• evansph2

I am writing this as I am on a personal retreat by myself in a little cabin I have rented in “the middle of nowhere”. It is a practice I recommend. In the past I have borrowed the homes or cottages of friends who are away, camped in my tent, and this year I just went on Airbnb and hunted for a quiet place with a kitchen. Even though I live only with my husband and can pretty much spend any day as I wish, I still find this deep yearning to be absolutely alone, quiet, undisturbed in any way. Even if I lived alone, I might still want to make a retreat where I am away from my usual distractions and where I can see the world with different eyes. Where I can see if I’m living the life I mean to be living – consider if I might need to reset the sails in any way.

When I arrive, I cover up the clocks and vow to eat when I am hungry, sleep when I am tired, and do what I am moved to do at any given moment. I bring books, my journal, art supplies, poetry – but I don’t promise to use any of them. I bring my hiking shoes and food I like to eat. Mostly I prepare to have long stretches of unscheduled time. I stare at the night sky, go for walks, etc. I do not let myself check email or Facebook etc.

My “intention” or vow for this particular retreat was “to pay attention to the mood in my heart and try to match it.” It takes a day or so to settle fully into the freedom of the silence, the lack of commitments, the lack of distractions. A few days on my own offers me a doorway to bring me back to myself. To listen to my own yearning, to write my deeper thoughts, to listen to the birds sing. But, I also know that even a few hours away from one's ordinary life can be restorative.

I hope you might find a way to have a “retreat” of a few hours or a few days at some point in the year. I try to do it twice a year when possible. It is richly rewarding, though a bit hard to describe.

This quote fell out of a notebook I had brought with me. Serendipitous things happen on these retreats!

“Within each of us there is a silence,

A silence as vast as the universe…

When we experience that silence, we remember

Who we are, creatures of the stars,

Created from time and space, created from silence…

Silence is our deepest nature, our home,

Our common ground, our peace…

Silence is where holiness dwells. We yearn to be there.

The experience of silence is now so rare,

That we must guard and treasure it.

(adapted from Gunilla Norris, Shared Silence)

I try to savor that kind of silence during my retreats. Here is a poem I wrote about this retreat;


for the love of being in the middle of nowhere…

Every crop began in an empty field.

A place that was fallow.

I look for that place in my life.

An unbusy plot, a place to breathe,

To let sun and rain fall unimpeded.

A place to soak in what comes,

Without needing to protect or hide,

Merely to let fall what falls.

To be idle, fertile, silent.

A place where questions can be asked

Of the wind.

You can’t live in an empty field,

But you can remember what it is like

To feel unhurried, whimsical, loose.

A place to inhale fully before

Exhaling every last bit

Of whatever you cling to.

~Penny Hackett-Evans

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  • evansph2

Updated: 2 days ago

I am continuing in my practice of “interviewing” readers of this blog who have a spiritual practice to share. Pease let me know if you have a spiritual practice or idea that you would like to share!

Please meet my friend, Linnea Nelson, who is a UU. You can see her website here: She is currently the executive director of the program UU Wellspring and is the author of Spiritual Practice Play Book for Families and the upcoming Skinner House Books anthology tentatively titled, Beyond Welcome: Building Communities of Love. Linnea has developed a monthly practice of thinking about how she wants to spend her time. At the beginning of each month, she draws a circle in her journal and she makes portions depicting how she wants to spend her time. She puts in her regular commitments and then adds only a few topics with the intention of finding more room in her life to focus on the big things. The circle keeps her from adding too many “Big Things,” which would keep her from taking time with what is sacred and important.

I love this idea! You could make it into a visual journal entry by adding colors and getting all fancy – or you can take it as a simple task to help you think about and keep track of how you want to spend your time and how you actually are spending it. Some of the things Linnea has put priority on and entered into her monthly circles are her work as the UU Wellspring Executive Director, a conference, draft stage of a book or a book or two to read, classes and specific spiritual work such as exploring shadow.

It seems to me like a way of holding yourself accountable for the big picture things that you tend to say or hope you’ll do “someday.” Linnea adds a few specific goals, but the circle is really a big picture way of choosing how to use her time. Sometimes this means rearranging or cutting out some other activities. Life is always a balancing act is it not? Sometimes we need to say NO to one thing in order to say YES to what actually feeds our spirit.

Here is a poem for you by Naomi Shihab Nye that is vaguely ab out this issue of knowing what we want;

Missing the Boat

It is not so much that the boat passed and you failed to notice it. It is more like the boat stopping directly outside your bedroom window, the captain blowing the signal-horn, the band playing a rousing march.

The boat shouted, waving bright flags, its silver hull blinding in the sunlight.

But you had this idea you were going by train.

You kept checking the time-table, digging for tracks.

And the boat got tired of you, so tired it pulled up the anchor and raised the ramp.

The boat bobbed into the distance, shrinking like a toy— at which point you probably realized you had always loved the sea.

~Naomi shihab Nye

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  • evansph2

Updated: Apr 29

A new acquaintance of mine here in California, Maggie Chessing, posted these photos of “morning altars”, or “mandalas” as she prefers to call them. She makes them from the pruning she does in her own garden. I am so enamored of them I asked if I could interview her about making them and post some photos of these marvelous creations.

In the past she used to put the branches that she pruned from her yard in vases on her deck. Mostly she was too sad to throw away her prunings. She thought of it as “therapeutic recycling”. And then she came across a book by Day Schildkret. ”Morning Altars: A 7-Step Practice to Nourish Your Spirit through Nature, Art, and Ritual. It is a beautiful book in which he talks about his daily walks in the woods and his ritual of creating art from things that have fallen on the forest floor.

Maggie has altered the practice to fit her needs. She says she does it “randomly” and not on any specific time table. She waits until the current one is either blown apart by the wind (which she doesn’t mind) or until the plant material decays or until the next time she prunes her prolific branches and then she creates a new one. Lately she has begun adding other items; some glass jars from a church potluck, some vases of wild California poppies, pinecones, dried berries, blossoms etc.

It strikes me that this could be a beautiful and meaningful spiritual practice. Either to make large or small altars in some public space such as a clearing in the woods as Day Schildkret does. Or, to make one on a surface in your yard – or even indoors if you, like me, don’t have much outdoor space of your own.

In the introduction to the book, “Morning Altars”, theater director Anne Bogart has written;

We are debris arrangers. Equipped with

what we have inherited, we try to make

a life, make a living and make art.

We are assemblers. We forge received

parts into meaningful composition.

This state of affairs is our plight and our

destiny, but it also offers the opportunity

to find meaning as well as to find

communion with others.

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