Last fall I joined a small group, Retreat in Daily Living, for a 32-week prayer practice using the Ignatian exercises. I feel as if I have spent much time of late with St. Ignatius and the Jesuits, and I have thoroughly enjoyed their company. I’ve had the privilege of feasting on a rich buffet of high-quality spiritual cuisine. Midway through these exercises, the pandemic came upon us. In a sense, I have experienced a retreat inside of a retreat. And like all good retreats, it has been a time apart from the normal and a season of less. Retreatants normally describe their time of separation as a blessing—a time of healing, a pruning process. Many wise folks recommend periodic house cleanings and heart cleanings. These past few months have allowed time for both. This Ignatian prayer retreat has come to an end just as we are coming to an end of sorts to our mostly at home season.
I find myself drawn to stepping back a bit and reflecting on life in recent times—what has it held and what have I learned? How do I carry on from here? I have a sense that I have been given something valuable, and I don’t want to lose it. I don’t want to forget what has come my way during this time. Ignatius believed in the value of paying attention to God, to oneself, and to others, and to receiving the gifts that each brings to us. We are invited to see and experience how all creation is ongoing—a process unfolding. We see it in the spring flowers blooming, the trees budding, and the earth greening. In my own ongoing creation, I can look to nature as a guide showing me how to surrender to the Creator and His sovereignty. I have been learning to: Stay little. Pay attention. Receive. Resist not. Let God take me deeper. I allow God to lead me. I stay fully present to each moment and movement of God. I experience His slow and gentle work in my life and in the lives of those around me.
I am struck by how God has protected, pursued, and corrected me during this time. I hope and pray that my vision has been sharpened by the exercises. There have been times that feel like a new depth of reality. I would describe it as vibrant— as if life just shimmers.
Each week as we met in group to describe our prayer experiences, we were invited to share the one thing that came to mind to describe the week’s experience. Reflecting on this season of retreat, I felt led to ask God to show me the one thing I have received from Him during this time and to let Him take me deeper into that truth. I’d like to share my ponderings on that question.
The retreat facilitators often encouraged us to go deeper with a feeling or an awareness. In the beginning, I found myself recalling heart hurts from long ago. At first, I felt that I must be doing this wrong. I thought this was about going deeper in my faith walk. I now see that God needed to clear away some old ruins in my heart—to do some heart cleaning—to make room for me to experience more of Him in my life. I recently heard this heart cleaning described as God putting His finger on a wound and how that hurts. Yet, we trust that God’s hands are healing hands; His touch loving. As we think of God Incarnate, Jesus, we can imagine Him bringing us into His own wounds. We can lay on His pierced side to find healing. As the retreat continued, I was drawn more to simply rest and relax in God’s presence, trusting Him to do the work that needed to be done—slowly and gently. I needed only to rest upon the side of Jesus in my smallness and weakness. Before beginning to write this piece, I began my day by participating in an online mass. These words from the homily reached out to me…
When we descend into the depth of what troubles us the most and frightens us the most, we will find Christ there.
These words feel like truth to me—a truth I desire to experience, a truth that comforts me, calms my fears, and gives me courage to go forward. I can learn to be with suffering—in others and within myself. To suffer with Christ. To sit with my own woundedness. I know that I have a resistance to sadness. I prefer to stay in my head rather than in my heart. I now see that when I’m thinking, “I’m not doing it right,” I need to go to God and ask what He would have me do, remembering that God always does it right. An Ignatian retreat focuses on the life of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels. I have spent much time reading and reflecting on how Jesus lived and loved here on earth. I am continually struck by how often people in Jesus’ life got it wrong. How often we humans can be wrong—how often I am wrong. I also saw how Jesus always had a better way. I am coming to believe that only God truly knows me and wants to show me the best way to go. I can pass from former ways into newness of life.
These awarenesses over the past few months have led me to focus more on the Divine and less on human frailties—mine and others. I am coming to sense Jesus as a dear, faithful friend. He wants the very best for me, and always treats me with respect, patience, and lovingkindness. He wants me to do likewise. To love well whomever He puts across the table from me. He is an advocate who fights for me. I am also beginning to see the role and power of silence in God’s plan. To be still and know.
As the retreat came to a close, we were asked to reflect on this question: How have I grown in faith, hope, and love, and where does such life-giving growth lead me now? I pray that I may continue to ask and answer these questions in the days ahead. For now, I ask God:
- for the grace to be a faithful and faith-filled presence in another’s life and
- to give me a listening heart that I may hear the hearts of others and accept our differences.
I want to stay very connected to God and slow to react. To wait and let God aim me. To first pay attention to what is going on in the well of my heart. Then look for God’s loving presence in myself and in all. I can then relax, and wait to see what happens next. I remain in God’s love. That may be the one thing God is saying in this unprecedented time of pandemic:
Remain in my love.
Oh, please Lord, let me not forget.