On April 11 through 13, I spent the weekend with the Unity chaplains on a retreat at St. Leo Abbey in Dade City, Florida. We spent three days there deepening our practice of prayer and compassionate listening, and getting to know one another in a sacred and peaceful environment.
We also spent time alongside the monks at the abbey (a Benedictine order that has been in Florida since 1882). We joined them for morning prayers, we tried to follow along as they chanted in Latin, we shared meals with them, and we shared the silence.
Experiencing the Benedictine liturgy and prayer service, made me realize that the order (who have given up their possessions, their finances, and in some cases, their family) maintain a lifestyle that many people have only ever seen on film or read about in books. The monks at St. Leo (though they may have iPhones and modern footwear under their tunics) are only a few steps removed from the time when the altar was set against the back wall of the cathedral and everyone faced the same direction — including the priests — in worship of a theistic, otherworldly God.
Being there with the chaplains of Unity, a movement founded in 1889 in Kansas City, Missouri by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, put this in stark perspective. Unity’s form of “practical Christianity” and metaphysics would not exist at all had it not been for earlier forms of orthodox Christianity and Catholicism. But, it also cast our other activities there in a strange and sometimes surreal light. As part of the retreat, we performed Native American smudging rituals, we called in the Four Directions, we spent time journaling, drumming, singing, and performing releasing rituals proclaiming the Christ Consciousness within us all while standing hand in hand in the moonlit shadow of that ancient sanctuary. I’m sure we were quite a sight for the more conservative and dogmatic monks of the old way.