I returned recently from my annual eight-day silent retreat. This was my sixth time to take this retreat at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. I am directed by Fr. Christopher Viscardi, one of the Jesuit priests who is on the faculty and lives on the college campus in the Jesuit residency. Let me offer an explanation of the retreat. I’ll share some of what I’ve learned from these retreats in my next blog.
While on retreat, I stay in the guest house on the property of the Jesuit residency. There are five houses and I stay in this small house alone. Each evening I walk across the property to the building that houses the cafeteria for the Jesuits and pick up my hot evening meal and salad for the following lunch. I keep breakfast food in the kitchen of the guest house. I meet with Fr. Viscardi each day for an hour to process my experience and to receive scripture with which to pray. Fr. Viscardi has become a dear friend over the years and I cherish his wisdom and love of Jesus. He typically gives me a gospel event and a psalm and sometimes a reading from St. John of the Cross or another spiritual resource. I then am on my own for the remainder of the day. Each morning I exercise–typically a walk around campus. It takes about an hour to circle the grounds. I then come back and spend time journaling and doing lectio divina with the scriptures. I sleep a lot initially, both in the day and at night, and as the week progresses, I seem to “catch up” on my sleep. It has become my habit to clean out the small courtyard behind the house of the winter debris, so I will often do this each evening as the temperature cools. I enjoy my meal (Early is a wonderful cook) and settle down for another time of journaling and listening to music before I go to bed.
This is the typical schedule with some variance. I schedule a massage during the week and at times will go to Starbucks or a neighborhood coffee shop (Carpe Diem) to spend an hour or two journaling. At other times I’ll wander around campus and find a place to sit–by the small chapel or behind a mansion on the Avenue of the Oaks. It’s a beautiful setting.
Its sounds relaxing, doesn’t it? I describe this time as the most wonderful and the most difficult work I do all year. What I haven’t shared is what God does with/to me during this time. It takes a couple of days to settle in and let go of the weight of my responsibilities. Then comes the wire brush scrubbing–it feels good, but painful. This is when God brings to the surface the things in my life that I have ignored or tried to ignore. The longer I am in silence, the deeper it goes; like peeling the layers off an onion. I face many of my demons and the solitude offers the space I need to face them rather than distract myself with busyness. This is interspersed with times of just resting in God’s embrace. I feel very loved.
Jesus practiced solitude as part of his rhythm of life. My guess is that this is what kept him grounded and centered on his purpose and calling. He is my model and though I know I will never be close to who he is, I will continue to strive toward that end as long as God gives me breath.
Peace and grace to you!