|Retreating at Jesuit Spiritual Center in Milford, Ohio|
At the opening Mass of retreat last week, the homilist invited each of us to name our desire. What do I yearn for on these days of retreat? To frame his question, he shared that when we go out to eat and settle on a menu selection, our body physiologically anticipates and prepares for tasting that particular food. And so it is in the spiritual life. In naming our desire, our hearts prepare to receive that gift from God.
I knew what I desired. I felt great hunger entering into those sacred days. I’ll be professing first vows on June 27th, and so I wanted God to speak to my heart and affirm unquestionably my readiness for vows. I wanted a profound encounter with Jesus. I anticipated a joyful, full-hearted week.
The thing about naming our desire is that it doesn’t mean we'll be satisfied the way we hope. Almost as soon as I eagerly entered into the silence, it felt like God went silent, too. I chose my menu entrée, but God clocked out without filling my order.
Uninvited thoughts and reflections began popping up. I cycled between feelings of restlessness and emptiness. I came face to face with fears and doubts that must be buried deep within me. I replayed vividly some of the most painful moments of letting go in my journey to sisterhood. I experienced a resurgence of past emotions again tugging at my heart. And, although I’ve felt deeply drawn to make vows throughout this year, the power of the word “vow” all of a sudden stopped me in my tracks in a way it hadn’t before. This is a big deal! Can I really do it?
|Beautiful morning leaves on retreat|
I was a little irked with God for being so inconsiderate and leaving me alone to grapple with all this. Even things that usually bring me consolation on retreat like spotting deer, looking up at beautiful morning leaves, and sharing Eucharist with the community, left me unimpressed. “You can do anything, right God? Well, you’re not acting like it!" I figured that since I’m kind of getting ready to vow my entire life to God, clear affirmation from God wouldn’t be too much to ask!
Good thing God puts up with my whiny teenager moments, probably with an amused and loving Divine Smirk.
I’ve learned that in times of discomfort, the only choice is to stay with it, enter into it, and ask God what it’s all about. Somewhere in those days of struggle, a Bible passage surfaced in my heart. I flipped to Luke 4:1-13 in which Jesus is tempted in the wilderness before catapulting into his public ministry. What struck me immediately is that the story is drenched in the Holy Spirit. Although Jesus wrestled with many things, he was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and then emerged, “filled with the power of the Spirit.” I sensed that I, too, was not alone. It was all the work of the Spirit in me, even if I couldn’t feel it. The word came to me: Trust.
That evening, I walked the labyrinth, and a familiar melody began to play in my heart without me knowing how: “I will be with you; that is my promise. I will be with you, forevermore. Trust in my love; bring me all your cares. And I will be with you, forevermore.”
I sighed with a softened heart as a new peace spread through my abdomen. I felt held close, accompanied, and affirmed. As God often does, God came to me in a way that I could not have expected, but it was, of course, just what I needed. Sure, God could have blessed me with retreat days of palpable Presence. But this experience somehow left me more firmly rooted and aware of my inner strength.
The wilderness was a needed reminder that there will be more wildernesses to come. There will be temptations, and emptiness, and doubt along with the wonder, joy, and fulfillment. Even knowing that and experiencing it acutely in the silence of retreat, I can think of doing nothing else with my life. I can say yes to it all.
As in any vocational commitment, I come as I am to do the best that I can, with God’s grace. I sense God inviting me to these vows that are not one-time declarations but an evolving journey, “You have all you need. You are ready. Trust.”
I go forth, filled with the power of the Spirit!