.  It has become evident that this is the right timing in my journey to do this, because of many different things going on.  I am grateful for the nudgings so many months ago.

As I prepare to enter the silence, I realize I honestly don't know what to expect.  I chuckle to myself as I recall reading Ruth Haley Barton's comments about going to a silent retreat once and how it took time to settle down into it.

I've done all the work stuff I can ahead of time for next week.  I set my work phone message to let folks know I'd be away.  I still need to set emails to show "out of office" if I can figure that out. We'll see.

I have my hammock ready to go with me (it's supposed to be warm weather, in the 50s).

I have a regular camera in case my phone camera won't work.  Contemplative photography is a big part of my silent time, so I imagine I will spend time in reflection through nature and that pictures will be part of that process.

I have my journals ready.  Yes, that was plural.  I'm going to use this opportunity to go back and read the journals from my time in the 2 Year Academy.

Hmmm.... my flute?  It's not silent, but it is a way for me to connect.  We'll see.  I haven't prayed my native american flute in a long time.

I have the Henri Nouwen book we were asked to read, The Way of the Heart.  I haven't quite finished it yet.  I have a few other Nouwen books and a McClaren book ready to jump in with me too.

What do I expect?  I expect to meet with the One who created me.  I expect to "be still and know".  I look forward to the time to listen.  To simply be.

Honestly, my body is so tired right now, I will probably sleep some too.  But as I learned in the Academy from numerous presenters, 'sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do during this hour is nap'.  That was often said (in different ways) as we finished our teaching time and headed into our hour of silence and reflection.

After about 3:30pm or 4pm on Sunday afternoon, January 15th, I won't be present in the virtual world.  I won't be checking emails.  I won't be making or taking phone calls.  A technology fast.

That means one of my spiritual disciplines, blogging, will need to wait as well.  I suppose.  We'll see.  Writing is a spiritual discipline for me and I've not had lots of time to write and reflect lately.  But, maybe at this retreat it will all be hand-written.  That'll be different for me.

As I enter into this experience, I enter with palms opened up to my Creator with no agenda other than to accept the gift of receiving whatever it may be that God has for me in this adventure.

Blessings on your journey,