Sunday, October 31, 2010

The real orchard

I am back from my annual week in the orchard at Guelph, the one that has both literal and figurative meaning for me. Literal, because yes there actually is an orchard. Figurative, because it has become for me an image of the relationship between creation and the Creator. In the Fall when I go there, the apples are being picked or have just been picked. The leaves have not yet fallen, but they will. Nature does not deny the season and the inevitability of change as we humans like to do. Squirrels, groundhogs and no doubt a thousand species of insects are reading the signs of the time. Geese are getting ready to go south, and the young ones are doing a lot of practice flying. The relationship between Creator and creation, Artist and art, God and the universe, is orderly and well designed, when you see it in this perspective. I just stand in the middle of it and drink it all in. The setting - at the Jesuit run Loyola Spirituality Centre - is so wonderful that God seems to be there a lot. It is easier to meet God there than in a whole lot of other places.

Actually, part of renewing and strengthening my relationship with God at this place is the awareness that inevitably arises, that this is about my openness and intentionality, not about God's sudden presence. This awareness is almost as important as anything else that happens on a retreat, because it provides the bridge back to the everyday world. A reminder to sustain the discipline of regular prayer, to 'practice the presence' of God in my own mind. God awaits. Patiently.

Every year, I anticipate the grace I am going to ask for on the retreat. You do that by reviewing the months since the last retreat. Turmoil? Conflict? Doubt? Laziness? In prayer, those things will arise quite readily.

Well this year, the grace I was going to ask for was that of gratitude. I wanted to make a retreat thanking God for all the wonderful gifts I have received. I do not pay enough attention to that. So the retreat did indeed start on that theme. But as often happens, it did not stay there. It evolved to a theme of re-grounding in a deeper awareness of discipleship - the call from Jesus to follow him - wherever that may lead to. That led to prayer for spiritual freedom - because you cannot follow Jesus with attachments that take you down a different road. And you cannot even wish for such freedom without deeply loving Jesus. Otherwise it is all a heady exercise, not going really anywhere. But, see? Even that renewed and deepened awareness is a gift. I know to say thanks for that.

And then I watch the activity in the orchard and I smile. I see the relationships with the Orchard Master. Signs of the times. God gives us lots of those. With the right eyes - the eyes of the heart - we see them. With the right motivation - gratitude and love - we open ourselves to the invitation to respond to them and let God in to lead us as we do so.

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