The Good Retreat Guide Online

Mountains and lake graphic.

Stafford's blog

What anyone can get out of doing Lent

In the outward signs and ideas of Lent, it seems as if this time of repentence and recounciliation are just about a Christian life. But looking deeper at these two ideas, as part of the process we call Lent, they can have meaning and benefits for those who do not follow any religious faith or culture. First of all, Lent comes in the early days of Spring, when all around us the natural world is showing us a time of new growth and of change. We can see the promise of new life everywhere. It is a time to believe in the future. So in this season, it is worthwhile to pause and reflect on our lives, to see where we are going and, like the world around us, to see how we may flourish. No matter who we are, when we look deep into our interior self, into that part we call “ the heart”, we find good things about ourselves and things we like to keep hidden because we don’t like them. It is these hidden things, those little secret failings, the things we think are “ not good” about us that often make us unhappy, because they lead us astray from how we want to be. We repent of them. We wish to do better. The regret at past behaviours and the desire to try to do better in the future is repentence of the heart. Without first being honest about ourselves, we cannot be honest with any one else, including God. From this time of repentence, we need a healing time, a recounciliation. But until we are recounciliated with ourselves, how can we be recounciliated with others, let alone God? The kind of self-examination that the season of Lent offers is a process that can help everyone, because everyone has a spiritual dimension that demands attention if we are to live a full and healthy life. How we express that dimension is up to us. Some follow the example of Christ and couple repentence and recounciliation to that faith and a church, as I do in Meditations for Lent. Others may follow no established path or even believe in God but that does not mean they do not have a spiritual life just as important as anyone elses. We are told the Holy Spirit, like the wind, goes where it wants. Who can say it will not land in the heart of a secular blogger in Ohio or someone online in London who is not interested in “ religion”?  As to fasting, which is what most people think of when they think about Lent, we know a little fasting helps the body and mind, but here is what the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah had to say about fasting for religious reasons: This is the fast that pleases me, says the Lord: share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor.  What decent man or woman would turn away such need? And so the process of Lent itself with its self-examination, its desire to be more a person of love, and its little bit of self-denial is something we can all benefit from, because it is, like Spring, a time of renewal, hope, and belief in the future. What is the culmination of all of this Lent action? For the Christian it is found in Easter, the resurrection of Christ. This is the celebration of new life, a new Adam and a new Eve. Such a celebration is the opening of every heart to the joy of life. No one need be excluded from the deeper meanings of Lent, since the entire time is devoted to becoming that renewed person, that man or woman of virtue, which is say, a person of love.

Go to my new site staffordwhiteaker.com and give the process of Lent a try!.

Blessings to you,

Stafford

 

 

 

A New Free Website just for You

This has been a busy time for me to make a good time for you. I have created a special free website staffordwhiteaker.com and the first thiNG up on it is MEDITATIONS FOR LENTLent is the season in which to retire as much as possible from distractions of the world in order to take a serious view of the whole state of our inner life, which is to say, to take time to examine what and who we are in this life. To ask ourselves: Are we pleasing to ourselves? Are we pleasing to others? Are we pleasing to God? A time to ask wonder if that good man, that wonderful teacher Jesus appeared today to us, would the kingdom within us, our very soul, actually be a place in which his spirit would wish to reside? Lent is a good time to discover how you stand in relation to God? To your neighbours? To yourself? To ask yourself what exactly stays hidden within you that you know only too well is displeasing to you, those you love, and to God? Is it disguised by some pretext of good or wrapped up comfortably under the robe of your self-love? These are the Lenten days set aside to deepen a true knowledge of ourselves, to apply a proper remedy to all our unwanted passions and vices, and to lay a solid foundation of a good life for the future. WAIT! STAY HERE! This is not all, because in a few days, you can start reading my new novel THE CLOUD OF GOODNESS chapter by chapter each week as I write it. And tell me what you think. Your comments are needed - good, bad or indifferent they all help. You might want to change lots of things in the story - but watch out for the Devil and all that vice and virtue!  www.staffordwhiteaker.com goes live this Sunday 7 February. I hope you will join me there. Blessings to you from Stafford

 

Local Spirituality

Last year I spent a few months in a fashionable and beautiful village in the Cotswolds in England. A little terrace house there of just two up and two down with loads of stairs costs a bomb- at least much more than the average person can afford – and this little village of some 2,000 people had over 500 such weekend houses. If you did not get hit by a new Range Rover crossing the street ( black of course), then you were sure to have lucky escapes from a hot new Austin Martin or a Porsche. This was a village of the successful in London – those mostly young high achievers with huge incomes and all the trappings to go with such worldly success. Backing them up were the village brigade of retired corporate financial directors, CEO’s, and bankers - all in residence in the grander houses dotted here and there.

What has all this to do with spirituality you ask?

For me it was a village built of wonderful mellow Cotswold stone and then filled up with the results of greed. Ambition itself is not greed, of course, unless it becomes the dominent reason of your life. If it does, then your spirit flees, the heart eventually grows sad, and you feel weary and restless. Interior peace becomes a yearning that is never realized inspite of all the material goods your money buys for you. That is what greed has to do with spirituality. What is the famous biblical saying? For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. ( Timothy 6:10) We all know this but few of us pay any attention to it. Yet, if the world is our oyster, why do we still yearn for something more, something money, power and prestige cannot buy?

Better Late than Never

Saint Augustine once wrote that time was no measure for men and women. He was, of course, talking about time in the spiritual sense, which is infinite since the universe, unlike us, does not have the same sort of clock. In fact, no one seems to know for certain exactly what time is as far as our universe or any of the others is concerned. Now the whole point of this time thing for me at the moment is that I have been on the move- boxes, removal men, upset, happiness, sadness, broken glasses, lost papers and all the rest of the bother whenever you move home. At the same time ( there is that word again) the whole Good Retreat Guide Online Team has changed. The result was not much work on the site, but slowly that is changing. There is a new website hosting company up in Nottingham who is handling that side of the GRG site and I am catching up with emails, event listings and all the other stuff which makes the site worth checking out when you are looking for that retreat which is just right for you.So much has changed in the retreats now offered and retreats with yoga and healing techniques in exotic places like Costa Rica and far islands in the Pacific Ocean are showing us that the environment of a retreat counts a lot. We are all learning that retreat surroundings are vitally important whether it is a Buddhist monastery, a Christian church group or an open spirituality or yoga intensive. The retreat setting along with the people who run the retreat are key to getting the most out of a retreat. Poor facilitators, unhappy environments, or uncomfortable beds and careless cooking greatly lessen the good mind,body, and spirit results of a retreat. Incidentally, check out our lastest book review of Psalms- A Commenatary for prayer and reflection by Henry Wandsbrough. The Psalms are magnificent ancient poetry as well as Jewish and Christian prayers. Wandsbrough, who edited the distinguished New Jerusalem Bible, tells you how and why these famous poems or songs were written and explains meanings in a way that is simple, cheerful and an easy read.  You don't have to be a person of faith to enjoy them. Blessings to you. Stafford

 

 

After Easter - the glory of the spirit

With the celebration of Easter comes the glory of salvation for Christians. Those who do not have any particular faith or belief can still join in this glorious moment when one man, Jesus, died for everyone. Yes, i is true. For eveyone. No one was excluded from this one great act of love- not a single  man or woman. All were included in his desire for us to be perfect, to be happy, to live in a state of love and to have that peace which we all long for, no mater what we believe in or no matter the form or path of our spirituality. If his death brings these to anyone, then surely his sacrifice was worth everything. Indeed, it is ” the glorious moment” in our human history of love, which was for everyone.

Blessings to you,  Stafford

The Easter Break

A journalist called me about some retreats for the Lent and Easter time. After I told her about a few nice ones in Christian monasteries, she asked, ” How about some Easter breaks in holistic places - you know with yoga and a spa and stuff.” I told her that the season of Lent and the Easter celebrations were Christian and so people going on them were interested in that spiritual or religious practice. I don't know what she will write about, but it got me thinking about the Lent and Easter times for those who are not Christians or at least are not interested in attending religious retreats let alone churches.  Is there some understanding from the Christian traditions for these seasons that helps us or not? As to Christian Lent, it is all about examining the heart and coming to terms, what we can call reconciliation with God, with the downside of the past year - what we did wrong and wished we had done differently. One way or the other, we all carry loads of emotional baggage and the Lent season is a good to time to unload some of it. It clears the mind, settles us down, and prepares us for the freshness of spring and a renewed life in a new beginning. Maybe a new renewal of life in any case must always begin with a reconciliation of ourselves with how we have been and with the sincere hope of doing better in the coming year.  In any case, the time of Lent, which heralds spring, seems a good time to take stock on what we find dark and sad in us and get rid of it by bringing it into the open and seeing it for what it is -  a time of our experiences in living which is now past. In acknowledging them, we can move on. A Christian during Lent does the same thing- examines the soul, confesses the vices, makes amends to self and God, hopes to do better, and then gets on with preparing for the great day of Easter. But Lent also is about giving up something connected to our pleasure- usually some food - especially popular is promising for 40 days not to eat chocolate. So we give something up we like as a form of repentance - a way of pleasing God and the Universe- and improving our health. Recent science tells us worms, rats and monkeys live longer if they eat less calories and that fasting from time to time is good for the immune system. So cutting down on certain foods, especially sugar and fats, during Lent is good, whether you are Christian or not. It is more powerful if you have a spiritual motivation - like adding regular prayers or meditation or just a short period of daily stillness. Lent is a time set aside for healing and health - so perhaps I should have told the journalist about a few spa places where luxurious rest was available. Then again, why not do the Christian thing or, if not, take a leaf out of their spiritual season and do your own Lent season? Either way it gets you ready for the celebration that is spring. For a Christian it is a preparation for the glory of the resurrection and the new life of salvation in Christ-Jesus that takes place at Easter. Altogether a special time of paying attention to spiritual needs. A preparation for renewing ourselves so that like the flowers that open and the trees that shade us with new leaves, we too are ready to bloom again - more fully this time, more our true selves, and more in tune with God, nature and others.

Blessings to you. -  Stafford