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Retreating Online: A New Reality

The “Falling Fearless Into Love” retreat was a rewarding new venture for Mercy Center.  For three days in May, 24 retreatants connected through Zoom and video presentations. They prayed together virtually and spent time alone in prayer and reflection in their own homes. Forced by the COVID pandemic, Joy Andrews Hayter, Catherine Regan and Heather Ruce created an online experience for people eager for the silence and community of Centering Prayer.  

All knew they would miss the physical energy of others in the retreat room, the welcoming dark of the Mercy Center chapel, the play of light on the oaks at dusk. So the retreat leaders cultivated ways for retreatants to enter deeply into the retreat through body, heart, and mind in their own “holy ground.”  Those who attended found “a deepening prayer practice,” said one. Prayer was interspersed with making one’s own meals at home, answering the phone, and getting the mail.

To participate, people had to create their own quiet space and have an internet connection, but there was no driving or need for someone else to feed the cat. One even joined each day from a local open space, because her household was lively with family.  People from across the US could join.

The task posted on the internet for Friday, the first full day, set the tone:

Inner task for free time: While doing conscious work around your home, walking, journaling, silence, etc. use your senses to be here now; be kind to yourself and courageously allow everything that arises with openness and self-honesty, fall into love, choosing to not get lost in self-judgment or rumination. Taste the abundance of inhabiting your being.

Both from the remarks of those who participated and the presenters, the retreat was richly rewarding.  Retreatants were grateful for the rhythm of the retreat, weaving between Centering Prayer together daily at 7:30 a.m. on Zoom, followed by time for breakfast, then scheduled teachings, small groups and abundant free time.  Body prayer and yoga (optional) supported a strong sense of embodiment throughout.  Catherine, Joy and Heather presented talks that could be accessed live or later.

“From Thursday afternoon through Monday at noon, minute by minute, gratefulness emerged.  I was constantly engaged, pulled into the retreat themes and subthemes, but also pulled into deep restful silence,” said Mary Wyman.

As the need for virtual presence during the ongoing pandemic continues and grows, Mercy Center Director Mary DuQuaine and her team have created an online tool, MercyIs, which brings online materials together. Video talks, written materials, and Zoom links are in one place and easy to access for presenters and retreatants.

At first in planning the retreat, Joy grieved that the group could not be together on the Mercy campus. “We talked about ways to integrate the retreat with your life in your own home. There was no getting away. People had set aside rooms for themselves and an altar, a sacred space. Of course, we all had “interruptions” in our homes. But we always say, whatever happens in the retreat IS the retreat.”

“It wasn’t second best,” said Joy. “There was a sense that people were particularly ripe:  God works with us wherever we are. These conditions were of quiet; with less driving, less busyness. It is a time of something different for all of us.”

Jane Wirth said, “This was the most I have profited from any retreat I’ve ever attended in person. I will definitely look for similar on-line multi-day experiences.”

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