It is hard to describe what happens on a silent retreat but I want to share a little of the essence of it.
Two weeks ago I realized that Lent was coming and it would be a gift for me to have a couple of days away with God in spiritual preparation for it. As I looked at my calendar I realized that I could go on retreat from Monday until Wednesday morning.
I found a retreat site - Saints Peter and Paul Retreat Center in Newark Ohio and they had a two retreat "package" which included overnight accomodations, 5 meals and spiritual direction with Sister Mary Rachel. It was perfect and I went.
The big surprise was that I was the ONLY retreatant there for those days. And the retreat center is an old school where Priests lived for spiritual formation. There were at least 30 retreat rooms upstairs and I got to pick - and i picked "The Bishop's Room" with a sitting room, double bed and private bath. I had the whole place to myself.
There are some beautiful rooms in the retreat house - a solarium, a "yellow room" filled with light and a large library. It is located on 500 acres. So, my two days were spent sitting, writing, reading, praying, walking and just being.
The walking was wonderful even though it was kind of mucky and wet in the woods. I found the paths to be somewhat hard to follow (translation: I got sort of lost TWICE) but the process of walking - slogging through - getting lost - circling around - and finding my way back. And then looking at the woods and seeing so much beauty kind of reminded me of my life.
I met with Sister Mary Rachel and it was a great blessing. She wanted to be a benedictine nun in her late teens and early twenties but even though she studied with them for 7 years, she was ultimately rejected because she had a bad back. And so, her life changed and she married and had a daughter. Her husband died 8 years ago and she went back to renew her vows. She is 78 years old, a website designed and a woman with great wisdom. As I shared my struggles in pastoring a church in these challenging times she said - "I have a vision that you should place the church on the cross of Christ. It is his church." now, this is not a new image but it was the words I needed to hear at that time. And I heard them in a new way. And felt lighter and freer.
She gave me her card and this is what is written on the back:
Trust is the secret.
God knows exactly what ___________(your name here) needs.
Don't try to do it all but wait for Him. I think we get insecure because we fail to trust.
You are in the palm of God's hand. "Blessings, Michael (her spiritual director)
And that card pretty much sums up the exprience for me of being away. God does know what I need. I needed time with Him and time with his word, and with his world. There was a beautiful statue of Jesus with his hand raised and every time I spent time with it I heard a different message - first it was peace, then it was courage, then it was sit here as Mary at my feet and finally it was resurrection. Pretty powerful and very real,
And so as today is Ash Wednesday - a rainy day in Columbus Ohio - and we prepare for our time of preparation for Easter, I know that i am blessed to be in the palm of God's hand.