From what I gather, I’m doing this retreat so wrong that it hardly qualifies as a retreat. I think I’m supposed to go sit in a room and keep silence, waiting for God to speak to me. But, to be honest, if I went off in a room and kept silence for days at a time, I would probably sleep for a couple of days and then start trying to dig a tunnel through the floor.
It’s just not me.
My best idea of a retreat would be, if I had a horse, to saddle up and go for long meandering rides while I think and talk to God about what I’m thinking. I understand going off into the desert and wandering as a retreat. I can understand lying on your back and looking up at the stars. But locked inside four walls with a candle and a holy portrait? Not so much.
Since I don’t have a horse, I play the piano. And I’m finding the piano fills me up with pleasure that seems holy and pure to me. I also care for the people I love. I read. I kibitz. I spend time with friends. But mostly, I talk to Jesus about what ails me.
A retreat for me is taking time to be with God and trusting that He wants to be with me as well. If He has something He wants me to do, He’ll tell me.
I use the phrase that I am going to “seek the Lord” when I talk about these withdrawals into the Holy Spirit that I do from time to time because that phrase seems to make sense to the people who hear it.
But I don’t “seek the Lord,” for the simple reason that He hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s with me all the time. Sometimes I ignore Him for days on end and just go my way. When I do that, he’s like a parent, watching while Her child plays and rambles; not interfering, but there.
I don’t truly “seek the Lord” because all I have to do is what any one else has to do; acknowledge His presence and talk to Him about the things that are troubling me. There’s no formula for interacting with the Holy Spirit. If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit is with you and in you every moment of every day. He loves you and His viewpoint is much broader than yours.
One thing I have read in the book I’m using for this retreat (Consoling the Heart of Jesus) that I don’t get at all is the rather tortured explanation as to why we need to console Jesus when He’s in heaven. I was confounded by how difficult the thinkers the author quoted make this simple thing.
Here’s my non-theological explanation for what I didn’t know was a question: Jesus is God. He made everything, everywhere, including — get ready for this — time. If Jesus made time, He is outside of time. He is not part of our linear time that flows inexorably from one moment to the next in a steady measurable procession that you can, well, set your watch by.
My son and I had a discussion with another homeschooling mom back in the day about the first chapters of Genesis. I kept saying that, while the description in Genesis is true, it is expressed in poetic terms. Specifically, the word “day” does not refer to a 24 hour, solar day. First, there was no sun when God began His creation. Second, God is outside of time. The term “day” is a non sequitur to Him that He uses for the benefit of our understanding.
She didn’t get it.
Finally, my 11-year-old son said, “I don’t think God sees time as a line the way we do. I think He sees it as a dot.”
That is probably pretty close to the truth in that God, being the creator of time, and being outside of time, sees all of creation, from beginning to end, constantly and as one whole. I don’t think that when He says He knows our days and the future of our world, he is saying that He is predicting what will happen the way a prophet or seer would. I think in God’s eye view the end and beginning and everything in between is an eternal now.
What does that mean to the idea of consoling Jesus for His sufferings while he is now in heaven and far from those sufferings? Just this: Everything is now to God. Jesus is at Calvary in the same way that, when the actual physical event occurred, He died for you and me two thousand years before we were born. It’s not a trick of theology. It’s a matter of perspective. God’s perspective.
I think my rather odd ball way of retreating is an echo of that understanding of God. I met God when I was driving my car on the way to make a speech. The Holy Spirit filled me up with God’s love in a moment and from that day to now, has never left me.
That experience and what I’ve learned from this continuous presence of the Holy Spirit, shapes the way I approach God and the way I do a retreat.
I drop out from public activities and go to a period of praying because I get battered up by life and I need the healing and solace that just being with the Lord gives me. I need to be loved and God never fails to love me when I just stop and let Him.
But I do not go into long periods of “discernment.” I have learned that if God wants me to do something, I won’t be able to get out of it. It’s that simple: If He wants me to do something, He’s gonna to tell me, and if I don’t get the message, He’ll keep on telling me until I do.
My job isn’t to “discern.” It’s to obey. And there are times when that obedience is not cheap.
I do ask, and have been asking a lot during this retreat, things like “Was I wrong when I said that?” “Did I behave like a jerk?” “Do you want me to change about that?” I’m so willful and given to doing things on my own initiative that I need — and pray — for God to guide me away from doing the wrong thing while thinking it’s the right thing.
But mostly, I find myself face to face with God and He changes me inside by loving me. I’ve said it many times: God does not change what we do. He loves us and that love changes what we want to do.
There’s more, and I’ll talk about it in the days ahead. But for now I want to emphasize one thing: Seeking God is like a child, crying out for its mother in the middle of the night. The minute you say you need Him, He is there. Because He was always there.
That was the experience I had at my conversion. He was there, right there, and He always had been there. I had willfully shut off my awareness of Him. But the moment I reached out, He was there.
All you have to do is trust and know that. Even in times of peril, grief, chaos or terror when the white noise in your head blots out everything, He is still there. You can’t hear Him, because you are drowning Him out with your keening. But He is there, and He won’t leave you.
You don’t have to earn His love and you can’t make Him stop loving you. Nothing you can do will stop Him from loving you and nothing you can do will make Him love you any more. You are His child.
Know that. Trust it.
And don’t be afraid.