Planetary pilgrims journey to the heart of God

Fourteen Planetary Pilgrims took a journey in September to the great heart where God is. We linked up in St. Louis and connected to the energy that draws us together and binds us on one Earth, in one Life.

We are all pilgrims, a tiny strand of many in the fragile web of life. These are my reflections after being on retreat with my fellow Planetary Pilgrims for five days. The story may no doubt look different for each of us who journeyed together. This article reveals my story of what it meant for me personally to experience the week-long retreat called Love, Heart of the Universe.

The retreat focused on the New Story of Creation. This story of the evolving 13.7 billion-year-old Universe is different than the Genesis Story of Creation that took place in seven days.

Because the stories are vastly different, for some the retreat was a mind-stretch, a leap into the murky waters where science co-mingles with faith. Ultimately, the retreat took us on a journey through sacred scriptures, teachings from St. John Eudes and Mary Euphrasia, Pope Francis, congregational documents, modern writings and songs.

Response to Chapter Statement

The retreat was in direct response to the Congregational Chapter Statement from 2015. It states “That the CLT establish an International Committee to integrate our spiritual heritage with up-to-date theology and our evolving experience of God.”

Good Shepherd Sisters Angela Fahy and Brigid Lawlor led the retreat for Planetary Pilgrims in St. Louis. They have been facilitating this same retreat with Good Shepherd Mission Partners around the world for nearly a year.

I was resistant to the retreat and didn’t necessarily feel like I wanted to participate in it. When first invited, I hesitated. I didn’t understand its purpose or how it would occupy my time for five days. I am restless by nature and talkative and loud by upbringing. The contemplative retreat sounded restrictive. Still, when Sister Madeleine asked me to discern her invitation to join the Planetary Pilgrims, I did so. After about three weeks of questioning its relevance to my life, I decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did.

I left the retreat feeling uplifted, inspired and a little bit more aware of myself and knowledgeable of what it means “to integrate spiritual heritage with up-to-date theology and our evolving experience of God.” I found those to be very nebulous words before the retreat.

Gospel of John

The retreat began with a reading from the Gospel of John and words that call forth God’s desire to speak to humans.

In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God.

And the Word was God.

I’m not a Bible scholar or student of Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry or the New Cosmology, so I had to be patient that what I heard would eventually make sense and that I would come to understand how The Word and The Dream (The Universe Story) are connected.

The subject matter became clearer as the days rolled by for us Planetary Pilgrims and we discussed and reflected on three basic laws of the Universe: differentiation, interiority, and communion. According to Sisters Brigid and Angela, the three laws identify the reality, the values and the directives in which the Universe is proceeding. The Sisters based the retreat on these laws and how our being human affects the living, breathing orbital Earth.

planetary pilgrims
My contemplative reflection on reconciliation.

Daily retreat sessions for Planetary Pilgrims

Daily sessions broke down like this:

  1. Differentiation: the enormous diversity in the Universe and our inter-connectedness of everything. Reflecting on differentiation was a way of opening us up to wonder and awe, and looking at our relationship with nature and God.
  2. Interiority: the importance of contemplation and silence as intrinsic and essential in our development as Planetary Pilgrims. This was a two-fold journey: inward to the heart and outward to connect with the natural world around us.
  3. Communion: the importance of relationship, of community, of community living. This took us deep into the notion of how each Being of the Universe is in communion with every other Being in the Universe. 
  4. Compassion: continued focus on the importance of relationship, with an emphasis on compassion. We pondered how all of humanity is called to be compassionate because compassion is inherent in our nature and evident in Good Shepherd’s vow of zeal.
  5. Reconciliation: the importance of reconciliation and forgiveness. This session was a reminder that Good Shepherd values demand we promote justice and peace and that the call is constantly there for us to deepen and expand our reconciling by seeing that the heart of reconciliation is found in the sacredness of the whole Universe and the extravagant love of God.

Mind walks and musings

Each of the five retreat days for Planetary Pilgrims began with an orientation to the session. This was followed by personal prayer and reflection, contemplative dialogue in small groups, and large group sharing. My favorite part was the personal reflection and contemplative dialogue in small groups. I wish we had had more time for the small groups. In my opinion, it was in the heartfelt intimate sharing that the light bulbs of recognition flashed and nuggets of insight, and even epiphanies, broke loose. 

The daily personal reflections were stellar because they allowed me to spend hours outdoors in the summer heat, which I love, while listening to the symphony of crickets, katydids, and songbirds. And on one occasion, the joyful laughter of children at recess on the neighboring parish school playground.

And so the retreat, which I initially thought was going to be restrictive, actually ended up being expansive. I went on mind walks throughout the retreat and expressed my musings and questions through poetry, prose and artwork. It was a freeing experience.

All of life is connected

In the end, I felt a sense of peace and closer affinity with God. And my lifelong devotion to nature was strengthened as these words from the retreat reminded me never to take Mother Earth for granted:

Much too often, however,  Mankind forgets,

fails to remember that all is one, that all of life is connected.

That all that is – is an expression of the Holy One.

And when we forget the connectedness, the oneness, the unity,

We are forgetting not only our origins, we are forgetting who we really are –

and all of life is diminished.

(from The Dream, on a DVD from the Well Spirituality Center)


Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. She is a career photojournalist who has served in various capacities of print, broadcast, and corporate communications. Jeanette is devoted to creation and is particularly focused on saving pollinators and other wildlife species and their habitat. She is an ethical vegan and created the website