Monday, 12 September 2016

The Time I Went on a Five Day Silent Retreat

You'd assume for a self-identifying introvert, a five day silent retreat would have been super easy but those who know me, know that I am an externally processing introvert who talks nineteen to the dozen. And yet... five days of silence was very beautiful.

This retreat was an answer to prayer- for about six months I had felt God was telling me : 
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43: 19a
"Great! I'm all for it," I told Him. "But I have no idea what that new thing is."

Of course a part of me was like, "Vocational fulfilment! Yay!" But that's just every Catholic single who think they are called to marriage.

He was like, "You'll see."

And I did.

The past week I felt like He was opening a door in my journey with Him, and saying, "We're not there yet. Let's go." What He said was so full of light and truth that it overshadowed every other desire and goal and dream for my life.

What am I talking about? There is no way I can share with you everything that I learned, and most likely even if I did, coming from a blog post it probably won't mean much to you. What I really want is for you to go on this silent retreat and find out for yourself, as you sit before the Blessed Sacrament chapel, the glass walls giving you a glimpse of hovering eagles at eye level, the river far below meeting the sea in the distance, as you listen to a Carmelite priest speak words of SOLID truth, practical wisdom, and poetic sweetness, revealing the heart of the God who desires to be known by you- as taught by Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross.

The second part of that bible verse was:
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
...I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,
 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
Isaiah 43: 19b-21
And the retreat was all about the river, the streams of living water which is the Presence of God coming to meet us in contemplation.

These are three insights that impacted me big time:

1. Any sensory pleasure I take that uses up hours and days of my life dulls my senses to God in prayer. I’m an obsessive TV serial watcher. I think I have an addictive personality. Luckily I don’t have TV in my volunteer post, but every time I go home, I binge watch hours and hours of some show or the other. Years ago it was LOST. It has been Downton Abbey, Gray’s Anatomy, The Mentalist, Castle, 24, House. Most of my life (until the Internet) I was a voracious reader, I could read for hours every day, and late into most nights. My latest obsessive behaviour has been reading Facebook comment threads from Simcha Fisher, one of my favourite Catholic bloggers. Her posts, and the comments that follow are witty, insightful, and thought-provoking- a feast for a Catholic INTJ’s mind. It all seems harmless, especially if the content of my latest obsession is clean, and it doesn’t interfere with my daily duties.

But this was the point- if my prayer is lifeless and dull, if I’ve lost my taste for prayer, it’s because my intellect and memory are constantly caught up in those pleasures. I am caught up in self-gratification, rather than being able to open myself to loving God and my neighbour in the present moment. The Lord is like, “If you allow those things to satisfy you, then where is there room for ME to satisfy you?” It’s like eating popcorn throughout the day, and when the feast arrives, you don’t have an appetite for it. So painful as it may seem, God is asking me to cut out some of my ‘harmless’ sensory pleasures… so I can relearn to take pleasure in His presence.

The cool thing was that actually happened at the retreat- I had never felt more joyful, peaceful and excited to just sit with Him in the chapel at random moments.

2. The way to go deeper in prayer isn’t some new meditation technique or effort at focus, but the way of charity, humility, detachment and ‘stealing moments’ of silence. Fr. A, who led the retreat was very clear- charity, the attitude that allows me to accept my brother or sister as he or she is, without judgment or analysis, is ESSENTIAL to experience God. Love cuts through my ego, my self-centredness, my judgment and makes a way for God to break through, and touch my deepest, innermost self. Saint Teresa of Avila said that the only sign that shows progress in prayer is that you accept your brother or sister in community. And love of course isn’t a sweet feeling, but a decision, and even a struggle- but a struggle that purifies. Only love can liberate me from ego. And a handy tip that helps me love people in spite of the way they treat me is: ‘There is no event that takes place without the knowledge of God.’ And therefore he has allowed this person, this event, this circumstance for some greater good- usually my own growth.

3. If my soul wants to be like a watered garden, I need to use the drip irrigation method, plus a morning and night watering: If I really want to grow in prayer, I MUST make time to meet Him not just once in the day, but for a chunk of time at the beginning and at the end, and frequently throughout the day, even for a few minutes at a time- singing hymns, practising the presence of God, doing an examen, just saying a few words of love. As most people who know me probably know, I’m one of the laziest people alive. Sloth in particular is my besetting sin- laziness in spiritual matters. I do the bare minimum. If I’m praying once a day, I think I’m doing GREAT. And yet, something has changed with this retreat. As Fr. A said, “You don’t have to do it. I can’t tell you you have to. But if you have a desire for God, you can do it!” And I can. If I can make time to check Facebook through the day, surely I can make time to turn my gaze to the Beloved.

There was SO much more. But I’m going to stop. You should go for this retreat. Seriously. If you live in India, take a week off and go. Leave me your email in the comments or contact me if you want details. Really. Do it.

1 comment:

  1. Your post is inspiring and challenging, especially points 1 & 3. Do post more of what you learnt.