I’ve had the privilege of attending ten of the eleven Northeastern Seminary women’s retreats at the Abbey of the Genesee. Each year, I experience the deep peace of the Abbey grounds, nestled in the wide-open beauty of the Genesee River Valley, and the rich fellowship with a group of fun, wise, kind, godly women who gather together there for a day to step out of our normal routines and enter the rhythms of rest that make retreats so nurturing. Each year, the experience is wonderful, but different from all the others. This year was no different.
I had come to the retreat having been in prayer the previous week about making a substantive life change in the coming days. While the change will more closely align my daily living with a life of love and compassion to the world around me, it will not be easy. In fact, it’s going to be very challenging. So I came to the Abbey grounds pondering whether or not this change is *really* what God is asking of me. The themes of truth-telling and truth-full living, of aligning our lives with God’s priorities through letting go of things God is calling us to yield to him, and the realities of “dying daily” in the process—were just the encouragement I needed to begin to step forward into this “hard obedience.” Marlena challenged us with the question: “What do we need to put to death to live a life that makes God glad?”
But it wasn’t only the helpful teaching sessions of Marlena Graves that urged my heart toward a new aspect of daily obedience. My heart was also moved in the words of scripture read in our Morning Office liturgy, and through a conversation with another retreatant. And, too, my heart was wooed to greater obedience through what I saw as I took a walk on the Greenway Trail that runs along the Genesee River near the Abbey grounds.
Near the entrance to the trail, I noticed the wheat fields whose growth from last year had yet to be plowed under to fertilize this year’s crops—a picture of the way that God’s ways bring life from the things we allow to die at his bidding. Near the Genesee River’s edge, I observed with delight turkey, deer and raccoon tracks deep in the mud: all reminders that we humans share the beautiful spaces of God’s creation with other creatures God loves and cares for along with us.
In numerous ways, in the company of other women who were authentically seeking lives of Christian discipleship, on the grounds of an Abbey of men who daily pray that “the God who is, who was, and who is to come, now, and to the end of the ages” will be glorified—at the Northeastern Seminary Women’s Retreat, my heart was encouraged to greater obedience in love. It was a day well spent.
In this two part series, Rebecca S. Letterman, associate professor of spiritual formation, reflects and responds to her experience at the 2016 Northeastern Seminary women’s retreat.