At my very first recovery retreat in Klaggett, MD, and then at later retreats, I always wondered how, when and where they found the “retreat master or leader.”
Of course part of my early recovery thinking then was: “hmmm… wonder if this person has any clue at all about what life in recovery is all about?” I now know those leaders were always dealing in the end result of daily recovery, and I was still steeped in what the daily problem is.
Recently I was afforded the opportunity to be that “leader/master” at a men’s spiritual retreat outside of Atlanta at the “Mother of Holy Spirit Monastery,” home to group of Trappist Monks who have taken a vow of service and poverty.
After 40+ years, this annual men’s recovery retreat is still welcomed and treated with care and concern by the Trappists. Some of the retreat attendees have been at nearly all of the retreats— which means in excess of 40 years. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “what is it I can bring to these guys?”
The retreat steering committee did a bang up job of organizing. Everything was right on time and in schedule. As I arrived at the monastery, I overheard a bit of conversation that reinforced something I had been taking under advisory since being asked to lead this retreat: They all were keen on the idea that all discussions I led would be grounded in the Big Book of AA.
I had been paying strict attention to this in my preparation for my four one-hour presentations. Of course, many great and valuable ideas begin in the text of AA, and are even more thought provoking when expanded—and “expounded upon,” using a variety of support documents.
The entire retreat was a wonderful opportunity for me to meet and hug over fifty great men who were there to accomplish many things: from personal inventorying, to sharing Fifth steps, to asking personal spirituality questions and many questions about mysticism in recovery. What a great chance for me to learn from others what is driving their personal recoveries!
I had chosen a retreat theme of; “Spiritually speaking, are we all on the same page?” My intent was to use the traditional format of; “What it was like, how I got here, and what it is like now.” Participants were asked to use those ideas but insert their questions of spirituality rather than their drinking lives.
I led four sessions keyed to this format. After each presentation, five small groups were formed and the men discussed their personal lives in consonance with the retreat theme. It was so very rewarding to hear these guys looking to get help in repairing, or growing from inside, things that (as a rule) would not be dealt with their home area. I had forgotten how intensely I was doing the same thing at a retreat myself, so many years ago.
As well as leading the daily conversations, I was asked to lead the morning, evening and special prayer and meditation sessions. These took place in a very old crypt underneath the monastery. The retreat attendees took to prayer and meditation (as I have known it for the last 20 years) with total abandonment. The quiet times were very rewarding and moving in a spiritual sense.
As I met with various men in a one-on-one scenario, I was so bowled over with their honesty. I had to think back to the retreat leaders I had experienced, and remember just how much they listened to me and offered prayers, not advice. That helped me know how to treat with and for these men.
As the retreat ended on Sunday at noon I questioned myself—had all been accomplished that I had hoped? My answer: Each man seemed to have made it a personal requirement to hug me and say goodbye and that they loved me. Can you just imagine how wonderful that feels? It is truly a spiritual wonderment.
So, I have now come full circle in the recovery retreat system. I am happy to report that the real key is to be in the system and it is that simple. Spirit has always seen that I was taken care of at each retreat and this one was no different. I honestly feel that now; “I know the rest of the story”.
In love and service,