Abbey Retreat: Learning to Pay Attention


I’d never been on silent retreat before. I am not exactly sure where the idea for one came to me, maybe when I was staying at a monastery on book tour in Northern Alabama. At any rate, it’s something I have wanted to do for a long time.

The chaos of this year – some personal, unspoken, and our nation, all too much in our faces – convinced me that the election week was the perfect time to head for the hills, as my granny would say.

I didn’t know what to expect really. I’m not Catholic, and while I’ve been to Mass before, it’s not a familiar experience for me, all that kneeling, rising, offerings for peace. There were numerous opportunities a day to participate in services: 5:30, 6:30, 8 a.m., noon, and two more services in the evening. Or maybe three. I can’t recall now.


I made it to at least three services a day, sometimes four. I always started with the 6:30 a.m. one, but only because the Abbey bells clanging woke me anyway. I loved it, the organ, the monks singing of psalms back and forth to one another. I didn’t know how to use the Catholic hymnal. I’m not even sure they call it that. It’s not like you arrive at the Abbey and someone guides you through all that. I mean, they would have if I had asked, I suppose, but I didn’t. I just did what any good southern-raised Baptist would do: I sat in the back and winged it. But that often meant that I couldn’t make out the words of the psalms being sung, and I really needed to hear the Word of God.

Especially last week.

There was one phrase that they sang over and over again that I did pick up on and it gave me great comfort for reasons I didn’t quite understand yet: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be,world without end. Amen.

That last part? “World without end” was like a salve to my weary heart. It was like God was right there telling me, girl, I got this, okay?

Of course, I didn’t know yet that Trump was the president-elect or I might have fussed with God right then and there, because it sure has felt like the end of all things good since I heard that 27 percent of Americans voted to put a racist, misogynistic, foul-mouthed bully in office.



Everyday since returning from the Abbey, I have woken up nauseated, literally sick to my stomach.  The Word of God offers solace, that “World without end” line.

It appears what Trump really wants is to be is Jesus during the adoration but not the Crucifixion. He really loves to be the center of everyone’s adoration. He craves it the way an addict craves opium.

Now, I know what you are thinking. That for someone who spent a week at an Abbey on a silent retreat, I sure am fired up. So how did all that time away help me?

You’d be wrong if what you are thinking is the point of a silent retreat is for a person to come skipping home, singing choruses of Sunshine on My Shoulder, and ready to embrace with a merry heart any disaster that comes one’s way. I’d have to hook up with the Rainbow people and smoke a whole lot of dope to be in that state of mind right now.  And listen, I’ve never smoked pot but under this Trump regime, I might be tempted to smoke all the weed in California.

Okay, I jest.

The time away at Mt. Angel Abbey stripped away all the technology. Between Monday and Thursday, I didn’t speak for longer than five minutes. I read books. I’ll get to those in a later blog post. I took walks. I drank coffee. (The Abbey has a coffee house). I prayed. I prayed some more. I went to services and repeated that “World without End” line.

I became more aware, more laser-focused, less distracted. I could zero in on sights and sounds, observing and connect things quicker. And we need to be connecting the dots right now. We need to be laser-focused. We need to know the context/history of things. We need to be wide-eyed, alert and engaged.


There are not enough checks and balances in our system to deal with a renegade like Trump. So We The People – the 73 percent of Americans who did not vote for Trump – we need to be his accountability. We can only do that by paying attention, by educating ourselves, by keeping the phone numbers & Social Media contacts of our representatives on speed dial.

We need to send monies to organizations that will challenge Trump. (I’ve already sent monies to the ACLU and the Muslim Legal Fund of America and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Every dollar helps. Give what you can).

There is a Muslim family here who owns a business. I will be reaching out to them this week. I suggest you find people who are targets of the White Nationalists and do the same. I plan to attend my first ACLU meeting tomorrow. Is there one near you?

I have contacted Senators Wyden & Merkely & Rep. Greg Walden, and every other Rep in the state and sent them letters urging them to put a stop to the following alarming matters:

  • The appointment of Steve Bannon as chief strategist is an appointment the KKK and Nazi party has praised. Bannon is a propaganda media specialist whose work at cultivated an audience of White Nationalists, commonly referred to as “alt-right” translate: conservative extremist. The slogan of “Make America Great Again” is an appeal, some say, to those who believe in a national white identity whereby the power belongs to aging white men. The kind Trump is surrounding himself with.  Here’s the statement from the Anti-Defamation League on Bannon’s appointment:

“It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the Alt Right, a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists – is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house,’ said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “We call on President-elect Trump to appoint and nominate Americans committed to the well-being of all our country’s people and who exemplify the values of pluralism and tolerance that makes our country great.”

  • Trump potentially may request highest security clearance for his children. There is some debate over this. Some media report that Trump has already made the request. His people deny it … at this time, leaving the door open. Imagine if Hillary Clinton had won and wanted to get Chelsea and Mark high security clearance. Yeah. Right. Trump, unlike other presidents, will not put his businesses in blind trust. Instead his kids will be running his businesses and those interests. Trump expects us to trust that there will be no conflict of interest between his business and his role as president. We cannot trust him. He’s proven that to us already. We have no idea what his financial obligations are to foreign entities. Remember, we never saw his taxes.  We know already that Russia has been advising him. This should be of great concern. Never before has a man held such a high office with so little accountability to the American people, 73 percent of whom did not support his candidacy.
  • People will tell you there’s nothing to protest, nothing to worry about. They are lying. They want us to be distracted by daily life so that they can go about their corruption. When people tell you there’s nothing to worry about, worry. I know something about media & propaganda and Bannon is a master at it. Under his direction we will have what likely will amount to a state-run media propaganda-making machine. When people tell you not to worry, take that as code for pay closer attention.
  • Be sober-minded. Mainstream news organizations are already at work “legitimizing” Trump and Bannon.  That 60 Minute interview with Trump was an attempt to get the 73 percent of Americans who didn’t vote for him to think of Trump as harmless. Just a nice guy. Somebody you’d like to hang with. Trump is not a nice guy. He’s a thug. He is already trying to use his powers to delay the fraud trial against Trump University. (His VP Pence is trying to cover up some emails back in Indiana that he doesn’t want released in a mess of his own. Where is Wikileaks now, heh?)  Trump has more lawsuits against him than any other president-elect in modern history. And more settlements and more bankruptcies.  Trump has a penchant for bullying those small business owners he contracts with, of cheating them out of the monies he owes them. He’s a thug. If you have any doubts about the kind of man Trump is go back and listen to his campaign speeches, where he mocks the disabled, brags about sexually assaulting women, calls Mexicans rapists, demeans and degrades anyone and everyone he feels has it in for him. Do not buy into the white evangelical BS about God putting Trump in control. I imagine even God is wondering what the hell where those 27 percenters were thinking. When you see news organizations refer to Bannon as “controversial” remind them who he really is.  When media seeks to portray Trump as a good guy, send them links to his speeches, records of his bullying, links to the conversation with Billy Bush and remind them that this man is a racist misogynistic bigot, even if 27 percent of the people voted him into this nation’s highest office. Just because you are a president-elect doesn’t mean you are a good guy. Just look at who he is surrounding himself with – more old white racists, misogynistic white guys. Not at all representative of the pluralist community that makes up our Republic.
  • Don’t be distracted. Keep your laser focus. Spend less time reading memes and more time reading things of substance.
  • Yes, Jesus is in control. Yes, God is our refuge, we are to trust him. But God co-creates with us, and right now we all need to be partnering  with God in order to make the world a better place. Trump’s vision for America is only better if you are an old white guy nostalgic for the 1950s. For everyone else, we have much work to do. Stay alert.
  • Pray. Resist. Peacefully protest every chance you get. Be kind. Do good. Don’t be deceived. It is our job to welcome the refugees, to show hospitality one to another, to love above all else, and to resist the evils of greed and selfish ambitions and those who seek them.

Be well. Take care of each other. I’m here if you need me. Praying. Working. Trusting.

And here’s a couple of good reads I enjoyed this week:

Jason Howard at Salon 

Katelyn Beaty at Washington Post

How are you doing? Read anything that’s helping you?



Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.



about 6 years ago

My observation of about two months ago was that Donald Trump would never allow a Hillary Clinton presidency to survive. My greater concern, however, was that a Donald Trump presidency will not allow our democracy to survive. Hillary Clinton could have won this election fairly easily by having changed a few things about herself and her strategy early on. But having lived and operated at the levels she has for so long creates an insularity and blind spots that become insurmountable. Of course I am concerned about Mr. Trump's fanning of racism and just plain meanness to any person or idea that would oppose him. His assault on science and reason will bring serious long-term and even short term damage to climate (God's life support system, I like to say) on which all of life AND any "economy" you want to name ultimately depend. But to the larger issue, Donald Trump will assault the very roots of democracy by directly attacking the reliability of information without which a free people cannot survive. The man operates completely ad hoc on anything and everything, and he is always, 1000% right. Here are two statements by John Adams, our nation's second president, that I discovered over the weekend: 1) Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. 2) Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. Fellow citizens, let us pray...


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 years ago

Praying without ceasing that God will remove this man, somehow, someway. He is an absolute danger to this Republic. As a Gold Star Daughter, as a sex abuse survivor, as a woman, as a friend to minorities, I cannot imagine four years of his hate rhetoric. God helps us, indeed.


Bess Thompson

about 6 years ago

Thank you for being the voice of reason and for providing some concrete actions to replace the hand-wringing and resignation. It's so true that we must not allow ourselves to get complacent. I have no doubt that Trump will move fast to remove public funding from NPR and PBS, 2 of my main sources of information. I will add that I think it's important to check out what the other side is saying, however repugnant and laughable (in a scary way) that is. Yes, that means Fox News and Breitbart. You can't overcome the enemy unless you understand where he's coming from. Here is something I read the other day that I found helpful: Oh, and the music of the Drive-By Truckers, introduced to me by my nephew recently - very therapeutic :-)


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 years ago

I love the Drive-By Truckers. Do you know Parker Millsaps? Recommend him, too. And yes, I try to read or listen to varying viewpoints but, honestly, so much of it is so offensively racists or misogynistic that I just can't tolerate it.


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