March 26, 2017

the intersection of stillness and the sacred

This weekend I did a solo retreat at the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho. I had been feeling so exhausted (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) that I needed to fully immerse myself in rest. The following is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote on Saturday evening. It explains everything.
I'm sitting here in the quiet of the chapel, the only consistent sound is the ticking of an old grandfather clock. The room is comfortable and calm. It seems that every spot on this property could be described as such. My stomach is full of soup and strawberries. I'm early to Vigil but I wanted to prepare my heart to be in the presence of the Lord. What a sacred place this is. As dusk falls, everything seems to slow down even more. It's as if everyone here begins to prepare their bodies and hearts for evening. After Vigil, I'm sure sleep will follow for most. It's a sacred rhythm really- to rise with the sun and sleep with the moon. I will stay awake a little longer and have a glass of wine with my new Buddhist friend Deggy. She's also here on a solo retreat. She is looking for centering and calm, just like I am. She was received with open arms. This place and the sisters welcome all. The spaces are respectful to all faiths while still being unapologetically Catholic.
There's an air of reverence here that beckons me to lean in. It calls me back to the days of First Holy Communion and CCD. I wouldn't believe myself if I could travel back all those years and tell myself I'd opt in to a Catholic retreat as an adult, where the entire purpose was to slow down and sit in stillness. I would cringe at the quiet, I would fear the stillness. I would probably have had the same reaction even ten or fifteen years ago. It's now, as an almost thirty year old woman, that I crave the sacred, the tradition, the quiet. There's such beauty in this experience and it's showing me the heart of God.
I've been more calm and quiet this weekend than I have in a long time. I don't just mean the type of quiet where I'm speaking less, I mean the type of quiet that is truly the absence of noise. There's no background purpose, words are spoken with purpose which means that are fewer, and rarely does a car pass by. Instead, the sounds are bells and birds, wind and rain. They're holy sounds connecting me with myself in a holistic way.
My fear with this weekend (and still is) that I wouldn't full soak it in, that I'd miss something. I think that's exactly my problem. I'm hoping to always soak everything in but that causes me to be distracted. I'm desperately hoping to be present and that is exactly what ends up taking me out of the moment. It's as if the Lord is telling me to be still. That seems to be a reoccurring narrative for me. He beckons me to the stillness, so I run. He beckons me to the silence, so I scream. He beckons me to just be and I try to do anything but that.
I've sought after busyness like there is some sort of prize waiting for me on the other side of exhaustion only to realize that the "prize" is fear, loneliness, and more exhaustion. I've idolized independence and become completely hypocritical as a counselor. I've told my clients how much value is in community. I've begged them to lean on others, to invite someone in to their mess and say, "Here I am." I, on the other hand, have told myself that to need others means I'm incomplete and that if I'm incomplete, there's something deeply wrong with me. I've encouraged my clients to be gracious and gentle with themselves only to tell myself, "Suck it up cupcake."
Needs have become this luxury that another person gets, but not me. How foolish am I?
This weekend has been a beautiful and gentle reminder to pause and lean on others. There is no honor in doing everything alone.
As I met with Sister Lillian earlier for Spiritual Direction, she challenged me to slow down. Instead of reading multiple chapters of the Bible a day (in what felt like some sad competition with myself to prove I love Jesus... to myself), she suggested reading a few verses and truly soaking in the Word. What a novel concept! Reading for retention and learning versus reading to a check a box off to prove that I'm a Christian. She reminded me to slow down and let God's love surround me. She asked me, with the most gentle and caring expression on her face, "Can you let God love you?" I sat for a second and then the lump in my throat grew stronger. Warm tears started streaming down my face. I responded honestly to her and said, "I want to, I really want to."
It's peculiar how someone such as myself can grow up in a healthy home with faithful parents who taught me so much about a good, loving God can grow up still forcing a division from that love. God doesn't ask that I do or accomplish. He just asks that I be. What a gentle and terrifying invitation. Sister Lillian encouraged me that through spending intentional time praying, reading and listening, I would come to know God more. Then, I would trust in His goodness and love. She told me to be vulnerable with God, just as I would be vulnerable in a relationship. I confessed my hopes and fears to her, fears that I was too stubborn and independent to let anyone ever take care of me or love me. She reminded me that it starts with God. It starts with leaning whole heartedly into His love. I also told her I was afraid of going home and not taking any of the weekend with me. She told me about the monastery of the heart and how I could take it with me through making space and time.
When we neared the end of Spiritual Direction, she said, "Shall we see if the Lord has a word for us?" She asked me to pick out a stone heart from the bowl next to my chair. I reached in and grabbed the first I touched. I pulled the heart out and read the word aloud. Balance.
She smiled and put her hands together while exclaiming, "Oh thank you Lord!" She reminded me that life is all about balance and that I must make time for the Lord, slow, steady, intentional time. What a gift it is to be reminded that I am just a human who needs balance.
It's now almost time for Vigil. The sisters are beginning to fill this space. We will worship and pray, thanking God for His grace. I will say a prayer for my new friends, for gentle reminders, and for the intersection of stillness and the sacred that I've experienced this weekend.

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