So, those three weeks in the rural city of Mildura seemed simultaneously to whiz by, while at the same time, it felt as though I had been there years by the time I left. I guess life in a small town can be like that, no? And talk about small towns and it being a small world, a crazy coincidence. When I flew from Sydney to Melbourne on my way out there to Mildura, who did I run into in the line for the flight but one of three people I happened to know in Australia. Venerable Robina Courtin, pictured above, is an Australian born Tibetan Buddhist nun-- we met in NYC a few years back when she was there to do some teaching, and then accompanying Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a much loved Tibetan Buddhist holy man. Robina does fundraising for a variety of social causes and is one amazing bundle of energy! We had a great time sitting on the plane, completely absorbed in conversation and fairly oblivious to anything going on around us-- one of those wonderful serendipitous meetings. As a former Catholic (does anyone really stop being Catholic?), she shared marvelous insights about the Eucharist, and about living as a celibate. Hopefully we'll connect again now that I'm in Sydney for a few weeks.
In this picture above, many of the 26 retreatants from our Retreat in Daily Life are pictured as we celebrated their experience of the three weeks. What a grace it was to accompany 14 people through their experience of drawing close to God through the practice of daily meditation and contemplation... of their allowing God the freedom to give Godself to each of them in a loving and personal way. While I have given hundreds of retreats over the years, it never ceases to amaze me how God works in people's lives in such a way that their freedom is never compromised, but rather, God's love leads people away from the traps and limits of their false selves into a new and more abundant kind of life. This new life is more self-accepting, compassionate, open to growth, and free for commitment, creativity, relationship, and service of others.
One of the challenges of giving retreats is of getting to know people very quickly, loving them and then having to say goodbye. There is a bit of ascetism in this... staying out of God's way, giving people the resources to help themselves, not trying to fix people or situations, or claiming credit for "success." I still have some learning and growing to do around all of this. But this retreat in particular reassured me of how powerfully God can work with people when they are ripe for change, and this was breathtaking to witness.
Pictured above are some of my new friends from Mildura. Anne Marie DiMasi (grey jacket), her sister Melina (green jacket), and Melina's husband Nick Conte, and their daughter Vittoria (a little shy with the paparazzi). Anne Marie and Melina were both on the retreat and invited me to their homes for some fantastic Italian feasts. It didn't take long to feel like family-- they even let me cook in their kitchen!
That particular day was the high point of the three weeks in many ways, as we visited a World Heritage Site called Mungo, 110 km NE of Mildura. Haven't heard of Mungo? Neither have many Mildurans, but it is considered a site of immense importance in terms of anthropology. It is the site of the Willandra lake chain, a now dry inland sea, where there are remains of Aboriginal life that go back 40,000 years. In the picture below, I am kneeling at a site where Aboriginal people had a firepit around that old. Quite amazing!
In the next few days, I will share a bit about the few days in Melbourne, and then what we're up to these days as we begin to reflect on the connections between faith and justice.