Contemplative Prayer Retreat–14th Century Mystics

Almost two years ago my paster and friend Chris Erdman asked if I would participate in an “urban retreat” on contemplative prayer. It turned out to be, for me, an amazing weekend, the special treat being the chance to listen to Fr. Robert Hale of the New Camaldi Hermitage in Big Sur.  Fr. Robert is a scholar, professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and a very generous teacher.

This year, our second, the retreat will focus on the English Mystics of the fourteenth century–Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, the anonymous “Cloud” author, and Julian of Norwich.  As someone who has spent much of his professional life studying medieval and renaissance philosophy and theology, I could only think “I’m in!”  As you can imagine there is not a lot of call in today’s economy for knowledge of such things, though every good university surely must have a medievalist around.  The course I have taught on Medieval thought and literature at Fresno Pacific  has been one of the most enjoyable, for me, and also for students (so they tell me).  What can be better than Chaucer, Boethius, the Gawain Poet, Anselm, Aquinas, Hildegard of Bingen, Langland (I could go on)?  Its hard to kill a course with such great material.  Say a few words, keep out of the way and let the authors do their work.  When we get this kind of opportunity, we can’t turn it down.

Icon of Julian of Norwich
Icon of Julian of Norwich

One of the assignments we have at Fresno Pacific is to participate in such events as part of our scholarly work, and service the church–and how much better when the topic is so close to one’s heart and when it is simply a treat to be a part of it.

If you are interested in the retreat you can find details at  You are invited. Join us in the pilgrimage to encounter what this unique group of guides has to teach us.

Fr. Robert will do the yeoman’s work (a good medieval image–I can’t help it) with discussions of the mystics themselves.  Fr. Robert–a practitioner, theologian and spiritual director–opening up for us writers of wisdom and rare insight.  For something about New Camaldi see their website.

Chris will lead the retreat exercises, guide us through the weekend, and speak a couple of times.  He is working on a book on his own experiences and pilgrimage in prayer.  Check out his bolg where you can also download a section of his book, “Returning to the Center”.

In a single session, I will be playing with how lay people used and adapted the great mystics’ teaching in their spiritual lives. I hope to describe how the mystics helped develop the experience of lay people, concentrating on Langland’s Piers Plowman and his similarity to Hilton and Julian, with a look at the fifteen century pilgrim (and aspiring mystic) Margery Kemp and her brief encounter with Julian.  These writers have a great appeal and meet a deep spiritual inner drawing in our own age.

Join us if you can–Feb. 19-20 at University Presbyterian Church in Fresno.  Fr. Robert and Chris will guide us through the contemplative experience.  I’ll provide some of the comic relief–Langland and Chaucer always have their feet firmly planted in their and our often outrageous world (alliteration or in this case technically assonance, a particular Middle English poetic form–I have to stop).

Richard Rolle
Richard Rolle


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