“Further Up and Further In!”

Editor: please enjoy another reflection from Brazos Fellows Natalie Widdows.

The Christian life is an invitation in the very life of God. It is a life that seeks after goodness and beauty, wholeness and fullness. As Christians, we are a people of hope and of joy, for we have received the gift of salvation. Not every moment is characterized by an experience of joy (for, alas, we still journey through a valley of tears), but I have found that God often punctuates our lives with experiences of this fullness, offering us a foretaste of the fulfillment of God’s promises and inciting hope and longing for that which is to come. The fall Brazos Fellows retreat was one such moment for me. 

The weekend was characterized by feasting. For one thing, we did not socially distance from one another (after taking extra precautions and isolating in the week beforehand), and we were at last able to delight in another’s company without restrictions or masks. What a joy to dine together around a table, to give and receive a hug, or even to hold sweet little Marianne for the first time! We laughed so much together (which turned out be rather unfortunate for Marianne – the rich sound of laughter seemed to startle her, and more than a few tears were shed over the matter). Having fasted from physical closeness for so long, I treasured our time together on the retreat all the more. 

We also feasted on food – we shared many delicious meals together, complete with wine and candlelight. In our feasting, we rejoiced in the abundance with which God has provided us and in the wonderful gifts of the earth. The gifts of food and wine are tangible examples of God’s grace for us, for by them we do indeed “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). 

But more than feasting on friendship or food, our time together was permeated by the presence of God in prayer. Our retreat focused on the habits of Christian prayer and on the centrality of prayer in our lives of faith. We learned that to pray is to enter into the Trinitarian life. Scripture teaches us that we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Thus, when we pray, we are drawn into the mystery of the Triune God. Prayer is not a time for mere supplication (though God does instruct us to make our requests known to him), it is an act of participation, and it is an exercise of the sonship that we have received in Christ. Through the waters of Baptism we are joined to Christ in salvation; it is by him that we pray to Our Father. As Cyprian remarks in his treatise On the Lord’s Prayer, 

So great is the mercy of the Lord, so abundant his condescension and goodness, that he desired that we should make our prayer in this manner in the sight of God, that we should address the Lord as “Father,” and that we should be considered sons of God, as Christ is the Son of God.

Prayer is an incredible gift, for our ability to pray through Christ (and even in the very words of Christ) is part of the inheritance we have received as children of God. 

During the retreat, we were also taught about various meditative and contemplative prayer practices. These practices were previously quite foreign to my prayer life, but I found that it was our time spent in meditative prayer that offered me the greatest amount of hope and joy on the retreat. This kind of prayer aims at listening to God, at seeking the presence of God, and at contemplating God. Beginning to pray in this way incited so much longing in me for greater intimacy with God, and it is this awakened longing that I esteem as the greatest gift of the retreat. 

Our retreat offered me tastes and glimpses of God’s goodness, and I leave with longing for the fulfillment of God’s glorious promises. Filled with joy and gratitude, my soul echoes the anthem of the Narnians who find themselves having just arrived in Aslan’s country“Further up and further in!”

Highlights from the Brazos Fellows Fall Retreat

This past weekend, the Brazos Fellows enjoyed a wonderful retreat at Cedarbrake Renewal Center. Our theme was “Speaking to God: Christian Life and the Habits of Prayer,” and Fr. Nicholas Krause led us in several excellent sessions on the theology and patterns of prayer. The weekend held lots of time for silence and rest (we believe that retreats should be, well, retreats!) as well as good food and conversation. Enjoy perusing these photos from our time together: