Monday, October 24, 2011

From the real orchard again: retreat time

Day 1 - The car pulls in to the property, in the dark and the rain. No matter, the atmosphere of this place is unmistakable. I am sure even the car knows it. Quiet. The trees again acting as the welcoming committee. Up the long drive, stop in front of Loyola House, unload, then park for a week. The 40-day retreat known as the Spiritual Exercises has been underway for two weeks and so this is already sacred space. Many other people like me come and go, in shorter retreats of a week or less.

Settle in, and reflect on what I want from this retreat. Before I get too far into that, though, I open my journal notebook and write the date: October 15, 2011. I note that in the journal, Oct. 15, 2011 is the day after Oct. 21, 2010! It strikes me that the years actually feel that way at times. Only a page away. A whole year. A lot has happened. I have been involved in a great many activities, and I think how I do not feel worthy of this ministry thing - and yet the Lord has given me the gifts and support I need to do it. It is his work, and I am grateful.

Day 2 - I tell my director of the experience last night, and he leads me into a reflection on gratitude. He gives me Week IV of the Exercises to pray with. I have never had this to pray with on retreat. It has always been the material of the first weeks of the Exercises, the ones that ground us, re-orient us, to our relationship with Jesus, making the ‘election’ to follow him, to surrender to him. Week IV is gratitude. The notion is that in reflecting on what God has done for me, I turn to the relationship between God and me, and commit to giving back. This is way more than ‘thank you.’ It is a commitment to a way of living, a way of seeing life. It only makes sense, since gratitude to someone with whom you are in love does not just stand there. It moves, it embraces, it seeks to please, it .... well, it loves, with great affection. With God this means doing things differently now. Mostly it means staying in the relationship, because we are actually not all that good at doing things differently. We - I, anyhow - keep falling back on what is important to me only. The process will never end in our lifetime. We call it conversion, and it is a work in progress. What has changed for me is that I used to despair of not getting rid of things in my life. Now I see better to trust the relationship with God and what God will continue to do for me.

Day 3 - rain has let up, and I can walk the land. This is a 650-acre farm that used to have animals on it, but is now used for fruit and vegetable growing. There is a sense that, like the trees on the driveway, the hills sit here and remain both quiet and beautiful in their reflection of God’s creative power. And I marvel and am grateful. I suppose they are no different than any other hills, but in this context and in this quiet, they are able to proclaim in a manner that is something akin to giving a homily. They speak of God.

Day 6 - the week has been about gratitude, commitment, and prayer. New form of prayer for me - stillness. No words. God’s presence. Invite God in. A gifted week, surprises from the Lord as always. What helps make it so authentic is that what happens is so often by surprise. Never goes as I planned it. And so, home tomorrow, taking gently the experience of God’s presence in me. Anchored in that, and hopefully passing on the fruits of it.

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