9 years ago, my spiritual mentor suggested I take a silent retreat. I am not sure why, but I never did it until last weekend. I can now categorically state that I will not wait another 9 years to do this again. In fact, I want to make a 5 or 8 day retreat next time.
I went with very little expectation. I truly wasn't sure what to expect. For me, talking comes naturally and silence doesn't. And lately, silence has been even more elusive than usual. I have found myself distracted by many things. I have avoided empty space and filled it with all manner of mindless (and, frankly, Godless) entertainment. (Whole seasons of bad tv shows on Netflix comes to mind.) So the idea of 32 hours of no distractions was a tiny bit intimidating.
But most of all, I was relieved. I felt as though I was going to just fall into my Love's arms and let him hold me for awhile. On the first night we met with our spiritual director for an orientation. She shared some scripture about Jesus doing a healing. 'What do you want to ask God to do for you?' She asked us. 'And what do you think God is asking YOU to do?' I had no idea. I didn't have an agenda at all except to rest. And the greatest rest is with him.
After meeting with my director, I went to the Holy Ghost chapel to pray. It is a huge church, and was in complete darkness except for the light behind the tabernacle illuminating a beautiful crucifix on the wall. I sat up front and wondered if it would be weird for me to go right up to the tabernacle... but ended up staying in the pew.
In the church, in the darkness, just me alone, I began to feel the longing. The yearning. Oh Jesus, how I long for you. The box was there, behind the altar. Tears began to fall. And snot. I didn't have a tissue. Oh how I long.
The next morning I attended the Mass. It was so sweet and lovely. The center is an old Jesuit college that is now a home for retired Jesuits and a retreat center. So at the Mass, there were many old priests, most of them wearing stoles. They spoke the consecration words together, even as one priest was standing at the altar.
I wept through the whole service. I do that at almost every Catholic Mass I attend. And long to take communion. Long for the Eucharist. And weep.
I confessed this to my spiritual director. The longing for the Eucharist. The pain I feel that I can't take it. She gently suggested that I might even be a little angry. I am not sure about that. Mostly I feel as sense of deep sadness and... thirst.
And so it went for the weekend. Moments of joy entwined with moments of bittersweet longing. I ate alone. I spent time alone. I walked the stations of the cross in the Jesuit cemetery. I was particularly taken with the image of Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross for Our Lord. Would I be willing to do that, I wondered? Am I willing to carry your cross, Jesus? I meditated on the crucifix. I communed with the ducks and swans in the pond and napped in my little room. I read Henri Nouwen and the scriptures. James and Peter and Ezekiel and psalms. I wrote in my journal and was surprised that I hadn't written anything about the intense pain I have been through this year. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Scribbling notes in the margins of my bible. Savoring the words. Seeing the world. Resting.
And then, too soon. It was over. I packed my bags and loaded my car and came home to my family. Yesterday I went to work and spent the day in the in-between place, trying to find a balance between the mystical otherworldliness of the weekend with the day to day demands of the work. Today I am buying a turkey. And giving Thanks. And savoring the twinges of longing that lie just beneath the surface.