The Taizé, Benedictine and Franciscan Communities

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CHAPTER TWO Retreat and Spirituality

The Empirical Research Development Process

A four day ecumenical leadership development retreat in nineteen ninety four planted the first seed for the narrative research journey. Although not a monastic retreat, as their were many lectures, group discussions and laughter during the four days, the venue at the Anglican school of St. Marys’ in Pretoria had a very special chapel where we as a group of retreatants would gather two to three times a day for silence, worship, meditation and lectio divina. It was in the chapel, which became a special holy place to me with the cross, altar, candles, icons, silence, and solitude that I experienced the presence of God in a deep profound sense. Very different from what I have experienced within my own church and in a soul enriching way. The times in the chapel were my first exposure to elements of a meditative, associative spirituality.
The seed of an interest in and an attraction to monastic retreat developed and grew even further during a private non conducted retreat in nineteen ninety six in an Anglican Benedictine cloister for nuns called “Order of the Holy Paraclete” in Rosettenville near Johannesburg. I visited there primarily to get away from the busyness and rat race syndrome of the ministry at that stage. I also had to get clarity regarding my calling, vision, and future leadership role in the church. I had become aware before the retreat of a first stage physical, emotional, and spiritual “burn out” in my ministry because of constant pressure, negative stress, and an unbalanced way of life. I decided to visit this cloister that welcomed retreatants on recommendation of an Anglican priest who has conducted many retreats there for members of his parish. At that stage I have been to many church camps and youth camps within my own church tradition but never before for two days at a cloister with a chapel and lots of silence, a tranquil garden and peaceful atmosphere. Although situated in a quite big busy neighbourhood, the moment I arrived there and the big door closed behind me, I felt I entered holy secluded surroundings enclosed within the big walls. One of the nuns received me with kindness and joyous hospitality and showed me to my small and simple but comfortable room. Afterwards I had my first meal with some of the nuns and two other retreatants in total silence! I have never felt so awkward in my life and the lunch hour felt like an eternity. I could to join in their daily prayer offices or services (Divine Office) in the chapel and the sisters were available for spiritual direction when needed. The silence during the two days, the different surroundings, the solitude and at times sharing with the sisters my story and listening to theirs, the moments in the chapel and in the garden opened me up to a spiritual dimension I was not familiar with at all. After leaving the Order of the Holy Paraclete at St. Benedict’s house, I felt renewed and healed. Afterwards the decision was made to read and experience more about retreat and especially retreat within the St. Benedict’s monastic tradition. I began reading on the classical disciplines, contemplation, monastic, and mystic spirituality. Questions began to emerge regarding retreat and monastic spirituality. Since then I have had at least one private retreat each year.
Against this background, I finally made the decision in two thousand and two to develop a research project on the action of retreat. The first two phases of the empirical cycle of Van der Ven were thus set in motion. As researcher, I participated in the field of the subject of retreat and of the subjects (co-researchers and co-pilgrims) lives and experiences during the investigation. It was impossible to plan the entire design for the qualitative research project, because the design changed as the initial interviewing and reading/literature review developed. After preliminary enquiries and interviews, dialogue with existing literature on the subject and more exposure to the action of retreat itself the research problem was formulated, the goal of the research clarified and stated. Some of the questions in the early stages of the research process were:

    • What were the people on retreat experiencing deep within
    • Why did they go on retreat?
    • Could the monastic way of retreat be a justifiable or commendable way for people of my own church tradition to become more aware of the presence of God and a source of regeneration, as I have experienced it?

A need assessment process and an empirical study developed regarding retreat in order to listen to and establishing a possible story (stories) about the relevance of the monastic way of retreat and monastic way of life for retreat in the Dutch Reformed tradition. During the second phase of theological induction, progressively more exposure to the action of retreat took place, in order to discover what kind of people and cognitions, actions, affections, processes and structures I might find relevant to the research project. A literature review followed by a literature study were done, interviews were conducted, key persons asked specific questions and I began to live more and more with the research project developing into a participative research journey whilst constantly perceiving and reflecting on the research topic. During the following phase of theological deduction, a description of the theoretical view and philosophy underlying the study followed by the exposition of the narrative social constructionist model and subsequent methodology chosen for the study.
The relevant data from the fieldwork and literature study, discussed and integrated in the respective chapters (two-five) are presented as an epistemological reflection on the investigation. It is a description of what has emerged during the qualitative research plot development. It contains the observation of the simmering pot of stew or research plot development and the adding spices of the researcher’s own interaction with the action of retreat and its participants. In this way, it is envisioned that a fruitful description and discussion is offered that may lead to further understanding of the relevance of the mystic traditions for the Dutch Reformed tradition and stimulate further research. The central themes and concepts from the interviews, surveys, and documents (the stories of the conversational research partners) were categorized. The recorded data as relevant and interesting realities, the making of additional notes, the transcription of the recordings, and the data from the literature study transformed into text, are presented as written stories from the field. This reality in substantiated form, as text, provides access to the field of research as a reconstruction of the action of retreat and the people (characters) in action. A summary discussion of the story of the research journey and findings that came to the fore follows in chapter six.

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Empirical Fieldwork

My view of practical theological research on the relation between text and context is hermeneutical in nature (a process of understanding of retreat in the context of society) and empirical in design with the starting point the actual situation of retreat and society. I approached the research situation as a situation of action within a social constructionist model. How the researched (co-researchers) experienced and interpreted what has happened on retreat and acknowledgement of their stories by which they gave meaning to the experiences, were valued. It is an empiric explanation of and epistemological reflection on the action of retreat, interpreted by means of theological theories as participant observer. The starting point within the participatory action research model was the lifeworld, the praxis of retreat and the experience of it as well as the beliefs, concerns, perceptions and spirituality of the retreatants. The focus was on breaking down the distinctions between researcher and researched, subjects and objects of knowledge, linking theory and practice, and a more participative, person centred enquiry, doing research with people and not merely on them. The perspectives and experience (stories) of those under investigation as well as my own perspectives and experience of retreat form part of the listening process and taken into account. It meant an immersion in and among those involved in the study for example during a retreat, staying at a monastery, in order to generate a profound understanding of the group and its context. Ample time was spent with retreatants representative of the different mystic traditions, Dutch Reformed tradition and with monks in the respective monasteries. Documented comprehensive field notes were kept throughout and broad questions asked, phrasing it initially in an open way listening and consulting what the various conversational partners thoughts were, before inadvertently narrowing down the options for further questions. The situational action of retreat as social and religious phenomenon with structures of action was read as a text or listened to as stories and reflectively analysed with empirical questions for example what happened here (what is happening here) and in what way (who and how) is it enfolding ? This more external narrative mode of enquiry was complimented by the internal narrative (what was felt at occurrence of the action?) and reflexive narrative modes (what was felt when asking the question what does all of it mean?). The researcher approached the praxis of retreat as a particular, value-laden action, consciously and unconsciously saturated by meaning. During the inductive phase of the research, progressive exposure as participant action researcher took place participating in and conducting more retreats, interviewing, observing, and interacting with more people in the process.
Regarding the cases selected or the actions of retreat in South Africa as well as the monasteries in Europe that I visited during the study tour the following:

      • The focus in South Africa was primarily on people within my own church tradition going on a one-day or weekend retreat because the main aim of the research was to establish the relevance of monastic retreat for the Dutch Reformed tradition. Most of the retreats took place at Good Shepherd retreat centre (because of its location and the more monastic setting) at Hartbeespoortdam but I also made use of other venues with the same character for example nature, quietness, chapel. I chose these venues for their monastic atmosphere, accessibility, and geographical convenience. I conducted seven of the twelve retreats myself and participated as retreatant or pilgrim with others on the other occasions. The total figure of retreatants (co-researchers) during the retreats was two hundred and thirty four, of which 95% were Dutch Reformed.
      • The decision for visiting the three monasteries in France and in Italy was based on the three orders within monasticism for example Benedictine, Franciscan, and Taize, which were relevant for the research journey (motivation for choosing these orders was outlined in The Church of Reconciliation and Monastery of Taize situated in France is the only monastery within this monastic order. The Benedictine monastery of La Pierre Quie Vire also situated in France is an old and very secluded monastery and retreat establishment and one of the more famous in Europe. The Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi was included because it contains the tomb of St. Francis, founder of Franciscan spirituality and a monastery built to commemorate his life.

CHAPTER ONE Epistemology: Theory, Model and Method
1.1 Research Motivation, Relevance and Objectives
1.2 Theory
1.3 Meta theory
1.4 Basis Theory
1.5 Praxis Theory
1.6 A Social Constructionist Model
1.7 Methodology
CHAPTER TWO Retreat and Spirituality
2.1 The Empirical Research Development Process
2.2 Empirical Fieldwork
2.3 Discussion of aspects of the Fieldwork Data
2.4 Spirituality
3.1 Monastic Christian Spirituality
3.2 The Taizé, Benedictine and Franciscan Communities
3.3 Monastic Way of Retreat
3.4 Aspects of Monastic Retreat
3.5 The Way of the Mystics
3.6 Monastic Rule or Way of Life
3.7 A Monastic Way of Life after Retreat
CHAPTER FOUR Retreat, Holy Places and Pilgrimage
4.1 Retreat
4.2 Pilgrimage
4.3 Holy Places, Pilgrimage and Retreat
CHAPTER FIVE Planning and Preparation of Retreat
5.1 Chicagos’ Irving Park Free Methodist Church Retreat
5.2 Structure and Anti-Structure (Inter-Structure)
5.3 Communitas or Relational Anti-Structure
5.4 Anti-Structure: Mystery, Transcendence and Spiritual Experience
5.5 Turners’ Theory on Meaning in Ritual and a Way of Retreat
CHAPTER SIX Summary and Findings
6.1 Problem Statement and Research Gap
6.2 Meta, Base, Praxis Theory within the Postmodernistic Paradigm
6.3 Research within the Social Constructionist Model
6.4 Methodology
6.5 Endin
6.6 Relevant Questions for Further Research

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