Retreat on Awe and Mystery

Creation Time E-Retreat

The Shaping Power of Awe and Mystery 

September 10, 2011
Dear MacLean,


Here we are. As you read this know that you are among a community of more than 40 participants.  You may never know each others name yet we are bound by whatever spark prompted each one to be part of this creation time e-retreat. I invite you to hold one another in prayer.


This email will be much longer than others.  I will take a little space offering a few words of introduction to our e-retreat.

Each week I will offer a brief reflection on the theme. This is meant to put a story among us and prompt your own reflection.  You may want to sit with the questions or journal your thoughts. Use what's helpful.

I will also offer a few sentences/quotes inviting you to settle into the presence of God. You can use one or more each day or perhaps there is one that has particular meaning for you and you can claim it as yours for the week.  Sink into it.  Pray it slowly.  Let it unfold within you.


You will find at least one prayer practice drawn from traditions ancient and new. These invite us deeper into the wildness and generosity of God.  


I'll make a few other suggestions for reflecting on the theme each week.  Some may appeal to you; others will not. 


There is no "right" way to do this retreat.  Some of you may choose to set aside few minutes each day to retreat and put together a flow that uses some of the material offered. Others may find a block of time once or twice a week and spend a longer time in reflection and prayer. Some of you may find elements to complement a regular daily practice.


You might:  


Settle into stillness. You might want to use the community litany below as a way of praying for others in your e-community.

Listen deeply - using some of the sentences offerered.

Pray using the prayer practice suggested for the week. 

Respond by reflecting on the questions or writing in your journal or using one of the other suggestions offered.

Let your day unfold.  I follow the practice of the Iona Community where there is no benediction at the end of the morning service or opportunity to sit down.  The worship flows into the work of the day! (Or your sleep at night if retreating in the evening.)


I invite you to email  me if you have questions or comments.  You are also welcome to use the In Courage Facebook site to share comments or find other readings or quotes for your retreat.


(The blue underlined words are links and will take you to visit other sites or open an email.)


May the shaping power of awe and mystery fill you this week.



Litany for our Electronic Community

Gather Us In

Inspired by #7 in More Voices

Gather us in, ground us in you!

In ways that are yet to be known.


We sign in and log on, from Islands and mainland,

cities and country-side. Gather us in ...

In ways that are yet to be known.


We offer our time, our prayers, our energy and hope

to shine forth...

In ways that are yet to be known.


Trace bold designs among us, Creating God, in these days of retreat,

In ways that are yet to be know. Amen.



The Shaping Power of Awe & Mystery


I wasn't thinking about a new life in prayer the day I picked up Brian Swimme's book, The Universe is a Green Dragon from a heap of used books.  Besides  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do you See?, the board book chosen relentlessly this summer by young Patrick, there is no other book I've been drawn to read over and over again.


I was entralled with the story of our elegant universe.  I tumbled into the world of mathematics, cosmology, physics and ecology new to me and so alluring.  I found a deep and ancient story that shook my meaning-making and prompted a reading frenzy and a sabbatical. 


And it rattled my life in prayer.  In a good way.  Although it's always only a "good way" after you make it through the unsettled, chaotic, sparse, dry days of transformation!


For a long time I felt like I was "between stories" trying to live and work and have my being in one way of seeing the world/God yet getting alluring glimpses of a contemplative way calling me into a new relationship with Earth and the One who is Holy Mystery. 


If you knew how long it is taking to word this reflection you would know I still struggle to find the words to express this journey and perhaps that is a good thing.  Partick's older sister, Grace who is three, told me this summer that words make her sneeze.  I know wisdom when I hear it.  I love words but they do have their limitation.


Thomas Berry has long maintained that our sense of the Divine is too dependent on verbal sources (like the Bible and sermons and books). We have lost contact with the revelation of God in creation.


So, in these weeks of Creation-time we will explore several shaping powers of the universe.  They are the capacities or the qualities that brought our universe into being and are still present in this unfolding universe.  They are present in our Genesis creation stories that sit alongside the universe story that science tells. They are, of course, present in us and among us. They are the shaping powers in the movement of transformation.  


This week we explore the shaping power of awe and mystery.  Cletus Wessels says, "I am convinced that some direct experience of deep mystery within creation itself is the best way to ground our spirituality and our faith." (The Holy Web, 2003.)


 "God is Holy Mystery,

beyond complete knowledge,

above perfect description."


A Song of Faith, The United Church of Canada


So enough words for now.   

Questions or Prompts for Your Reflection
The Shaping Power of Awe & Mystery
  1. Think about an event or experience in your life which you would say was 'transformational.'  Make a list of the qualities or values that made it transformational?  What words would you use to describe the experience or event you are thinking about?  Notice where there was mystery.  Over the weeks see if other shaping powers were part of your story?
  2. Write about what's in your heart at the start of this retreat. Write about what's in your heart at the start (or end) of this day?
  3. Wonder: How do seeds know how to grow into trees?
  4. Look out your window.  Record what you see without using words.(Paints, markers, sounds, movement)
  5. Allow yourself to be in the silence of God's presence without words, thoughts or images.
  6. "I've always been fascinated by the way

    Earth creates jewels.

    A lump of graphite buried deep in the dark and under great pressure,

    somehow becomes a briliant diamond.

    How, then, do I a bit of lumpy flesh and so much more,

    awaken to shine forth as the Universe?"  - Paula Hirschboeck 

Settling into the Presence of God

"Finding ourselves in a world of beauty and mystery,

of living things, diverse and interdependent,

of complex patterns of growth and evolution,

of subatomic particles and cosmic swirls,

we sing of God the Creator,

the Maker and Source of all that is." 

The Song of Faith, The United Church of Canada 


"Everywhere was a huge


Mysterious place,

Like something waiting to happen..." 

By Carole Martinaccio, The Everything Seed: A Story of Beginnings.



The Psalms call various parts of creation (not just the human species!) to rejoice and praise God. 


Let the skies be glad and Earth rejoice!

Let the sea roar and all that fills it!

Let the field exult and everything in it!

Then will all the trees of the forest sing for joy,

Before the Lord, for God comes to rule Earth.  (Psalm 96:11-13)


Give praise to the Beloved, all the earth,

all that swims in the deep,

all the winged ones of the air!

Give praise all four-leggeds

and all that creep on the ground.  (Psalm 148: 7-10)



It lives in the seed of a tree as it grows.

You hear it if you listen to the wind as it blows.

It's there in a river as it flows into the sea.

It's the sound in a soul of becoming free ... 



Oh Mystery - you are alive.

I feel you all around.

You are the fire in my heart,

You are the holy sound,

You are all of life -

It is to you that I sing.

Grant that I may feel you, always in everything. 


Paul Winter, in the Missa Gaia/Earth Mass



O Author of the Universe:

how often in the midst of our busyness,

our getting and spending,

our planning and delivering,

we find ourselves tired and listless.

We have lost a sense of joy in your presence

and gratitude for the simple beauty of Earth.

Remove the dullness of our minds,

and awaken us again to delight in you throughout creation. Amen


The United Church of Canada


Breath Prayer

Desert Fathers and Mothers

The Desert Fathers and Mothers shaped verses of scripture or words of prayer to the rhythm of their breathing and carried their prayer into line-ups at the bank or grocery line or while waiting at stop lights. Well, maybe they had their own spots of impatience which they filled with prayer!


Here is a prayer to try this week.  One the in-breath pray the words: Originating and Sustaining Mystery. On your Out-breath, pray: fill me with awe.


The image of God as "Orginating and Sustaining Mystery" is one favoured by Diarmuid O'Murchu in his book Evolutionary Faith


Use this prayer or find words of scripture or lines of music that fit the rhythm of your breath. 


Sink into your breath prayer. You carry the prayer and the prayer carries you.

Take Action
Suggestions for Deepening Awe & Mystery
You can read the story of The Everything Seed here.  I do recommend the book with its beautiful illustrations.


Sometimes we need images rather than words to spark our prayer.  Photography walks are part of my practice and each week I will try to post a picture that expresses the theme for me.  You might want to dig out your camera and receive your own images.  (I am learning to receive pictures rather than take them.) Here is the link to the picture I posted.


Listen to music.  Here is the link to where you can listen to the music of Carolyn McDade.  A new CD is soon to be released.


View images from the Hubble Telescope.


Is the moon waxing or waning?  Don't know?  Don't look it up.  Go outside every night until you know.


Go for a walk outdoors.  Be mindful of all living things around you.  Greet all you meet with the words, "Blessed be!"

Janice MacLean

Conference Minister for Christian Nurture & Enrichment

Maritime Conference - The United Church of Canada
506 536 1334