Christmas Retreat 2019

I wake to the deep quiet and spectacular beauty of New Camaldoli Hermitage.  Outside, water drips off the small house that has been my home for the past few days.  In the distance, I hear waves coming ashore and a hawk calling.

This place of silence and beauty is one I come back to again and again.  There is something about the vista of mountain meeting ocean and ocean meeting sky that puts things in perspective.  Issues in my head that ordinarily feel so urgent and pressing drop away here and another me emerges ready to listen.

What I hear in the chapel are ancient words of wisdom.  Every morning we sing with Zechariah about the tender mercy of God that arrives in the form of a prophet.  Every evening we sing with Mary in beautiful tones that can make it easy to forget the revolution in her words.    At intervals throughout the day, we pause to join the psalmist in transforming the full range of human emotion into chant. At Christmas, many of the readings come from Isaiah, inviting an exiled people back to the vision of God’s will on earth, where natural enemies come together to share food.

This year, I am grateful for the spiritual wisdom that comes through the biblical tradition.  These are the words of generations who lived through devastating political contexts; natural disaster; and idol worship by religious leaders.  In our current political climate, it is comforting to me to know that some of what I find so troubling in the daily news has happened before AND that there is spiritual wisdom for living in such times.  At the monastery, I listen and watch for how to keep my focus on the thread of grace that is always present, God with us, bending hearts toward hope and the moral arc of the universe toward peace and justice.

In a few weeks, Wisdom & Money will be hosting a retreat here.  Last month, when I sent out the invitation, I received a call from my father. He wanted to know, “Why would someone go on a retreat focused on money?”  I laughed when he asked.  My father is one of the most faithful supporters of my work; he knows what I do. And yet it is not the first time I have heard this question.  Why would you go on retreat to a place like New Camaldoli to talk about money?  Money is the stuff of the world.  Don’t we go to the mountain top to forget all of that?

I think now of Father Bruno, one of the monks of New Camaldoli who was a teacher of Wisdom Christianity, by which I mean the spiritual stream that flows from the monastic tradition.  He was clear that the path of wisdom is not just about  sitting on a prayer mat in a monastery on top of a mountain.  It is also about moving the spark of divine love that one senses in such places into the world. Why focus on money?  Because money is a powerful way to do that.  It is a flow, a currency, that connects people to one another and that fuels economic systems.  What if that flow could spring from the font of divine love?  What if those systems prioritized the well being of all? That is what we explore on Wisdom & Money retreats.

Money and economics are also major themes of the Bible.  Think of the manna story and the jubilee year.  Think of the golden calf and the prophets’ repeated warning against idols. Think of Jesus’ invitation to the rich ruler to sell everything or his dinner gathering at Zacchaeus’ house that resulted in the tax collector’s return of what he had stolen.  Think of the early Christian community’s practice of sharing what they had and St. Paul’s encouragement to generosity: “God loves a hilarious giver.”  Over and over, our sacred texts decry economic oppression and idolatry and call us back to a vision of unity and abundance where the gifts of the world are shared in ways that meet the needs of people, especially those who are most vulnerable.

And yet, where can we go to explore what it looks like to live into that vision in real life?  How do we navigate the specific choices of our financial lives – like our lifestyle choices, how we invest, how we give, how we transfer wealth  – in ways that live into that vision?  Few churches take up the topic.  Few financial advisors are trained to integrate the biblical vision of economics into financial choices.  Few people have spiritual friends with whom to explore such questions.  This is why we offer Wisdom & Money retreats.  This is why we bring together people who share these questions.

Not that Wisdom & Money retreats are about “shoulds” or “financial advice” or “judgment.”  Instead, we lean into the transformative power of spiritual practices that open the heart and imagination.  We pray with sacred texts and spend time in contemplative silence.   We talk openly about our questions, challenges and hopes with money, holding ourselves with compassion.  And we listen to each other, to ourselves, and to silence.

I have been attending retreats focused on money for twenty years now.  What I have learned is that paying attention to money in this way is a powerful spiritual practice.  It transforms the heart and the flow of resources in the world.  It is a way to live our faith. This is why I continue to issue invitations to come away on retreat to talk about money.

A few weeks from now, Steve and I will be here for a Wisdom & Money retreat.  I cannot think of a more lovely place to experience contemplative Christianity or to experience what we do at Wisdom & Money.    I hope you will consider joining us.  More details are here.

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