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Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Letter from the FSJ: Mac Murray

We all have busy lives. Twenty-five years ago, living in Reston, Virginia, I was a corporate executive for one of the largest aerospace companies in the U.S. Between 80-hour workweeks and a full family life (married with two children), I was looking for an opportunity to hit the reset button. Through the recommendation of my new spiritual director, I was fortunate to discover SSJE. My first experience was a week-long retreat led by Br. Curtis. I didn’t know what to expect, but I discovered a new world as I entered the gate of the Monastery Guesthouse: a place of quiet, a place of refreshment, a place to rest from the busyness of life. It became my practice to venture back to Cambridge on an annual basis for a ‘booster shot.’ I may have originally thought of my retreat times as an escape mechanism, but what I discovered was that the gift of retreat – a gift I gave myself – was actually teaching me how to live a more complete, more centered life.

Over the succeeding years, I left the corporate world, attended seminary, and was ordained a priest. I continued my annual retreats at the Monastery while working at my first parish in Virginia. When I was called to my current parish in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, I included in my letter of agreement the parish’s support for a monthly retreat. The practice of retreat has become essential to my ministry and to my life.

When I walk through the gate and enter the Guesthouse garden, I feel a weight being lifted from my shoulders. I am entering a new space, a space that has been prepared for me, a space in which I can relax and let go of whatever I’m carrying, a space that will renew and refresh me. I know that God has a plan for our time together, but I don’t always know what it is. Retreat opens space for this loving encounter.

Sometimes I am conscious of bringing a serious concern with me, such as a difficult relationship or a burning question like, ‘Why is it so difficult for people to work together?’ In the silence of the retreat, I can process my strong emotions and contemplate the options before me. But more often than not, I come without any specific expectations, other than to open myself to the work of the Spirit. 

There are many ways to enter into a retreat. Sometimes I head for the Guesthouse library and select a book – usually the mystics or poetry – which can serve as the starting place for my meditations. As I read I listen to what I’m feeling, what I’m hearing, what I’m being drawn to pray about. At other times I make use of the art materials SSJE provides: I paint with watercolors or create clay figures or assemble pictures into a collage. There is something about moving into this different side of me – a side that is rarely accessed – that opens a window into the wonder and mystery of life and inspires worship. In every retreat I fold myself into the Community’s worship. The rhythm of the Daily Office and the Eucharist provides a helpful structure for retreat. I often find myself in the Chapel a full hour before worship, just to sit in silence and to listen to where God might be calling me. Even though I am an over-the-top “E” (extrovert) on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I find these rich times of silence feed my soul.

A few years ago I discovered Emery House. Wow! I now intentionally alternate my retreat times between the Monastery and Emery House. They offer two very different environments and invite two very different kinds of experience. When at the Monastery, I rarely venture out. I find myself burrowing in, soaking in the comfort of a safe and hidden place. At Emery House, I find time for long walks on the property or in nearby Maudsley State Park. I take time to sit and ponder, in wonder, the beauty of the created order, noticing particularly the small details of life around me which I so often miss in my busyness. Sometimes I take advantage of volunteer opportunities around the Emery House grounds. Some of my most memorable spiritual experiences in retreat have come through engaging with the land.

Retreats, of course, eventually come to an end. The time comes for me to step out of the place in which I have been held and nurtured in order to pick up again the call to hold and nurture others. Sometimes I head straight from retreat to one of the Boston hospitals to visit a parishioner or friend. I realize then that I carry a light within me that has been fanned into a flame in retreat, and I pray for the grace to offer that light to those I come to see.

As a full-time rector of a busy parish, I never have enough time to accomplish all that needs to be done. But I have learned to value the gift of retreat and continue to discover in it new insights, new perspectives, and new opportunities – truly the Holy Spirit at work! 

Mac Murray

The Rev. William MacDonald (“Mac”) Murray
Rector of Trinity Church, Milford, Massachusetts

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