Oh, the difference a season makes. The last time I went on a silent monastic retreat, it was the winter of this year. A snow storm was heading in as I drove away from the quiet solitude at the end of the weekend. I was ambivalent about religion. I was nursing a broken heart.
Now, it is summer. The terrain looks so different as the grass and weeds and leaves and flowers have all come in. Butterflies dance, bees buzz about, birds play tag. God and I are squared away now, He and I are good to go. And I’m on solid footing in my life, as much as possible.
My beloved bovine were conspicuously missing. I prefer to think they summer in the Florida Keys. Shhh…please keep your thoughts to yourself. But my feline escort was there. The first day, as I walked up to the Abbey for Vespers, there Vivienne sat; like she had been waiting for me all these months to return.
Last time, I learned God comes to me. I wondered what would come to me this time. I didn’t search for anything. I just took each moment as it came. It is easy to just Be there in the Shenandoah Valley at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Everywhere you turn, you encounter splendor. It is easy to be grateful every moment there.
I realized God has come to me again. Being there is like living in an IMAX dome–the blue sky envelopes you as it stretches from here to there. And sometimes the blue is punctuated with wispy paint brush strokes of white clouds. At 3:30 in the morning, it’s like God hung tons of star ornaments in the sky. Just for me, as I’m pretty sure I was the only one walking through the night at that time.
It’s easy to go hours during the day without encountering another soul. For an introvert like me, this is heaven on earth. Because when you do finally cross paths with another human being, you’re not supposed to say anything! I win!
Attending the five services throughout the day is voluntary. I chose once again to attend most of them. I wondered why, because honestly, I attend more services in one retreat weekend than I do at my home parish throughout the year (Shhh…do NOT tell Msgr. Luca). I found something very comforting about the days being punctuated with prayers chanted in hypnotic Gregorian tones. And I realized it’s about practicepracticepractice.
In my mindfulness meditation practice, living is practice. These moments throughout the day, each day, remind me to do the Next Right Thing. Reminds me that I am Beloved. Reminds me to Be Love. Reminds me to Be Kind. Reminds me to Be in the Moment.
And I am reminded how much my meditation practice intersects with Catholicism. In my daily living, I am practicing acceptance of the idea that I am right where I am supposed to be at any given moment. Fr. James and I had another wonderful, life changing conversation. He talked about accepting the potential of the here and now. Holding on to what is most important, and letting everything else go. And what is most important, is doing the Next Right Thing. He is reminding me to just Be. We talked about so much more–perhaps that’s for another post.
I was so grateful for the opportunity to converse with Fr. James again. He is a wise, kind soul with an infectious laugh that originates from the belly and soft eyes that exude grace and love. I was reminded how grateful I am also for this opportunity to meditate, to reflect and contemplate, to bask in the wonder of the moment. And I realized life is about opportunities.
Yes, these generous, kind monks have opened their hearts and land to guests. They provide an opportunity. It was up to me to make the most of this opportunity. And this is life. Life is not about rigid rules to be followed, social norms to abide by, goals to be met. No, life is about seeing doors–they’re everywhere. And it’s about each of us taking the opportunity to open the doors. I’ve learned that for me, Catholicism is an opportunity for me to know God. It’s not about doing exactly what I’m told to do for redemption. Another example is the Boy Scouts; I was weary of my son bridging over to Boy Scouts for fear of over-committing and failing. I see now it’s merely another opportunity to experience life and have access to people and experiences we wouldn’t otherwise have. Opportunity. What will you do with all the doors before us? Open them. That’s what doors do. They open.
There’s one more thing I learned from this weekend: my desired super power. Our recent scout camp theme was Super Heroes. Sometimes we also play a game with the kids where we ask them to choose what super power they would prefer: Invisibility or flying? Laser eye beams or superhuman strength?
Lighting bugs. That would be my super power. It was mesmerizing to see so many lightning bugs through the vast fields at dusk. Their light–so delicate, so fleeting. Like life. I would want to fly around leaving a trail of lightning bugs in my wake–who isn’t happy with this sure sign of carefree summer nights? And I would want the ability to sprinkle lightning bugs like fairy dust on anyone and everyone. Giving delicate and fleeting life, kindness, love. Look too hard and it’s gone. Grasp too tight and the light is extinguished. But let it be and enjoy it.
At the end of the weekend, I am reminded again that God comes to me. He was everywhere I turned–in the awesome nature surrounding me, in the kindness of the monks and staff at the Guest House, in my fellow silent retreatants, in the butterflies and bees I stared at for hours. In the laughter of my children back home, in the love and support of my friends, in the difficult people at work who provide opportunities for practice and growth for me. All this love: fleeting, delicate, everywhere.