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By Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma

This note, from Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma, head caretaker at GilChrist (our public retreat center) and her staff, provides both an update about the closure of the center as a result of the pandemic and a reminder of the “unexpected gifts” it offers.

Seven years ago, we had to shut down for a period of time while Enbridge Energy installed a new crude oil pipeline through the middle of GilChrist land. Three years ago, we chose to pause our retreat schedule to do several major projects for accessibility and sustainability. Today, the pendulum swings back to another disruption we did not choose as we close our doors through July 14, 2020, in solidarity with efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

And yet, in the midst of limited choice, we do have the opportunity to notice and embrace unexpected gifts: a Sabbath for the land, space to do some of the important work that never seems to rise to the top of the priority list, room to step back and question our ordinary patterns of being individually and collectively, and practical actions that help protect the most vulnerable among us.

GilChrist continues to be a space of rest and refuge, even without human presence. Know that both our staff and our space hold our entire ecosystem—past, present, and future—in our hearts for energy, companionship, and groundedness.

While the need to shelter-in-place continues, we invite you to consider the difference between “going” on retreat and “being” on retreat. If you have interest, ability, and desire, here are several ways to stay connected to the contemplative spirit of GilChrist while you “retreat-in-place.”

  • Weekday meditation 2:00-2:30 p.m. EST: GilChrist caretakers, John and Nancy continue to observe our regular afternoon silent meditation from home during this time, and welcome anyone else to do the same from where they are, knowing that you sit alone, together.
  • Guided meditation Wednesdays 5:00-7:00 p.m. EST: John continues to facilitate a weekly meditation group, which has transitioned from the meditation loft in WindHill over to Zoom. If you’re interested in getting connected, e-mail John.
  • Contribute hours or dollars to support meditation for young people: John is connected to a wonderful organization called Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme), and he’s organizing a sit-a-thon to raise scholarship funds for iBme programming. Get in touch with John if you’d like more details.
  • Submit vigil candle requests for those who are ill or who have died: Nancy is keeping vigil candles lit at home and would be glad to add names to her list—just send a message to the GilChrist e-mail address and Deborah, caretaker for community engagement, will get names to Nancy.
  • Follow GilChrist on Facebook: Deborah and I are working together to continue posting photos of GilChrist regularly on our Facebook page. Spring is springing, whether we humans are there to witness it or not! And you may not see many humans pictured here, but know that Gail is keeping the critters fed, Jonathon has seedlings going for the vegetable garden, and Erika is creating more mushroom logs and learning about permaculture from home.

We offer these opportunities knowing that not everyone has the luxury of time and space to do any more than this moment is currently requiring physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Whatever your circumstances, we hold you all in our hearts for everything you need, and we ask our community to do the same if you’re so inclined, especially for those whose suffering is acute during this time of uncertainty. In the midst of this all, we are thankful for both your trust and your companionship in lament.

Take good care of yourselves and one another, friends. This is all practice.

Kirstin and the GilChrist Team