A Contemplative Winter Retreat

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Randy Sanders

The last 50 miles were brutal.  Not because of the 8-hour drive, but because I was giddy with anticipation.  I hadn’t seen my Brothers for too long, and the excitement continued to build all week leading up to the retreat.  I stopped in Tulsa for an overdue lunch with my brother, and we feasted on some of the best Oklahoma-style hamburgers to be found outside your own backyard grill.  It was an excellent visit, but it was time to hit the road again for that last 100-mile stretch to Guthrie.

And there it was.  I rounded the familiar corners in Guthrie to see the magnificent view of the Guthrie Scottish Rite Temple.  I wasn’t the first to arrive, and it took a few minutes to connect and coordinate with those who arrived before me.  After some room setup and kitchen logistics, most of us gathered at a local restaurant for an excellent feast of food, fellowship, and joy.  Afterward, the last of the arrivals were settled without incident into the apartments, or sleeping rooms, onsite in the Temple, and we made our way to the absolutely gorgeous Assyrian Room which we used as our primary gathering place for the weekend.

We were just under a dozen, and it was a good number.  A Brother from Canada became our first international attendee, and we all bonded in a manner difficult to describe but obvious in experience.  Brother instructors Chuck and Doug described the weekend, the process, and the meditations.  As Clerk, my duties included rolling through the logistics and site operations.  I always feel I talk too much, and then the follow-up Q&A tells me I should have detailed another couple of minutes.  Excellent questions, hopefully, I did them justice with my answers.

As the session ended Friday night, we took our weekend vows of silence knowing it wouldn’t be lifted for almost 36 hours except for one break.  We made previous arrangements to call my cell phone for any emergencies, and all but my cell phone were turned off for the weekend.  Yeah, it was scary for many, and for me too.  My own personal vow was to only check the phone for inbound calls so I disconnected too.  It was time to focus inwardly and begin contemplating, well everything, until lights out at midnight.  The next morning, I awakened everyone by the ringing of the bell (a beautiful singing bowl) and began our first of several challenges.  First was the gathering for breakfast, which seems easy enough until you remember to try to stay silent and avoid most eye contact.  One of the weekend’s several lessons included a quiet focus on meals.  That is, eating slowly, in silence, considering everything you can about your meal.  When I first attended the retreat, I was initially put off by the process as we didn’t begin with a prayer.  As Freemasons, don’t we begin everything with an invocation of blessing by Deity?  It took me a couple of meals to realize I was already in communion with Deity, constantly, and someone else saying a group prayer was nice but unnecessary so long as I maintained my own prayers.  That lesson I continue today.  It was my lesson in focus, maintaining simplicity, and focusing on just quietly tuning into, or listening, for Deity.

A Brother experienced the annoyance of being locked out of the apartment he chose.  The locks are meant to be taped-over thereby disabled, but Oklahoma’s Grand Lodge recently held session in the building, and ladies had been using the apartments to change clothes.  Some door tape had been removed and unfortunately caught us off guard.  Although we tried as best we could to gain entrance, we determined we could not without causing damage to the door or frame.  The locked-out Brother adapted and used the experience as a different kind of contemplative exercise.  Saturday morning I (yes, I had to break silence) contacted the Temple staff who dispatched a Brother who does Temple maintenance.  It happened in such a manner that I don’t know if anyone witnessed it but myself, which is a happy dance because we didn’t disturb the attendees or instructors who were in an early morning quiet time of self-contemplation.  The lock was opened, and the situation was rectified.

We meditated.  We did group sessions.  We did private sessions with instructors.  We made good use of the time spent.  Can I describe it?  Maybe in 100 pages, but no, not really.  Would I recommend it?  Let’s just say I’ve already cleared next year’s retreat with my wife, even if the 16 hours of driving time was a bit brutal for one weekend.  I found some answers to some questions that had been bugging me, and I found a few more questions for which I don’t yet have answers.  I realized a lesson in simplicity that had been at the periphery of my mind for a couple of years, and I refocused on my own coursework within the Academy.  What surprised me was the new and deeper respect I found for our instructors.  Don’t get me wrong, I already thought they were all fantastic, but this weekend deepened that view and gave insight into the work and sacrifice Brother instructors Chuck, Doug, Bob, and Tom make for us.

Our short dozen barely spoke to each other for the vast majority of the weekend, yet we bonded in friendship and fellowship in the deepest of ways.  As we cleaned the Temple behind us, packed the cars, and said our goodbyes, the emotions were deep.  This year too, I spent the majority of my drive home in silence, simply thinking of what had happened and already looking forward to the Academy Of Reflection’s next meetings and the Summer Social.


Randy and his wife Elyana live near St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Randy earned a Bachelors Degree in Chemistry with an emphasis in Biochemistry, and he works in Telecom IT management. He volunteers as a professional and personal mentor, NRA certified Chief Range Safety Officer and enjoys competitive tactical pistol, rifle, and shotgun. He has 30 plus years teaching Wing Chun Kung Fu, Chi Kung, and healing arts. Randy served as a Logistics Section Chief on two different United States federal Disaster Medical Assistance Teams over a 12 year span. Randy is a 32nd degree KCCH and Knight Templar. His Masonic bio includes past Lodge Education Officer for two symbolic lodges, Founder of the Wentzville Lodge Book Club, member of the Grand Lodge of Missouri Education Committee, Sovereign Master of the E. F. Coonrod AMD Council No. 493, Co-Librarian of the Scottish Rite Valley of St. Louis, Clerk for the Academy of Reflection through the Valley of Guthrie, and a Facilitator for the Masonic Legacy Society. Randy is a founding administrator for Refracted Light, full contributor to Midnight Freemasons, and an international presenter on esoteric topics. Randy hosts an open ongoing weekly Masonic virtual Happy Hour on Friday evenings. Randy is an accomplished home chef, a certified barbecue judge, raises Great Pyrenees dogs, and enjoys travel and philosophy.

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