Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Permission to laugh, permission to be alone

SHRINE MONT, Virginia -- I've been here at this retreat center the past few days for the annual fall clergy retreat for the Diocese of Virginia. This is the first clergy retreat for me in this diocese, and it is a bit daunting meeting so many new people from so many communities I've never heard of like Casanova and Rixeyville.

Getting here was a bit daunting. I rode with our new associate rector, Ann, and we hit a deer on the I-64, and had to double back to Charlottesville to get another car. We got here late and hungry and glad to be off the road at last.

Now that we are here, we've been treated to several wonderful and gentle talks by a pair of monks from Boston, Curtis Almquist and Geoffrey Tristram, both of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. They've reminded us that this priestly profession of ours is not about achievement or mastering ministry skills, but about the "stewardship of God's mysteries." They also reminded us to replenish our own spiritual mysteries, to put prayer and families first, and the church third. We can never be reminded enough of that. They also told us that Pope John XXIII had a night prayer that went like this: "It's your church, Lord. I am going to bed."

So after a day of travel, encounters with deer, listening to monks, praying with a room full of priests, deacons and bishops, and vigorous hymn singing (a little too vigorous), I toddled off to my monkish chambers in an old cabin house across from the old Shrine Mont Hotel (in picture).

When I approached my cabin, I encountered a group of clergy sitting on the porch enjoying each others' company and a wee dram. They invited me to join them. Usually I would, but I was so rung out, so exhausted, I greeted them but told them I really needed to retire, and so I did.

As I readied for sleep, I could hear them laughing and laughing outside my door. Whatever they were saying, I could not hear. But they laughed and laughed and laughed, and truthfully, I enjoyed their laughter. I still don't know them as individuals, but I am certain they work very hard in their parishes, they encounter all of life's joys and tragedies, they probably say "I am sorry" to people more times in a week than most people do in a year. They deserve to laugh, and there are few places the clergy are given permission to cut loose and just laugh and laugh.

And there are also few places where the clergy are given permission to just be alone for awhile. Both can happen right here, only a few feet from each other. Their laughter put me to sleep.

"It's your church, Lord. I am going to bed."


Ginger Greene said...

what became of the deer?

The Rev. James Richardson said...

I am somewhat regretting mentioning the deer because was gruesome. The deer darted out from the woods in front of the car, and was killed instantly. The front end of Ann's car was demolished. We did not hit any other cars, and traffic came to a stop. The deer was on the side of the highway but there was nothing to be done for the deer. We got the car back into Charlottesville.