Friday, August 15, 2008

Reflections from Retreat - Summer 2008

In early August I went on a seven-day solitary retreat while housesitting on a remote mountaintop in WV. Between an ecology center and a hermitage, on the land trust I was staying, there were plenty of retreat resources including a good bit of 1970s post-Vatican II pop-writing, meditation resources and eco-feminism spirituality. But I felt myself lead along the more traditional path using a short book, Six Ways to Pray by Six Great Saints by Gloria Hutchinson, as my primary structure. Each day I read (tried to practice) a prayer approach of a saint (John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Clare, Ignatius…) and kept the Book of Psalms at my side. The retreat was topped off with 3 meetings with 84-year-old longtime friend, Lois Perry, as my spiritual advisor for the week.

Lois was outstanding. She has no experience with spiritual advising – there was nobody around who did – but I’ve always been impressed by the open vulnerable spirituality Lois shares. I told Lois I was approaching the retreat as discernment for what I’m to do next in my life. I told her of a few options I was considering (grad school, foster parenting, international aid with CRS) as I listen for that soft tickle of joy in my heart that has shown me so many times in the past that I am on the path I’m called to. But lately, frustratingly, I haven’t felt that pull which has come so naturally before. And, I told Lois, at the same time, without clear goals and vision I don’t feel assured that I’m serving God fully in the place I am.

Lois calmly pointed out that I am listening with the same ears I have always listened with. She suggested it might be safe to assume that I’m in a place of waiting on God. Waiting?!? I don’t wait. That’s for people who don’t get things done.

… ah yes, I had to let it settle in. In the hermitage, I found a poor quality audiocassette of Henri Nouwen entitled “The Spirituality of Waiting”. I had to sit still quietly to hear his voice through the fuzz of the old tape. Nouwen reminds the listener: is not waiting central in scripture - for the Messiah - and then for His return? He quotes Simone Weil, “Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.”

It has taken a shift of focus. To explore waiting. I took a virtue a day reflecting on patience, surrender, humility… It’s a slowing to be here now not focused on the goal. So often waiting is associated with illness. Have I had enough compassion for the sick? Have I acknowledged my health with gratitude? How much of my drive is pride? And how often am I involved in big projects to change the world J yet don’t stop my busyness to be present with the one in need before me?

I still wait. Hoping to be present in the moment. I hadn’t left the mountain for 6 hours before I received a call about a friend in dire need. I’ve been able to give her days of attention. I am so glad my heart was clear to be present for her. I pray I receive more definitive direction. But I have a long way to go with patience. In the meantime, my heart feels the gentle joy that the spiritual practice of waiting for God is what I am called to do today.