A Lesson Learned?

For the last eight days we have been in retreat. (If you want to know what a retreat is, try this explanation.) We all bring different hopes and expectations to a retreat, but for us, as nuns, there is also the hope that we shall have some ‘downtime’ — we don’t have holidays, and week-ends tend to be even busier than week-days, so a retreat is a good time for tidying one’s sock drawer or reading ‘War and Peace’ or whatever one doesn’t usually have  time for. I was hoping our more relaxed timetable would allow me to do one or two things in the garden and finish a couple of books, including a heavy tome on Christology. ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’ I should have realised.

First of all, we had to abandon our plans to join the brethren at Douai for their retreat and settle for something more DIY. I won’t bore you with the reasons, but they included builders and carpenters doing some repairs and renewals during the first dry spell we have had since we arrived. Unfortunately, because we had to keep arranging times and seasons with them, we didn’t put our usual retreat notice on the answerphone. First big mistake. People would call and though we’d politely explain we were in retreat and only answering the ‘phone because we were expecting a call from someone else, it cut no ice. We put auto-responders on our emails, but that didn’t diminish the inflow to any noticeable extent. (We check our emails because people send in requests for prayer and no request is ever ignored, no matter what we are doing.) But the worst mistake was entirely of my own making.

We incorporated our Charity last year and changed the accounting period to coincide with that of our Charitable Trust and our Trading Company. So I awoke one fine morning to the realisation that instead of five months to get our accounts audited etc, we had only five weeks. I spent four days beavering away, getting up early and going to bed late, leaving Quitenun to do all the dog-walking and so on; on the fifth day we went to Ringwood and back, to deliver the boxes to our accountants; and today, our retreat is over . . .

So, what is the lesson I have learned? First of all, I have to laugh at myself. How often do we make plans which we expect God to endorse on the rather specious grounds that they seem good to us? Reading Christology is good, isn’t it, so why would God not allow time for it? Perhaps God is rather more aware of the self-indulgent element in the reading. I was probably rather keener on the ‘me’ bit than the ‘God’ bit of this particular retreat, however I tried to dress it up. We have been working hard for a very long time and the demands on us sometimes seem never-ending. Maybe a misplaced sense of entitlement had crept in. Others have holidays; why shouldn’t we? But we are not ‘others’, nor are we called to live the life that they do. There is another lesson, however, which is so fundamental it comes as as shock when we realise we haven’t yet learned it properly. We seem destined to learn, over and over again, ‘I am the LORD, there is no other.’ Most of us make the mistake of thinking that there are two Superpowers involved, God and self. The truth is, there is only One.

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19 thoughts on “A Lesson Learned?”

  1. A lesson in humility? Perhaps, but what it does demonstrate to me that in the midst of every planned event, life goes on alongside it.

    And, people actually might think that you being on retreat, would make you more accessible, as you are not doing anything else 🙁

    I often go down to Aylesford Priory for just half or a whole day. Not long for a retreat, but a wonderful place to just ‘be’. There is so many places to pray, to attend mass at midday to walk the Rosary Walk or just sit in a quiet corner and to read.

    It’s an escape, without any phones, computers and people just allow you to do your own thing, with just a nod or good morning or afternoon as you pass by.

    On one occasion I was privileged to go there when a Friar was making his final profession – it was a wonderful joyful service with his family there celebrating with him and offering his service to God.

    They have a lovely bookshop, where I’m always lured to buy something a craft shop, pottery and it’s a place to inspire. Also meeting the Friars can be uplifting because they are so down to earth. I learned a lot about Our Lady of Mount Carmel, something I never paid much attention to in my Catholic days.

    I’m not sure what I would do on an 8 day retreat? But would love to try. Our Parish is running a retreat to the Holy Land next year. I’d love to go, but for me on a pension, the costs are prohibitive. I will just have to pray with them, following their programme and imagining each place they visit.

    • If you enjoyed learning about Our Lady of Mount Carmel, you might like to visit the website “The Carmelites” – they have a daily Lectio Divina based on the R.C. daily Gospel reading. Have you ever tried a self-directed retreat? The Ignatian Exercises are also something to consider if you want to branch out. Several of the parishes in our city made pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and one parish took many photos which the participants put together into slide show format, the priest who led the pilgrimage gave a show and talk one evening – really nice for those of us who could not go. Perhaps your own parish could be encouraged to do the same?

      • Now, now, Jean, we can’t have this! On a Benedictine web site in the Bakerite tradition! The history of my community, stretching back to Cambrai days, is a bit cool about Ignatian spirituality, mainly because it’s a bit too complicated for us. Our way of prayer and meditation is so much simpler and easier for most people. Not, of course, that I am claiming anything, you understand; to each his own and all that, but ‘self-directed’ retreats do have their spiritual dangers. I would always urge anyone making a retreat to do so with some guidance or input from another.

        • Quite true, Sister, in that a self-directed retreat, specifically, the Ignatian Exercises, may not be for everyone, Speaking for ourselves, they were difficult, but they worked. There will be those for whom a spiritual director would be a great aid and enhance any spiritual exercise greatly(indeed, our own Sr.Jacqui, was a wonderful mentor and guide)..
          However, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit as a guide, so one can truly find what is needed for them to progress spiritually.

          • I understand the point you are making, Harold, and I respect your position but I don’t share it. I think it’s less a question of what suits one person but doesn’t suit another than the role of authority in spiritual discernment and the appropriateness or otherwise of giving specific spiritual advice in this blog. Sharing opinions and so on is fine and enriching, but one needs to be very careful about any positive directions which could be misconstrued. In my comment I was trying, very gently, to uphold a Catholic understanding of the possible dangers of self-directed retreats based on my own experience of people who have argued themselves into erroneous positions following an ‘insight’ gained during a self-directed retreat. One of the great dangers of the spiritual life is to misread/misunderstand what the Holy Spirit is saying. That is why the Church always asks us to lay our private judgement before the scrutiny of someone with authority to determine whether the inspiration comes from God or not. In urging caution and advising that a retreat should incorporate guidance/input from another, I’m doing no more than echoing this. As to Ignatian spirituality, as I pointed out, this is a Benedictine blog so I am not qualified to give guidance in Jesuit methods of prayer or discernment. I think it is usually better to make any definite recommendations privately, when one knows the person one is advising.

    • Thank you, Ernie. Well, if you’ll forgive the commercial, you could always try one of our online retreats, http//:www.onlineretreats.org (we’ll be adding new modules this autumn, all being well). The problem is not what we would do during an 8 day retreat but what God does with us . . .

      • Jean points me towards Ignatian spirituality. I have experimented with it along with Lectio Divina, in fact I have an app on my smartphone which gives me this, and very useful it has proven to be.

        I’ve been on a couple of facilitated retreats. One with i-church with the Sisters of St Andrew at Edenbridge, which was a wonderful experience. The other was with my SD with the community at West Malling, Malling Abbey who are Anglican Benedictines. This was silent. The experience was different but involved Ignatian Spirituality as part of it.

        I’m looking at a retreat with my SD at the Benedictine Community at Minster Abbey sometime in the future. This will be more than one day and will be connected with the ongoing development of a vocation. I’m looking forward to it.

        And I will look at the online retreat modules available here as well.

        • Don’t get retreat-itis, Ernie! You will gradually come to find a way of prayer and discernment that ‘fits’ and is helpful. That doesn’t mean you will necessarily enjoy it. The best retreat I ever made was boring, hard work and felt a complete failure at the time. The fruit, however, was truly life-changing.

      • Thank you sister. I don’t think that I’m in danger of retreat-itis, as these retreats have been spaced over the last four years.

        But just exploring the idea of it all is something worthwhile and going with an open mind and heart for God seems to be the one that brings things into perspective.

  2. God laughing? Yes, this is something I’ve read about, but until this week never truly heard.
    My experience came out of a struggle with faith. In short I have not found a real church home, but have experimented with different congregations; earnest silence, flamboyant rituals, simple bread breaking and found God everywhere, but myself nowhere. I found myself churning over and over until I met another congregation, one that also attracts me, but uses a foreign language( not tongues) and strict sitting positions and hand sewn robes and then I heard it. The laughter of God, and yes I know I am anthropomorphising, but it was genuine laughter at my/our struggles, at my earnest, extreme, petrol-consuming efforts. The God who is everywhere and everything surely laughs at our make believe.

    May I add that I do not wish to cause offence to any particular group of practices or believers, but God is so much bigger than us all.

  3. Digitalnun, thank you, grazie!
    You also make me thank God (almost) 100% of the times I read you (99?).
    I know for myself that when I struggle with something using all my energy and power to achieve something, that is when I feel angry and bitter and hurt myself and everyone around me.  When I allow myself to accept the struggle but give it to God to resolve, I am more likely to find a solution coming from somewhere I did not expect.  (quoting from a friend but it is my feeling also).
    Cinzia

    • As Fr Baker would say, ‘Follow your call, that’s all in all.’ We all have different paths to God. For a Benedictine, with our emphasis on lectio divina, any day without reading would be strange, but especially a retreat.

  4. I had a really neat dream of what life would be like with grandchildren. A mother and father in love, married, financially secure, and gazing lovingly in turn with each other and the child. And….that it wouldn’t be anytime soon.

    Well, life doesn’t follow or nurture our dreams. With five months notice, a beautiful child is born, everyone, and I mean everyone loves the child. However, the dream the grandparents had was just that, an idealized scenario. Parents not married, a broken and betrayed relationship, anger and sadness bedeviling them, and at the same time, both parents loving this precious child. God didn’t will that the child be born into this, but our free will created this. Now, they and we have the challenge of a lifetime. And, I know God will be with all of us every step of the way. As he may laugh at our plans, but he will be faithful to his gentle and magnanimous love and steer us to making everything good.

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