Oxymoron of an Anchoress on a Silent Retreat

leaf in snowIt was a sweet and gratuitous offer from Father, one that I didn’t want to accept. He kept calling it a contemplative retreat—whatever, it was a silent retreat, and I live an eremitic life.

Indecision is generally not the nature of my character. Taking time to mull things over, trusting the holy to manage the details, I’d throw myself full-on into what was at hand. Let me add, that that assurance only goes so far when neglecting to consult with Our Lord.

For nearly a month I waffled about attending the retreat. The preceding two months had been filled with activity, and so the upstairs hermitage felt pretty comfortable. (There’s that word again—comfortable. It’s kind of like when you are contacted for urgent prayers, and you just know you’ll get hit with something to offer up on their behalf.)

The day before the retreat began—yes, I’d procrastinated that long—I heard there would be a significant snow storm. No better place to be holed up for a winter event than on a lovely 95 acre wooded site, where somebody else cooks and shovels out the car. I was swayed, so called the center, deciding ahead of time that if the room I needed was assigned I wouldn’t go. Well, of course it was available and, AND, I learned that there would be over 40 women attending! So much for it being silent.

Fine, I grunted after I’d hung up, surrendered and began to pack.

When I arrived I was given a crisp green folder filled with handouts and learned—oh, the irony of it all—that the retreat would be on how to pray. I couldn’t help but laugh with God.

The sessions would be the Carmelite methodology of prayer: St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The presenters used words I’d never heard before—a language for and about an activity second nature in my life. As a supplicant, I experience private prayer as inclusive, communal, and encompassing. This, this prayer technique, it seemed almost vertical, singular, and personal.

Like a child in her certitude I spiritually resisted each time I heard them say “…a personal relationship with Jesus.” My strong will to follow God’s will began to feel like stubbornness. Was this lack of openness, as my confessor had warned, the beginning of spiritual narcissism?

The first day ended with Adoration that night, and my silent confusion.snow and magnolia

As I sat in the Gaze of Mercy, I felt Our Lord ask “Let me look at you…I love to look at you.” These words were from a shared story, which goes something like this: Each day, after school, a mother would wash and press her young daughter’s uniform. In the morning the child would be clean and fresh for a new day of learning. Before the child left for school the mother would say to her, “Let me look at you” checking her from head to toe, then “I just love to look at you.”

I’ve never been a parent, never received or understood that kind of gazing. To be looked upon with the eyes of love, for no other reason than that you exist, I imagined would be profound.

I was awake most of the night as the implications of those words swirled in my thoughts. By early dawn I needed a good long walk, and did so for two hours in the gentlest of winter storms. Falling snow creates a special kind of silence, and softness.

two birch treesAnd eventually I got it.

The beauty of existence, loved into it, and through it, pierced my heart. There was  joy in knowing what it is to be the child of a parent looking upon you in all your sweet wonders.

It is good to be somebody’s beloved daughter.

Now, on with the lessons…

 

Images by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl OSB. All rights reserved.

 

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