Gathering Retreat Sessions

C.S. Lewis and ‘The Prayer Without Words’

Robert_Moore-Jumonville_thumbwith Dr. Robert Moore-Jumonville at 9:00 AM

Interpreters of C. S. Lewis often portray him as a man of reason and philosophical bent, an apologist for the Mere Christian. Throughout his career, when Lewis addressed the topic of prayer in his writing (and he did frequently through both fiction and essay), he instinctively began with his mind—analyzing and clarifying in a Thomistic spirit. However, in the last years of his life, Lewis opened himself and his readers to the mystical notion of prayer as silence (in the Medieval tradition of The Cloud of Unknowing). We know from two 1961 letters that Lewis had read and admired the Trappist monk Thomas Merton—who with a handful of other monks at Gethsemane Monastery reintroduced the contemplative tradition of prayer to twentieth-century western culture.

In his last book, Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer, Lewis recommends “the prayer without words is the best.” We see further glimpses of this theme appearing in other late books, notably: A Grief Observed, Reflections on the Psalms, and Till We Have Faces.

Although it could be argued that this turn toward the contemplative in Lewis stems from his grappling with Joy Davidman’s illness and death, it is not particularly the problem of evil he is confronting through silent prayer. Rather, as the reality of God’s hiddenness (or absence) continued to plague Lewis he found refuge in contemplative prayer.Letters to MalcolmTill-We-Have-Faces

This talk will explore the theme of contemplative prayer in Lewis’s last few books, investigating how the theme relates both to his intellectual biography and to his spiritual struggles in the last phase of his life.

Optional prep material: Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer by CS Lewis and Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis


Why Does God Hide His Face? Reflections on Learning to Walk in the Dark

Ken_Brewer_thumbwith Dr. Ken Brewer at 10:30 AM

The narrative of Scripture indicates that when God reveals God’s Self that God is still largely hidden, elusive, and mysterious even in God’s self-revelation. Common in the Psalms is a plea for Yahweh to not hide His face. Isaiah 45:15 exclaims, “You are a God who hides.” St. John of the Cross also writes about divine hiddenness. John contends that divine hiddenness is necessary for true union with God. The existential problem of divine hiddenness, however, often takes the form of a crisis of faith, sometimes leading to a collapse of trust in Dark-Night-Of-The-Soul-by-Saint-John-of-the-Cross-ebook-pdf-free-212x300God or despair over life itself. Why would God risk hiding from humanity if God’s plan of redemption is for all to come to a saving knowledge of God? This session introduces and wrestles with the notion of the hiddenness of God in Scripture and in St. John of the Cross’ book, The Dark Night of the Soul. Reasons for divine hiddenness will be presented and critiqued. Some thoughts and reflections on how to walk in the dark will be offered to those stumbling towards God.

Optional prep material: The Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross


What St. Irenaeus Might Say About Today’s Social Media

Thomas_Holsinger-Friesen_thumbwith Dr. Tom Holsinger-Friesen at 2:30 PMIrenaeus

Communication in today’s era of social media is remarkable both in terms of its dynamism and its fragmentation. St. Irenaeus of Lyons might help us make better sense of it all, given his incarnational theology which stresses the necessity of tradition and the goodness of time.

Optional prep material: Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 1, chapters 9-10 and book 4, chapters 36-38.


‘The Ballad of Love and Hate’: Mechthild, Thurman, and the Dynamics of Contemplative Attentiveness

Eric-Magnusson-editedwith Dr. Eric Magnusson at 4:30 PM

In Mysticism and the Experience of Love, Howard Thurman suggests, “People do not love in general, but they do love in particular.” The pathway to discovering the depths of another’s uniqueness and particularity is through encounter. Yet, Thurman understands that there is a fine and tenuous line between the unsympathetic contact that leads to hate and true communion.

In our communities, our workplaces, the social network, and our families, we interact with others daily. But often these interactions create more ill-will than fellow-feeling. The danger of these encounters is that they set in motion the genesis of hate. (You only have to scan a Facebook home feed to see these dynamics at play.)

Mechthild ThurmanDoes contemplative spirituality have anything to offer? Are the mystical experience and interpersonal and societal transformation connected?  Can the dynamics of contemplative awareness become the seeds, soil, and water to grow a world of love?

Optional prep material: Howard Thurman, Mysticism and the Experience of Love or “Reconciliation” in Disciplines of the Spirit;  Mechthild of Magdeburg, Flowing Light of the Godhead I.1-5, 22-25, 35, 44 ; II.2, 25-26.


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