27 May 2019

Cloisters on the Platte; finding clarity through a three-day Ignation silent retreat

I attended a three-day Ignatian silent retreat, along with 80 other women, at Cloisters on the Platte

In the stillness, clarity emerges
In the breath, answers reveal themselves
In between, there is peace

Distractions that come from all the noise in our lives makes it difficult to connect with God and find our purpose in life. A silent Ignatian retreat provides an opportunity to draw closer to him, gain perspective, and hear God's clear voice.

Such retreats draw on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius, creating an opportunity and environment to pray and reflect over an extended weekend. A yearly exercise in faith that dates centuries, making a retreat helps you renew your relationship to God and discover newfound faith and clarity.

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), Spanish theologian and founder of the Jesuits

Basic principle from Ignatius, for our spiritual lives: 
Trust that God speaks to his people and realize he has something to say to me.
Therefore, I must create moments of stillness and silence so I can listen and truly hear him!

Try to keep your soul always in peace and quiet,
always ready for whatever our Lord may wish to work in you.
~ Ignatius

The interior of the chapel at Cloisters where we had our various sessions

Wait in awe of God in every single moment.
Be attentive and be silent. You will be amazed.

Fall in love with Christ, and stay in love with him. 
It will affect everything.

When you ask God to help you meditate, 
many things will simply fall into place.

~ Tom Krettek, speaker for our retreat

Clockwise after me: Beth, Catherine, and Felecia

We four gals ended up coincidentally staying in the same lodge while at the retreat. We also coincidentally sat at the same table in the dining room for all of our delicious meals. We chatted and got acquainted at our first meal on Thursday evening... when we were still allowed to speak. A few weeks after the retreat ended, we all got together for dinner in Fort Calhoun... and talked and laughed. We anticipate being at the same retreat again next year!

Exterior of the chapel where our sessions were held

'Stations of the Cross' is a form of devotion originating in the 4th century, when Christians were first permitted to worship in the Roman Empire. At that time, pilgrims flooded to Jerusalem to pray along the same route that Jesus traveled from his sentencing to his crucifixion. That 2,500-foot path through the old city became known as Via Dolorosa, Latin for the 'Sorrowful Way'. In the 5th century, images of the key moments along Jesus' path were created. Those paintings and sculptures helped Christians who could not travel to the Holy Land be able to reflect on Jesus' last day and message.

At Cloisters on the Platte, there are 14 superbly done sculpture settings for ones viewing and contemplation. As you walk the path, you are drawn into the story and can reflect on the narrative provided through head-phones. When in Kenya, I often go to Resurrection Gardens in Nairobi, to view their Stations of the Cross. The ones at Cloisters have been so wonderfully crafted, and truly draw you into the various scenes of Christ's agony and sacrifice for us.

There is no escaping the unfolding brutality. At this particular station, guards bind Jesus to the cross and drive nails into his flesh. His cries of pain pierce our hearts; we want to run from this nightmare but feel compelled to stay close by him. Only then may we hear what Jesus struggles to say. "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do."

- - - - - 

If you've never done a retreat, I would heartily recommend you make time for one! There are a variety of options but if you choose Cloisters on the Platte in Nebraska, here's their website. If there's no space for the weekend that you prefer, you can opt to be put on the waiting list. The odds are good you might still get in.

During a 20-minute session with a spiritual adviser, and later as I sat still in my room and silently reflected on his comments, I gained clear direction about when my time will be to leave Kenya and come back to the US.

In that stillness, clarity truly emerged and I have peace!

09 May 2019

Reaching out to our Fellow Human Beings; Creating Space for Strangers, by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen (1932–1996)
Dutch professor, writer, and theologian
(unless otherwise acknowledged, all quotes are by Nouwen)

At home in our own house
In solitude we can pay attention to our inner self. In solitude we can become present to ourselves. Solitude is the climate of hospitality. Once we have found the center of our life in our own heart and have accepted our aloneness, not as a fate but as a vocation, we are able to offer freedom to others.

In solitude we can become present to others by reaching out to them, offering ourselves to help build a community of love. Solitude does not pull us away from our fellow human beings but instead, makes real fellowship possible.

In deep solitude I find the gentleness to truly love my brothers.
The more solitary I am, the more affection I have for them.   
~ Thomas Merton (1915-1968), American writer, theologian, poet

Reaching out
Hospitality is the creation of a free and friendly space where we can reach out to strangers and invite them to become our friends. Although the word stranger suggests someone who belongs to another world than ours, speaks another language, and has different customs, it is important to recognize the stranger in our own familiar circle. When we are able to be good hosts for the strangers in our midst we may also find ways to expand our hospitality to broader horizons.

Listening is an art that must be developed, not a technique that can be applied as a monkey wrench to nuts and bolts. It needs the full and real presence of people to each other. It is indeed one of the highest forms of hospitality.

My friends Nawala, Sasha, and I enjoyed some good sharing while in a forest

The poverty of mind
Someone who is filled with ideas, concepts, opinions, and convictions cannot be a good host. There is no inner space to listen, no openness to discover the gift of the other.

People who articulate not-knowing makes them free to listen to the voice of God in the words of people, in the events of the day, and in books containing life experiences of men and women from other places and other times. In short, learned ignorance makes one able to receive the word from others and the Other with great attention. That is the poverty of mind, demanding a refusal to identify God with any concept, theory, document, or event, and allowing for an ongoing growth of gentleness and receptivity.

Fredrick and I always encourage one another as we discuss deep issues of life

The poverty of heart
When our heart is filled with prejudices, worries, and jealousies, there is little room for a stranger. Real hospitality is not exclusive but inclusive and creates space for a large variety of human experiences.

Having become human, Jesus stayed human.
It was an incredibly humbling process; he didn’t claim special privileges. 
Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death.
   ~ Philippians 2:6-8, Message

Gloria and I often meet for lunch, to encourage one another and to discuss a chapter in the current book we're reading.
On this occasion, I also brought some ashes so we could recognize the beginning of Lent.

07 May 2019

A fun two-day getaway at Brackenhurst Hotel with a friend, including getting lost - and locked - in the forest in the dark!

Brackenhurst is in one of the many highland areas of Kenya, at over 8,000 feet in elevation. Tea plantations are located where the land is endowed with the perfect conditions - good red soil, consistently nice rainfall, plus bright and sunny days. Tea production is one of Kenya's primary crops, and the harvesting is done primarily by hand.

Another tea plantation

This lovely building at Brackenhurst is where we ate our meals

We squeezed in some GeoCaching around the lovely grounds, all the while enjoying the beauty of nature

Cool view of the sky and trees through the holes in this leaf

I love chameleons, especially Jackson's Three-Horned, and watched this one for a while on a driveway.
Be sure to see his gait (a way of tricking predators) in this 38-second video I shot.And watch his eyes go back and forth!

The meals at Brackenhurst are amazing, but one day we were tempted to get something at the small café.
HA, HA! These pieces of cake were much larger than Susan and I expected :) 

I made this cache at home, out of pop bottle caps.
I brought it along to replace one that had gone missing in Brackenhurst's forest.

We did a lot of hiking in the small forest, finding 2-3 caches. After the final one, I expected us to exit via this gate.
 Oh, my! We found it locked! And... it was far too dark to make our way through the many winding trails.

When I made our room reservation, I kept the phone number of the receptionist. I called her and she called this kind
security guard. It turns out they actually don't keep the key on the premises, so our only way out was to climb
back up the hilly, winding trails. We were very grateful to him and so very glad he had a flashlight!

17 April 2019

Visits with my friends at Malaba, Fafaral, Mtoni, and Eldoret - all involving getting lifts on motorbikes (aka boda boda)

After the retreat at Entebbe and a couple of nights at Jinja, I crossed the border leaving Uganda and entered Kenya.
After a nice visit with Agnes at her home, we squeezed onto a boda boda so I could get to the stage and head to Eldoret.

After a rest day, I traveled from Eldoret to Fafaral to visit Nathan and Alice over a cup of tea.
Then Nathan and I hopped on his motorbike for the dusty trip on back roads to visit Deb at school.

Deb and her dad, Nathan, on the school grounds where she is now attending secondary school.
Regarding the school's mission statement above, all schools in Kenya seem to have these and paint them at their gates.

Nathan and I continued on the dusty back roads to Mtoni to visit Ken and Joan plus their daughters.
This is the spot where I used to have my mud hut, always a source of good memories for me.

Robai and I visited Samich again, a restaurant about an hour from Eldoret and just on the edge of the Great Rift Valley.
This time we climbed down the path farther than the last time. Whew... the climb back UP is not an easy task.

Enjoying the beauty on the way

I am not sure what this sign is supposed to mean... other than 'be careful' on the steep slope.

15 April 2019

Azmera Haven Retreat at Entebbe, Uganda plus a visit to Jinja, Uganda plus squeezing in some GeoCaching

This was one of several beautiful early morning sunrises at Lake Victoria, Entebbe Uganda 

Some of the ladies at our surprise 'birthday party' on our last night, at the Azmera Retreat

I traveled to Uganda in February to attend an Azmera Haven Retreat. Their goal is to nurture and impact cross-cultural global workers from various nations, so they can serve God and others to their fullest potential and remain faithful to their calling overseas. Azmera is an Ethiopian word meaning 'harvest'.

Like other similar retreats I've attended, this one was also quite fun and refreshing. It was nice to meet new people at our randomly-assigned tables and get to know those few ladies better throughout the course of our three days together. Additionally the various workshops we could attend, partaking of pampering like pedicures and massages, plus the teaching was all wonderful.

I arrived two days early so I could do some exploring and GeoCaching, as it was my first time to Entebbe. I got a lift to Jinja from a gal at the retreat. She let me stay at her place for two nights, which also gave me some more time for GeoCaching.

Jinja's new suspension bridge was still under construction the last time I was there

I took a boat out to the spot that Uganda claims is the source of the Nile River, flowing from underground at Lake Victoria.
Once there, I was able to log an Earth Cache, by getting this picture.

12 April 2019

A few interesting and random shots of typical day-to-day life in my neighborhood and at my house

After there was a break-in at one of the nine houses on the compound where I live, the landlady hired Njuguna to do some welding on all of our doors, in theory making the houses more secure.

I always enjoy watching manual labor and had fun chatting with Ngunua. He's proudly showing me his homemade tools.

He also made this welding machine himself.

Every 'fundi' (repairman) that's been to one of my houses in Nairobi,
has plugged in his equipment in this rather reckless manner.

On that same day, Daniel trimmed my hedges using the ladder he had just built for me.
Later I had chicken and chips (french fries) delivered via a motorbike, for all three of us.

On a different day, our Assistant Chief Madam Sarah, met with several of us who live in the Muthaiga shops neighborhood.
We discussed recent break-ins, plus the new Huduma Namba (service number) every Kenyan is supposed to get.

Here's a few of the neighbors who attended the meeting, including Mama Sharee (white shirt), who owns the duka where I shop. 

Mama Sharee's shop is on the far left, where she stocks basic kitchen supplies and fresh produce.

Sometimes my friend, Fredrick, trims my hedges... along with help from his son, Jason.

I planted these hedges in front of my house with Daniel (pictured above)
shortly after I moved in 5 years ago. Now they're envied by all my neighbors :)

02 April 2019

Enjoying another wonderful hike up on Ngong Hills, and reaching the highest peak (8,000' elevation)

A hike at Ngong Hills never disappoints and each one is different in some way. On this day it was quite hot, plus extremely windy and gusty.

On the peaks with heavy forest, we encountered a LOT of very fresh buffalo dung and saw their hoof prints on the trail. Additionally we also spotted a few of their hiding places in the thick bush. We were hoping to actually see one or two (from a distance, of course), but weren't lucky in that regard.

We paused often to enjoy the variety of gorgeous wildflowers and to watch an African Crowned Eagle hunting for prey. Our guide, Amos, showed us three different kinds of edible wild vegetation, which we sampled.

Amos (our guide), myself, and Kim - during yet another great day up on Ngong Hills

I took this profile picture of Ngong Hills, on a different day near Kiserian town

The word 'Ngong' is an Anglicization of a Maasai phrase enkong'u emuny meaning 'rhinoceros spring', which was located near present-day Ngong Town. And, the interesting Maasai story of how the hills were formed speaks of a giant who stumbled north from Mount Kilimanjaro. As he fell, he stuck his fingers into the ground leaving this formation we see today.

"Nature is a volume of which God is the author."
~ William Harvey (1578-1657), British physician

I will never tire of seeing random wildlife in Kenya, especially when you least expect it!
During another day when Kim and I were together - this time in the Kitengela area - we got to see this small herd of zebra. There was also a wildebeest hanging out with them, but I didn't get a good shot of it.

This is a common type of a man-mad 'pan' for the livestock to get a drink

Rivers seem to always create a sense of coolness and being refreshed