On June 1st we will celebrate our 7th anniversary at Fall Creek Abbey (formerly Sustainable Faith Indy)! Recently, we took some time to reflect on these last seven years of hosting more than 7,500 retreat guests, offering spiritual direction training, and meeting with directees.
Here are a few of our learnings:
#1 The 60’s are the best decade of life!
Nine years ago, when I (Beth) was 54 and contemplating this dream of creating an urban retreat center, I shared the idea with a friend. Anne’s response surprised me! “I think this a fabulous,” she replied. “After all, you’re at the prime of your life!” I have to admit, I was stunned. It had been a long time since I considered or any one suggested that I was in my prime. Most of the messages I’d heard are that once you enter mid-life—it’s downhill from there!
We both have entered this season of our sixties and relish the full flowering of our lives. We are (gratefully) in good physical health; we are continuing to grow as people—spiritually, psychologically, intellectually and relationally; and we have honed a subject matter for which we are passionate. The contemplative life in all its dimensions has become our joy and life focus!
What has surprised us most of all is that this generation of post-modern young adults seem interested and curious about what we’ve learned over the years. Age doesn’t appear to be a negative but a positive trait. “Eldering” inadvertently has become a vocation for us. This includes our own adult kids, as well as those within our community who visit with us at the Abbey. We love our 60’s and this renewed vision “From Age-ing to Sage-ing” has captured our imagination for this decade and whatever is beyond.
#2 Calendaring is a spiritual practice.
Probably the biggest learning curve has been our need to embrace our own limits in order to make this life of ours sustainable. That has included developing the spiritual practice of calendaring. That’s right—calendaring helps us relate to time as a finite commodity (which it is). Early on, when we began Fall Creek Abbey, we recognized that the capacity of our work couldn’t be based on how many guest rooms we had or how many people we could fit in the space of our great room. It had to be based on our own capacities as people. So our calendar has become our friend.
We started to block out regular times off—like the month of July and the fourth week of the month from hosting and meeting with directees. We began to schedule adequate prep time before events, like our spiritual direction training. We made changes to our weekly rhythms so that we meet with our spiritual direction clients only three days a week and have other days available for one-off meetings. And we began scheduling two weekends a month for ourselves and our family.
To be clear, we are still learning and making adjustments. Just this spring we noticed some “deep-in-our-bones weariness. Winter was long and the work season demanding. So from now on, we are beginning a rhythm of scheduling a regular vacation in February—somewhere sunny! This spiritual practice is a work in progress and one that is helping us establish a healthy relationship with time; one that will hopefully enable us to keep doing what we’re doing for a very long time.
#3 Slow mornings are the tap root of life and keep us grounded.
Want to know one of our secrets (though it’s really no secret)? It’s a commitment to slow mornings. We realize that this is an amenity of our stage of life with no kids at home and the fact that we work from home. Yet often each of us forgets how much freedom we do have as adults to carve out a lifestyle that supports our values and helps us live our dreams. Slow mornings are part of our life style and we are downright stubborn in our commitment to them.
We are early to bed and early to rise. We typically don’t stay up late so that we can rise early, when the morning is deliciously quiet and we can welcome a new day with leisure.
We don’t schedule appointments before 9:30 am.
We don’t engage much with our retreat guests in the mornings. We make the coffee and put out breakfast in the kitchen and people can help themselves.
We do linger with God in prayer, contemplation, reading and journaling—typically for a couple of hours.
This wouldn’t have worked at other stages of our life, though some form of Morning Prayer has been part of our rhythm for more than 40 years. It does work now and we believe our slow mornings are like the tap-root of a plant; they keep us grounded, anchored in our own selves and God, and able to draw from a deeper reservoir.
#4 Hospitality is a healing art.
When was the last time you were invited into someone’s home for coffee, a meal, a conversation? If you are like many, it may have been awhile. We’ve become a culture who no longer gather in homes, but prefer restaurants or coffee shops, instead. As a result, many of the folks we welcome into our space are starved for the comfort of home, the feel of familial connection. And we’re learning that hospitality is one of the most radical ways to offer meaningful and healing connection.
Hospitality is so much more than serving good coffee or food—though we do both! It’s the way we’re learning to greet our guests and invite them into the space. It’s the aesthetic we intentionally create at Fall Creek Abbey, one that guests often name as “peaceful” and “beautiful.” It’s the quality of conversations we have around our table and the story-telling that takes place. We’re learning it’s the small touches, too, like candles and soft music in the background, as well as space that is clean and clutter free.
All this to say, we believe that people heal and recover their lives through being welcomed “home” and experiencing meaningful connection in a familial dwelling. Hospitality is a healing art. And we are better people for regularly offering it.
#5 Manual labor is a gift.
Much of the work we do is hard to measure. When we host retreats or finish offering spiritual direction, we will often have the sense that God was present and the Holy Spirit met the person before us. Yet the effect is not always obvious or observable. That’s why we find manual labor a gift. While a lot of the work we do at Fall Creek Abbey is hidden, we find goodness in the menial, material labor that is necessary for this space to be a sanctuary for others. In fact, to us, it’s all spiritual work.
David takes care of the outdoor space. He has leaned into gardening and maintaining the lawn, the house and grounds. Beth spends significant time preparing and serving meals, as well as occasionally making up fresh beds and cleaning bathrooms. None of these tasks are glamorous. Some of them are just plain hard work. But we’ve learned that these chores are not an obstacle to “real” ministry, they are part of it. We both sense the gift of having good, tangible, ordinary work to do.
Maybe it’s the fact that we engage our whole bodies in the work and that just feels good. Or maybe it’s because we can see the results when we complete our tasks. It’s certainly rewarding when those we host express pleasure in experiencing the fruit of our labor. As long as we continue this work, we have both concluded that we want to keep doing some of the mundane tasks involved in it. It keeps us human and earthbound. And we like that!
#6 We love working together!
This year is a big year for us. We celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary on May 5th and in July we will spend three weeks in Ireland to commemorate this milestone in our marriage! As we reflect on these last seven years at Fall Creek Abbey, we appreciate that not every couple would be well-suited nor want to do what we do. We spend most days and nights together. We eat most of our meals together. And we work, play and make love together. That’s a lot of togetherness! And we’ve concluded that it really does suit us.
In 40 years, we’ve lived a lot of life and “made a lot of music together”—as Beth wrote about recently. In this written reflection about our marriage of forty years, she described the qualities of spaciousness and mutuality as aspects of our marriage that seem to make things work for us. Over these years, we’ve become more and more our most individual, authentic selves and we’ve worked to cultivate equality in our marriage partnership. We share similar loves and interests and we give each other space to be different and pursue individual attractions. Perhaps it’s this bonding and differentiating that keeps us going.
As we celebrate this life and work anniversary, we are truly grateful that we get to be partners in both. In fact, we wouldn’t have it any other way. So—here’s to seven years of joy, satisfaction, hard and meaningful work, deep life, laughing and playing, and even the days when tears and weariness are our closest companions! We hope and pray that we have many, many more years ahead.