MT. GILEAD ESSAYS
Jewelweed, Vol. 11 No. 1 (April 2007)
A Companion on the Journey
By Kelly Carson
“What’s that?” is the response I usually get when I mention the term “spiritual direction”. Mount Gilead Friends Retreat has always offered spiritual direction as an option for retreatants at Fox Haven. Spiritual direction, also known as spiritual guidance, is an ancient practice handed down through the major religions. Direction provides a safe space for exploring one’s spiritual journey. Two people are involved: director and directee. Direction can occur as a one time session, such as during retreat at Fox Haven, or as part of an ongoing relationship.
When ongoing, director and directee generally meet once a month for an hour. The person receiving direction brings the agenda, which may include any of the stuff of life: events, relationships, dreams, fears, plans. The director and directee together sift through what the directee brings in search of evidence of the divine.
Spiritual direction may be distinguished from counseling, as it is not designed to intensively address specific problems but rather to look at the whole of one’s life for patterns and to explore one’s relationship with the Divine. Spiritual direction is intentionally a slow, gentle process.
For someone who is retreating, spiritual direction might include exploration of the following: what do I hope to gain from this time? what patterns do I see unfolding in my life? what is being born, and what do I need to let go of? The focus is on the directee’s journey. The director is there to provide the safe space, to listen attentively, and to reflect with the directee.
Tools for the director may include dream analysis, guided meditation, personality frameworks (such as the enneagram), or prayer. Spiritual direction is patient and nonjudgmental. There is no “should” about where one is on the journey, just prayerful noticing.
Training is offered for spiritual directors in seminaries and centers across the country and around the world. Spiritual Directors International is a professional organization which offers resources, ethical guidelines, and continuing education. Donna Eder, Janette Shetter, and Kelly Carson are trained and available to offer spiritual direction to any retreatant who requests it.
Spiritual direction has been a blessing in my life, both in offering and receiving. My hope is to spread the word so that more people will take advantage of this great gift.
Jewelweed, March 2005 (Vol. 9.1)
Dan Willard: A Special Guide to Wetlands
by Donna Eder
Dan Willard has been a neighbor to the retreat property long before Mt. Gilead Friends Retreat existed. For many years he brought groups of students to the wetland area to teach them about its special features. On October 16 –just three months before he died– Dan guided a group who attended our fall celebration on a very special tour. Here is what we learned.
What is a wetland? According to Dan Willard it’s the transition area between a wet place and a dry place. Because it is by definition an area of transition we should not be surprised to learn about the nature of constant change when learning about wetlands.
First, this constant change has many benefits–wetlands add much to the diversity of plant and animal life on our planet. In fact, 60% of those species considered endangered spend some part of their life in wetlands.
Our wetland area is particularly susceptible to change it turns out. Because the soil is so thin, the streams in this part of the county are very shallow and form a dense lattice work of small streams flowing into slightly larger ones. During storms the creeks rapidly rise and the high velocity of the water leads to frequent changes in the streams’ course as they seek to move around new obstacles in their paths. We saw some evidence of changes in Stephen’s Creek’s route when Dan showed how a sycamore that now sits 10 feet from the bank has a root system that is buttressed to hold onto the soil along the creek bank. At one time this tree was located right on the bank of Stephen’s Creek.
Seasons bring their own set of changes. Dan explained that the bank along the creek might have wetland plants in the spring and upland plants in the late summer, depending on rainfall patterns in a given year. Certain plants define a wetland area–plants like bull rush, large milkweeds, jewelweed–and then others grow in wetlands as well as other areas–the lobelia, the joe pye and the ironweed. Wetland plants adapt to the constantly changing nature of wetlands by producing very resistant seeds that can lie dormant for centuries, not sprouting until they get wet.
Our lake fits the definition of wetlands because it, too, is in transition, holding water just during the wetter seasons of the year. Only sun fish have adapted to this type of lake, but the absence of other species of fish is lucky for frogs and other amphibians. We have seven different species of frogs near the lake and in the spring their combined calls are deafening. Yet, each female is tuned into the call of her own species so even during the loudest clamor they manage to continue to reproduce. Where do they go when the lake is dry? Some go down into the mud, while others hop into the trees, waiting until the second rain comes before they return to the recently restored lake.
Wetlands are special to me because of their constant change Dan tells us. This has become even more important to me as I’ve gotten older and see that all of life is about change. We need to learn from the wetlands and accept and adapt to change. It seems to me they have lots of life lessons to offer.
Jewelweed, December 2004 (Vol. 8.3)
The Geology of Mt. Gilead Friends Retreat
by Peter Strickholm
Southern Indiana sits on sedimentary bedrock which tilts downward towards the west at about 50 feet per mile. The high point near the Ohio border is called the Cincinnati Arch, and from there, near-horizontal planes of bedrock tilt downward until one reaches the coal mines near the Illinois border. In South Central Indiana, three major landscapes form as different types of rock reach the surface. The gentle hills of western Monroe Co. and eastern Greene Co. are called the Crawford Upland, and are composed of sandstones and limestones. There are where the great caves of Indiana such as Wyandotte Cave are to be found. Where Bloomington and Bedford are situated, four different layers of limestone come to the surface. The Salem Limestone forms the great quarries and sinkholes of Southern Indiana, and this land is called the Mitchell Plain . Eastward, into Brown Co., underlying sandstones and shales come to the surface and form the hills and hollows known as the Norman Upland. This is where Mt. Gilead Friends Retreat and Stevens Creek lie.
Three forks of Stevens Creek , one called Sulfur Creek, come together at the old Schacht homestead at the Retreat. Upstream from the homestead, the streams are small such that they form narrow valleys with wooded bottoms. Below the homestead, the stream becomes large enough to that a floodplain has developed, and the ensuing grass fields have been used for cattle grazing and organic farming. The rocks around the headwaters of Stevens Creek are mostly sandstones and shales; the sandstones being the renowned Brown Co. Sandstone which is used as a building material. These rocks are known as the Borden Group. They are from what is called the Mississippian Age, over 300 million years ago.
Just east of Stevens Creek an ancient (and inactive) fault runs in a north-south direction, and the rocks dip the other way to the east for a mile. This is known as the Mt. Carmel Fault. The fault has produced a high point in the rock strata which collected natural gas, and was tapped for gas a century ago. This feature is known as the Unionville Dome. The sulfur from the natural gas is what has given the name to Sulfur Creek at the Retreat and the homestead. Schacht Lake was built in the 1950s. The dam was built too high for specifications, however, and the water level had to be dropped 5 feet. Thus the spillway was built on the west side of the valley to drain the lake.
Jewelweed, February 2004 (Vol. 8.1)
Finding Treasures on the Retreat Land
by Nicola Payne
“Let’s go to Mt. Gilead!” three and a half year old Sarah says on a beautiful July morning, and I like the idea immediately. One of our favorite things to do together is to be out in “nature,” hiking, exploring, watching, learning and finding treasures.
As we arrive, Donna comes out to greet us and Sarah immediately begins to collect the big sycamore leaves lying on the grass around the car, she can already identify several different kinds of leaves and has a special interest in acorns and nuts… We then visit three of the llamas and Sarah giggles as they sniff Donna’s and then my hair and sneeze. She is also interested to find out that one of the “mommy” llamas is going to have a baby in the spring. After saying goodbye to Donna, we collect our picnic from the car and head for the bridge with the promise of playing in the water later.
Heading towards the lake we stop to watch the butterflies which are everywhere and sample a black raspberry by the side of the path. Sarah loves nature and stops to pick up rocks, nuts and acorn cups, to study mole hills and to stroke the moss. Every few steps there’s something new and interesting (where else can she go where so many interesting things are lying around everywhere waiting to be picked up, examined and treasured?). By the time we reach the little bridge her hands are so full she asks me to carry her doll Nicky. Some of the rocks are thrown into the stream and we carry on up the hill towards the lake. On the way, pieces of fallen sycamore bark become an apron and other clothes for Nicky and my hands and pockets become full of leaves and nuts. Once we arrive at the bench by the lake we start our lunch and I get to hear some of what’s going on inside that 3-year-old head ! “They’re all married aren’t they?” (Quickly I think, trying to get the context… who’s married?…Donna and David?… the llamas! Of course!).
“Yes” I say, not wanting to get too deep into that discussion right now.
Fortunately, she’s onto something else now, looking at all the trees she asks “Did Donna and David plant all this?” “No, it was already here.” Quiet. “Do they have to water it all?” “No, it’s nature, the rain waters it.” (Phew, I got away easily this time—easier than “What does God look like?” or “What does the sky feel like?”). As we eat we watch a turtle swim across the lake, then Sarah points out the baby trees and the mommy and daddy trees (the bigger ones) before we head back to the stream. On the way, Nicky gets hungry and we are fortunate to find lots of “corn” (the centers of tulip poplar flowers) to go with the acorns and other snacks Sarah has already found for her. At the stream, Nicky picnics on a towel as we wade in the cool water watching crawdads and iridescent dragonflies and finding geodes and fossils. Rocks are given to me as food to “eat” and rolled up sycamore bark is a carrot. We float leaves and sticks downstream and soak in the peace of nature. As I sit on a rock and watch her quietly exploring, I realize that this was exactly the right thing to do today. Nature has “spoken to my condition” and I think to Sarah’s too. Our little half-day retreat was perfect.
So when you’re out at Mt. Gilead next you may see a strange heap of mud by the stream or an interesting pile of pine needles up in the pine woods, it’s just a cake, or a bed for Nicky; and someone who loves to visit Mt. Gilead has been out enjoying it, learning from it and finding peace there in a way not so different to adult retreatants.
Jewelweed, October 2003 (Vol. 7.2)
Fox Haven Reflections
by Serrin Anderson
During my first overnight at the Hermitage, I sat on the deck reading. I heard a buzzing buzzing coming louder and louder, closer and closer. And LO! When I turned my head I saw a hummingbird!
Sleep was long and hard in coming, unaccustomed as I am to such true darkness and quiet. When it came, it was deep—and demons, too, visited in my dreams—allowed free rein in this safe space.
On an edible wild plant walk with Lucille earlier that day, a trayblade orchid discovery sparked belief in what might seem an impossibility. A salad of wild edibles—without the trayblade of course—and home brewed dandelion wine to sip. Then nuzzle blessings from the llamas.
The hermitage: it feels so lovingly and carefully made and well crafted. Homey furnishings for nurture. I’ll be back!
And indeed I did return. On a second visit, two fawns brought quiet magic to my solitary visit to the stream. Not a single sound from their tiny hoofs on uneven rocks. They, too, took notice of me. Then quietly—oh so quietly—turned to go up the bank. Sacred moments.
Going Inward to Move Outward:
One of Life’s Many Rhythms
by Donna Eder
As the struggles throughout the world become ever more part of our daily awareness, where we do find inner peace? As violence toward innocent people and the earth increases, how do we maintain a sense of hope? As we are bombarded with fears of terrorism and know that there is not truly safe place to live on this planet, how do we manage to regain a sense of inner calm?
The physical violence in the world affects us all. The more we struggle to put an end to violent means of dealing with conflict, the more helpless we may feel. Similarly, we may be discouraged by our attempts to bring about social and environmental justice. For many of us having all people and all aspects of creation treated with respect is an ideal to aim for, but the recent escalation of power struggles makes it even harder to know how to move toward this ideal. As we realize the full extent of the challenges we face, we are reminded that we must go deep within ourselves, that a sense of outer peace relies first on a sense of inner peace.
Fostering inner peace is not a new concept among activists. We can look for many models in the lives of early Quakers who stood up for social justice and nonviolent solutions. John Woolman wrote in his journal of his need for solitude: my mind was often drawn to retire alone and put up my prayers to God that he would be graciously pleased to strengthen me… Woolman found that these periods of solitude allowed him to deal more effectively with the issues of his day. Instead of speaking to slave owners in a defiant or judgmental tone, he wrote of speaking to them in a tender-hearted manner: “yet through the strength of love which is stronger than death, tenderness of heart was often felt amongst us in our visits and we parted with several families with greater satisfaction than we expected.” Woolman was so at peace within his own heart that he and others who traveled with him were able to find the words that would speak most effectively to those in his Quaker community who still practiced slavery.
What keeps us today from taking time for solitude, from immersing ourselves in one-on-one connection with God? In part it is simply the pace of life in the 21st century.Woolman was disturbed by the pace of life in his time, believing that the desire to do business quickly led to the abuse of animals as well as humans. Each century since then has stepped up the pace of travel so that we now have the fastest planes, trains, and ships that have ever existed. Computers, fax machines, and instant messaging have all further quickened our daily pace. Furthermore, we are often encouraged to do as much as we can in order to advance economically. In order to take the time to sit down and examine our priorities today we need to break the habit of moving at an extraordinarily fast pace.
In addition, many people in American society have forgotten how to go inward. Parents increasingly encourage extraversion in their children as we rely more and more on our social networks to get ahead in society. Many parents now fill the days of school-age children with planned social activities so that they will have all the necessary skills to be upwardly mobile. Free time is becoming a thing of the past so that by the time people reach adulthood their lives are crammed full of social engagements, both their own and those of their children.
The whole concept of time alone with God is foreign to many.Yet this may be the path we need, not just to inner peace, but to outward harmony and justice as well. When we slow down, God can find a way into our minds and hearts. As God begins to soften our hearts, release our judgments of others, and quiet our inner conflicts, we can see new ways to approach challenges in the outer world. The more time we spend in the presence of the Divine, the more our own hearts will become a place of true peace.
When I take monthly retreats at Fox Haven, the hermitage here at Mt. Gilead Friends Retreat, I know that at least once a month God will be able to reach me. Sometimes I feel as if God has been searching for just this opportunity to break through my hurried pace and quiet my anxious thoughts. The more time I spend on retreat, savoring this special connection with the Divine, the more I feel my sense of hope and peace restored. This renewed sense of calm in turn has allowed me to act from an increasingly loving stance toward others.
While any time in solitude can be restorative, I have found retreats in areas of wildness to be especially valuable.Out in the wood I soon notice that things are happening at a slower pace than in my office building. Natural rhythms of light and dark, rainy moments and sunny ones take over and become the measure to follow.The slower pace calls me to a different awareness, one not possible when meeting deadlines or responding to email messages.
Poets, like Wendell Berry, remind us that being around animals who live less encumbered lives can affect our own state of mind:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Berry writes of the calming effect of wildness, the animals who lack feelings of worry or foreboding, the still waters, the stars that are always present with their gift of light. In this and in other poems he shows why time in nature is so important for restoring a sense of peace and hope in our lives.
In Fox Haven, our small hermitage on a ridge in the Southern Indiana woodlands, people who visit are amazed that they notice things that they have never noticed before. One woman wrote in the hermitage journal about her delight at the “raining of the leaves”, the sound of water dripping off leaves after a rain storm had ended. She realized that until this experience, she had never been in a place quiet enough to hear this different form of raining. Others have written about how living close to nature gives them a different sense of time, one more in tune with natural rhythms. “I love being in rhythm with the sun, rising when it’s light and resting when it’s dark.” Some note the contrast from the regular pace such as the comment from this man: “I’m called to awareness, called to slow down my computer-age rhythms.”
Those who have contact with the animals living on the sixty acres of retreat land sense a special connection that might go unnoticed if they were only passing through a wooded area. “As a city girl I don’t know that I have ever seen deer moving slowly, thinking themselves unobserved and unthreatened as I did from the bathroom yesterday morning!” At night the animal sounds make for loud, but pleasant company: “Last night we heard the frog songs, whipperwill, and a raucous gathering of barred owls.The level of sound was loud, but so pleasing.”
The animals’ slow-paced movements and raucous chatter make guests more aware of an unencumbered approach to life. Mt.Gilead Friends Retreat has purposely made Fox Haven as simple as possible to blend into the natural world. This intentionally unencumbered space has led to many references in the journal regarding the joy of experiencing a time of simplicity and beauty. “I love the simplicity of life here… seeing how little or much water I use.” Another person wrote: “Usually I have my coffee before I start my chores. Now I empty the ashes and re-kindle the fire and hence; I earn my coffee. Somehow that seems a better order of things.”
The lack of distractions helps people to see the beauty that is all around them and to think of abundance in a new way. One person commented on the many wild flowers she had seen that day: “What a wealth of beauty.” Another wrote: “the simplicity and beauty of the hermitage fell like balm on my soul.” The restorative quality of simplicity and beauty can not be underestimated as is evident from another entry: “The simplicity made space for me to just be. I felt held by the love of those who created this.The setting nourished my soul.”
Some early Quakers believed that all people have an inward life.Caroline Stephen referred to this inward life as a “secret chamber” which we can retreat to at will. “In this inner chamber he [or she] finds a refuge from the ever-changing aspects of outward existence; from the multitude of cares and pleasures and agitations which belong to the life of the senses; from human judgments; from all change, and chance, and turmoil, and distraction.” In this busier day and age, we may need more help finding the “secret chamber” or even recognizing that it exists in each of us. But the belief that all can find it is what is important.
Most of the people who have spent time in Fox Haven and exploring the surrounding woods, creeks, and lake were on their first retreat and were surprised to discover the peacefulness that came so quickly to them in this special place. We are deeply connected to all life and being reminded of this is where we will find our true inspiration for social change. We go inward on a retreat not to avoid the outer world, but to find a place of inner peace that allows us to act more effectively and more lovingly in all our endeavors. Because the outer world so often disrupts our inward calm and sense of hope, we return again to a “secret chamber” until eventually it is just another rhythm in our life, like rising when it’s light and resting when it’s dark.
Jewelweed April 2008 (Vol. 12.1)
Courage of a Tree
By Donna Eder
I am struggling again to see the world anew. For many years I had a perspective of the world that made sense to me. The rational side of me was in the driver’s seat and I was headed down straight roads with clear destinations. But as my life went on and one loss after another began to open my heart, I found this perspective too limiting. To be a whole person now is to allow my heart to guide me as well as my head.
But any change in perspective can be challenging and this one is no exception. At times I feel like I did in a dream I had recently when I was teaching a yoga class. I was about to demonstrate a head stand to the class and found I couldn’t do it myself. Living in a new way feels like this head stand I can’t quite master. I can’t quite shift into this new mode where what once was on top is now underneath and what once was underneath is now on top.
As so often happens, a moment of clarity came to me when least expected. Yesterday I went for walk on the property adjoining the retreat land. As I was returning home it began to snow─first a few flurries and then a downpour of thick wet snow. I kept walking until I approached the retreat property where I saw a familiar landmark, a very large beech tree. I stood for some time, looking at this familiar tree from a new angle amidst the heavily falling snow.
I felt a wave of relief now that I was nearing familiar ground. The slight edge of fear I had felt earlier is what keeps me from seeking wholeness some days─the fear that I could become so disoriented I won’t be able to find my way back home. But spending time looking at this tree from a new perspective helped me to see past that fear.
Noticing all this tree had weathered─a broken limb on one side, a piece of trunk torn away on the other side─I felt more secure about all the parts of me, missing and still present. To be whole does not mean to be unbroken. Wholeness is the tree itself, its entire history─all the directions it has attempted to grow including those that are no longer options. The tree’s courage came into me, the courage to simply be─to not try to protect every limb from harm nor worry about the dangers of this storm or any storm to come.