Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Spiritual Retreat

Dear Friends,

God waits for us in the quiet. He speaks to us in the silence. On a Fall morning, a modern pilgrim prepared for a day-long retreat in silence and solitude by loading his day pack with an MP3 player with almost 12,000 songs, his Bible, a prayer book, a book on the contemplative lifestyle of a monk, a journal note pad, a mechanical pencil, a blue ink pen and a highlighter. Into the side pockets of his day pack, the pilgrim put a chilled bottle of water and the elements for the Eucharist.

You can make fun of all the things the pilgrim had to take for his spiritual retreat, but if day packs had been invented 2000 years ago, I'm sure Jesus would have taken the same things in the desert.

It was a warm day, but there always seems to be a cool breeze around the lake at Saint Andrews Abbey in Valyermo. I pull up two chairs. One for me and one for my day pack. No one else is here.  I selfishly thank God that no others are on retreat at the monastery. I need the solitude and silence.

Deep breaths of desert air scented with sage. I recall scripture from 1 Samuel and say: "Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening." I hear the small, still voice of God say to me: "Come into my presence."

I’m spiritually dry. I need to hear the voice of God speak to me today. I sit and wait for divine revelation. I sit and wait for a prophetic word from God. I sit and wait for clear direction. I sit. I wait. Nothing. God is silent for right now, but that's okay. I'm planning to be there for awhile so God doesn't need to be in a rush to tell me what I need to hear. The chaotic thoughts in my head have faded away. In fact, I'm feeling a peace that’s so deep, it's almost trance-like. I don't want to move.

I sit. But I’m soon restless. I certainly didn't drive all this way just to sit! I get out the book on the contemplative prayer life of a monk, but I can't seem to contemplate on anything right now. I’m unable to focus and I keep reading the same sentence over and over. I put the book away.

I wonder if my inability to read means that I need to write. I take out my notepad. I pray that the Holy Spirit would give me the thoughts to write down. My mind is a blank. I wait for the Holy Spirit to show me what to write. Nothing. God is silent. Journaling is supposed to be a good thing to do on a retreat. Nothing is coming to mind. Nada.

I put my notepad away and wonder if I should read my Bible. Yes! That's it! God wants to speak to me through His Word! I don’t have the energy to take out my Bible. So I sit some more while I figure out what I'm supposed to do on my spiritual retreat.

The chapel bell sounds. It's a large heavy brass bell and has a deep, resonant tone. It echos off the hills as it calls the monks to noon Mass. I wonder if maybe that's what God wants me to do. Should I go to the service? I decide to just sit for awhile. I relax, but after a few minutes, I again feel anxious about my inactivity.

The plan for my spiritual retreat so far isn't working. I can't seem to read and I can't write. I need to hear from God and He is silent. I so desperately need Him to be with me right now. All He told me was "Come into My presence" when I first sat down and then He ended the conversation.  I’m getting nothing from God now. All I've done so far on this retreat is to sit. What a waste of time...

I've been sitting by the lake for well over an hour when a new thought emerges. I slowly realize that there is nothing more I want to do. In fact if I could have a choice of doing anything at all right now, there is really nothing I'd rather do than just sit. Suddenly, something hidden has now been revealed. I see that this was God's plan for me all along.

God was showing me how to become silent and just sit with Him. My idea of a spiritual retreat was a day pack filled with “spiritual things” to read and do. God's idea of a spiritual retreat was just Him and me. God had spoken to me. He said, "Come into My presence" and then waited silently while I busied myself with more important things to do.

God knew what I needed and I was only going to find it by being in His presence. I was only going to find it in the silence and solitude. I was only going to find it by just sitting with Him. By the lake. At the monastery.