Sarah HowellFor fall break this year, I had the opportunity to travel with Assistant Dean of Student Life and Spiritual Formation Ellen Echols Purdum and five other Candler students to rural South Georgia and experience the wonders of Green Bough House of Prayer. When we first arrived, I actually missed it, and had to turn around – I have to admit I was a bit disappointed as we pulled up to two modest farmhouses that truly didn’t look like much from the road. “This is not what I pictured…what a letdown,” I remember thinking.

sarah-howell-green-bough-2.jpgLittle did I know that in just under 48 hours, Green Bough would become one of my new favorite places. We participated in a silent retreat, during which we abstained from conversation, and only broke silence for chapel services and spiritual direction. We had free rein of the property, which includes walking paths through farm fields and woods, a beautiful chapel, a cozy library, and trees the perfect distance apart to hang one’s hammock, among many other hidden treasures.

One’s experience in retreat at Green Bough is truly unique and personal, and hard to sum up or share with other people. I can say that it came at a time I truly needed it, and it was one of the most restorative and refreshing experiences I’ve had at Candler. In a program where we’re often encouraged to manage and prioritize self-care, but sometimes are not given the practical time and tools to do so, this retreat was a breath of fresh air—a time when we were given both.

sarah-howell-green-bough-3_1.jpgOne of the lessons of seminary that has stuck with me since my very first semester at Candler is Dr. Anthony Briggman’s statement that while we cannot ever know God fully, we can seek to know God truly.  I did not get anywhere near experiencing God fully at Green Bough, but I did experience God more deeply and truly than I have in a long time. Similarly, I may not be able to explain fully what the retreat meant to me, but I can hopefully express it truly with the following reflections:


Gratitude for Green Bough
For cottonwood trees
For hummingbirds
For birds in general
For wind, and sun, and rain
For candles, live plants, and space.
For tea, and teapots, and honey
For waking up at 5:22 am
For hammocks, and pine trees, and flowing water
For fresh food to savor in silence
For having just enough of everything.
For Fay, and Oliver, and Steve
For Jolene the dog, and the black cat
For paths that are kept mown
For rocking chairs, and wind chimes on porches
For stained glass windows, and stained glass butterflies.
For hymns, even when they’re off key
For new prayers and old
For shared smiles and hugs
For laundry on a line in the wind
For sunrises, green leaves, and blue sky.
For no cell service and airplane mode
For time and space to listen and be heard
For a glimpse of peace
And somewhere to return:
I give thanks.