One of them was a small book called The Hidden Garden of Prayer. It was written for children, first published in 1931 and reprinted in 1953. It is an exquisite handbook for teaching prayer, both deep and simple, childlike and mature. The author was an English Cowley Father, Edward Sedding, S.S.J.E. (Society of Saint John the Evangelist). He delivered his captivating teaching through an account of the cultivation of an English garden—preparing the soil, putting down a border of rocks, weeding, setting out the flowers, and of course enjoying them. The book began with an account of unlocking an old wrought iron gate to get inside the garden. I have since found ten or so copies of this little book, and have given some away as gifts and retained some on my bookshelf.
Here is the cover.
I mention this enchanting book because I have the feeling that during the next three weeks, I’ll be living it out somewhat as I go on to the next step in my sabbatical. About halfway through the sabbatical now, I have come to feel like a garden that is being weeded, dug up, turned over, maybe fertilized, and definitely prepared for some new planting.
On Saturday morning I’ll fly up to Gig Harbor, Washington to continue my sabbatical with a three-week intensive retreat called Journey. I will stay in a cabin on an island in the Sound, surrounded by trees. Once a day I will drive across a bridge to meet with a psychologist/spiritual director. The rest of the time will be spent without any distractions—no internet, no telephone calls, not even books. Nothing but silence and a journal.
Of course, there will be the necessary housework like preparing meals, cleaning up, doing laundry once in a while—but other than that, there will be only prayer and reflection. It’s okay to walk in the woods, but only if it is conducive to deep deliberation. This is not intended to be a restful retreat, but an encounter with God in the depths of oneself; there are to be no distractions—not even too much exercise. The prospect is simultaneously attractive and daunting.
Six or eight other members of the parish have already gone through this experience, usually reserved for those in the Spiritual Direction program at Biola University. With two or three others, they comprise my primary prayer support for Journey. As one of them said to me recently, “If you ain’t scared, you ain’t taking it seriously enough.”
I’ll report back later…