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1001 New Worshiping Communities online retreat honors speaking from one’s heart language

‘In my imagination, that’s what it sounded like on Pentecost,’ says one participant

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

“Praying with others, retreating with others is an unexpected blessing,” said one participant in last week’s online retreat facilitated by 1001 New Worshiping Communities. The same sentiment sprang up like an epiphany during evening worship when the group closed communion with the Lord’s Prayer in their first language. Following an invitation to “pray with your heart language,” the participants, including speakers of English, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, and Yoruba, prayed together the words that Jesus taught. The Rev. Sue Yoder, pastor of Blank Slate Community in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, said, “In my imagination that’s what it sounded like on Pentecost.”

On May 22 and 23, more than 30 people gathered online for a two-day retreat centered on Julian of Norwich’s “Showings.” This month marks the 650th anniversary of Julian’s visions, which revealed to her “sixteen showings of love.” According to Richard Rohr’s introduction of this “intuitive, 14th-centurty English laywoman,” Julian, as a theologian, offers a “radical freedom and optimism.” This freedom and hope, according to Rohr, comes in part from Julian’s faithfulness to her experience as she writes from the heart and in her mother tongue.

The Rev. Jeff Eddings of 1001 New Worshiping Communities checked in with participants several times daily during the retreat. (Screenshot)

Retreat participants were sent a “retreat-in-a-box” with a retreat structure, links to prerecorded meditations, goodies and a copy of Mirabai Starr’s translation of Julian’s historic work, the first book published by a woman in the English language. The Rev. Jeff Eddings, associate for Spiritual Formation and Coaching for 1001 New Worshiping Communities, gathered participants for morning prayer, midday check-ins and evening worship, offering six different times throughout the day for people to choose from based on their time zones. 1001 New Worshiping leaders received a grant of up to $250 for food and lodging to facilitate their rest and restoration during the retreat.

“I really enjoyed the overall format and structure of this retreat,” said the Rev. Noah McIntee, pastor of Presbyterian churches in Polson and Dayton, Montana. “I thought it was very well done the way the retreat blended group Zoom, breakout Zoom, pre-recorded videos, physical aids from the retreat box, and space for personal study and reflection.”

Each session opened with a body prayer inspired by Julian of Norwich’s movements of the Spirit: await, allow, accept and attend. Participants gave thanks for the spaciousness of the retreat structure, generosity of the grant, the sincerity of Julian’s theology, and the invitational leadership style. One participant lifted up Eddings’ “warm, inviting presence” and “his ability to construct what only looks simple, but which opens layer upon layer of insight, welcome and challenge.”

McIntee remarked that his takeaway from the retreat would be a “renewed sense of the pervasive and boundlessness of God’s love.” The Rev. Naomi Kelly of Weaving Home and Niccolls Memorial Presbyterian Church in Old Forge, New York, honored Julian’s “insight into the generosity of God, use of feminine language, and understanding that love is the very essence of God.”

An online retreat held by 1001 New Worshiping Communities used a Mirabai Starr translation of the work of Julian of Norwich.

Starr’s translation underscores the breadth of sickness and death that surrounded Julian and preceded the visions she had. Participants wrestled with the trauma and despair apparent in Julian’s writing in contrast with the tender mercy of her theology. One participant likened Julian’s prayer to experience suffering to nearly the point of death with the empathy she felt towards people close to her struggling with deep depression and the desire to understand their minds and bridge the gap between her experience and theirs.

Rev. Katia Regina Dacunha, leader of LatinX in Action in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, was struck by the urgency of unconditional love that mortality brings: “[Julian] challenged me about priorities as time goes by quickly and by how she devoted herself to live and share God’s unconditional love no matter what.”

“It is God’s will that we strive for three things: willingness, patience and complete faith,” writes Julian during a vision of Christ’s face on the cross. “We need to actively trust God, knowing that God … is likely to appear suddenly and without warning, raining blessings upon all God’s lovers.”

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