A Sanctuary Day for our Times: Session 2
4 months ago
Looking Back: the second of four retreat sessions for individuals and groups to process and pray through their experience of the coronavirus pandemic.
Looking Back: Singing the Lord's Song in a strange land?
This is the second of four retreat sessions for use individually or in small groups. Each session builds on the previous one, and together they are designed to give space for you to process your experience of the coronavirus crisis.
In this second session our focus will be on our individual experience of the covid months and what life was like, and in some of our cases continues to be like, in lockdown. We will take time to ‘own’ the experience, to acknowledge our feelings about it, and to offer prayers of lament, intercession and thanksgiving.
In addition to your Bible and notebook, you may find it helpful to have a stone, which you can hold in the palm of your hand, or a tray of sand you can run your fingers through, and a plant or flower that you can look at nearby.
For personal use
For use in Groups
Find a quiet and comfortable place in which to pray. You will need your Bible and a notebook or journal. If you would like to use the suggested music and video links you will need an internet connection and your phone, tablet or computer. Or you may want to choose your own music, or spend the time in silence. The words for the retreat can be printed from HERE. Suggestions on how to use the time between sessions if you are doing all four in one day OR how to spread each session over a half or full day of retreat will be available soon.
Find a quiet and suitable place for the group to meet. You will each need your Bible and a notebook or journal and a copy of the retreat programme and words, a hard copy of which can be printed HERE. You will need an internet connection, and a speaker to play the music videos from the links on this page. If you are meeting as a Zoom Group the Host can share the screen and audio for the music videos. Suggestions on how to use the time between sessions if you are doing all four in one day OR how to spread each session over a half or full day of retreat will be available soon.
Start in silence and stillness. Allow your mind to settle and to focus. That may take time! Ask the Holy Spirit to draw near to you and to meet you in your memories and in your feelings as you focus on your experience of the pandemic. Open your hands and your heart to welcome the Lord.
Make the familiar words of ‘Breath on me breath of God’ your prayer for this retreat. You may want to simply read the words and make each phrase your own. Or you may like to listen to the words sung to a well-known tune, by Steve Green.
Read Ezekiel 37:1-14
Notice how in his vision Ezekiel walks amongst the dry bones that filled the valley. The Spirit who set him in the valley now invites him to explore the landscape and to see what is there. The Spirit leads him this way and that so that he could see at close quarters the dryness, the death, the vastness of the devastation. If Ezekiel was to hear a word of hope, he needed first to face the reality of the hopelessness of Israel’s situation in exile, “our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” The Spirit, as ever, strips away illusion and unreality, and exposes the truth without embellishment. Indeed, the Spirit invites Ezekiel to sit for a while overwhelmed, not understanding, with no easy answers, aware only that God alone can make dry bones live again.
Then in his vision Ezekiel sees life quite literally emerging from the dry bones that fill the landscape. The valley of death becomes the very place where life blossoms, first as the word is spoken and the dead bodies are reconstituted (imagine it!) and then as the breath of God comes and an army of people stand upon their feet (imagine that too!). And of course it is a promise of what God will do for the People of Israel. He will bring them out of exile, fill them with His Spirit and restore them to their land. All of which defies logic and rational explanation, but is what God can do in the most hopeless of situations. Exiles return. Life is restored. The desert blossoms. The inexplicable happens. How can this be? Ah! “I have done it, declares the Lord!”
Spend some time walking around the valley of the last few weeks and months. What has life felt like in your own exile from familiar people and things? Ask the Holy Spirit to take you back in your memories and into your feelings. What was hard and dry? But what did you enjoy and benefit from? What were the losses and yet what were the gains? What did you mourn losing? But what new discoveries did you make? When did God feel far away, and when did He feel especially close? When was He silent and when did He speak? What did He say? What is He saying now?
You may wish to do this exercise in silence and with nothing in your hands. Or you may want to listen to some quiet music or jot down the things that come to mind and that God is drawing to your attention, both the losses and the gains.
If it helps to have some background music, then either chose something you know and like or play this gentle instrumental worship music
Take the stone in your hand, and feel its texture, its temperature, its hardness. Maybe it has a rough surface or sharp edges. Or run your fingers through a tray of sand, and feel its dryness. Speak to God about that which has been hard for you in the pandemic, and maybe continues to be so. Lament the people or things that you have lost. Pray for God’s comfort and consolation. And as you pray for yourself pray for others for whom the pandemic has been a hard journey.
Look at the plant or flower, the living thing you can see in front of you, that you are maybe able to hold in your hands. Thank God for all that has been good for you in the period of the pandemic; for the life that has blossomed for you in the most unexpected ways. Thank God that nothing in all creation can separate us from His love for us in Christ Jesus. And pray that God will heal those suffering from the worst effects of Covid-19 across the world, and comfort all who mourn.
Take stock. Make notes. How has God spoken? What have you felt? What will you take with you into life and into further prayer from this time apart, this time in the sanctuary?
To finish, listen to Lou Fellingham’s beautiful contemporary song ‘Everlasting Arms’.
For further thought and prayer
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honour me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
Psalm 23: 4-6
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
from St Patrick’s Breastplate
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