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Montreat Conference Center

“I have a room for a second life”: Journeying by Heart with the Poet Rainer Maria Rilke

Columbia Theological Seminary Spiritual Formation Program

April 19 - 22, 2018

You’re the miracle that happened in the desert
for those who’d passed through. [67]

Such a claim as this alerts us to the vital embers that glow within the language and imagery of Rilke’s “prayers.” They often draw, as we see in these lines, from ancient stories and traditions—in this case, the account of the exodus from the Hebrew Scriptures. Or is his reference to something closer to us, an experience we know in our own lives? Image, gesture, memory: these all take us to the depths of the “self,” where history and legend meet us in our own experience as of the “unconscious.” Rilke and poets like him speak from that place, and toward that place in their readers.

Here, the poet calls us to attend to the miracle waiting for us in the dark veil of those “desert” places we know in our lives. Such poetry witnesses to this journey through that place to a land of promise. It presumes that following in the path of such an exodus leaves something important lingering within us: thirst and eyes to see in the dark; loneliness and a sense of belonging—to others, to God, and to ourselves in this journey. Where else, we wonder, is this to happen but in our own experience of “passing through” the desert?

The Christian journey was often characterized by medieval theologians as one that began with “purgation” and moved forward by means of “illumination” toward final “union” with the divine. This awakening shapes, implicitly, the journey traced in this retreat: purgation (Thursday, Friday); illumination (Saturday); and, finally, union (Sunday). In Rilke’s hands, as with theologians as deft as John of the Cross, this journey inward and then outward is not conceived as a rigid pattern, but rather as an intensification—suggesting dimensions of experience that are more like a passage through loss to discovery, from darkness into the light, from death into new life. Such dimensions remind us that life begins—again and again—in chaos and separation, and only then opens us to the experience of resurrection. This movement suggests the experiential categories that will structure the hours of our retreat. Through the guiding voice of these poems, we move from “unknowing” to a “ripening,” and finally toward “the one-ing.”

Finally, everything is grace and grace is everywhere. Rilke’s prayers call us to participate in the deep conversion this insight offers. They beckon us to live into our own “becoming,” and become in our loving. They invite us to seize the miracle happening in the desert within us, and to “feel that [we] can— and seize the forming day.” [1]

Instructor: Mark Burrows

To register and/or reserve accommodations for this conference, please click on the RATES & REGISTRATION tab above.

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Registration Information

Register for the conference

This program is offered as part of the Certificate in Spiritual Formation Program at Columbia Theological Seminary and serves as course credit. Anyone interested in the course is welcome, but must also register through Columbia Seminary.

Rates below include conference fee only. Housing and meals are not included.

  • Program fee: $390 per person

Questions regarding conference registration? Contact Alison Riviere at rivierea@ctsnet.edu or call 404.687.4592.


Reserve housing & meals

Rates are per person and include all room and meal charges for the entire conference (Thursday supper through Sunday lunch). No adjustments to package will be made except for extended stay.

  • Single Occupancy, Private Bath: $330.00
  • Double Occupancy, Private Bath: $210.00 per person

If you have any questions about housing and meal reservations, please email SusanA@montreat.org or call 828.419.9829.

Refund Policy

  • Refunds for program fee are subject to the policies of the Spiritual Formation Program at Columbia Theological Seminary.
  • Refunds for housing in Assembly Inn will be awarded in the following ways: Full refund if notice of cancellation is received on or before March 8; full refund less $40 if notice of cancellation is received after March 8, but before April 12; no refunds will be given after April 12; all requests for refunds must be in writing and received by Montreat Conference Center via email, fax, or U.S. mail.

Key Leadership

Montreat Conference CenterMark Burrows is Professor of Theology and Literature at the Protestant University of Applied Sciences in Bochum, Germany. His teaching and writing interests focus on the intersection of literature, and above all poetry, and the spiritual quest. “Poetry is central to my writing and my work as a speaker and retreat leader; I find it a medium of vital engagement of heart and mind, since the texture and energy of poems carry us into the deep and revelatory places we come to know as human creatures.”

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