In two days I go away for two weeks of vacation in one spot, a beautiful, cozy two-storey cottage in the piney woods ten minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. I can't remember a two-week vacation in my working life. I had time off when babies were born, and time after Christmas, and one-week vacations along the way. But to be off duty, in one comfortable spot with no traveling and almost no responsibilities for a two week stint seems like paradise to me.
This leads me to thinking about this experiment in Ignatian discernment retreat that I am making with Sr. Kathryn James. Why an experiment? Because the traditional retreat takes place very much like my two-week paradise: in a concentrated period of time, away from the hustle and bustle of life, with the atmosphere conducive to reflection, prayer, and listening for the Holy Spirit.
But new times call for new forms, Sister says, and so she leads us in a different kind of retreat, suited to a busy life, taking place within the hustle and bustle of life.
Now I'll be vacationing and retreating, as I have been active and retreating. The hardest part of the retreat in the bustle of life is keeping the knowledge of it present as I go away from specific exercises and prayers. That, of course, is the puzzle of moving from an active to a contemplative life at any time, it's the ordinary puzzle of having a consistent life of prayer within activity. Oddly enough, when I was an active mother it was easier. My experience with my grandchildren this weekend suggests why this is so. When you are " on duty " taking care of little children, your mind and concentration are fully engaged in making sure they are safe and provided for. You can't "switch off" like you can when you have no dependents directly under your care. Hence you can't "switch off" to God either, you are engaged in creation with your mind aware and your instincts honed. Having grown out of the blessings and the curses of motherhood, I am happy to be reminded that the Holy Spirit seems to hover around you when you are caring for youngsters.
Donec formitur - until He be formed in me. Walking the dog this morning, I remembered Father Keegan saying once that some people only felt close to God when they were in trouble. Since I so often did feel close to God when in a crisis situation, I've pondered that a lot.
I relate it now to my love of horror fiction and film. There's the catharsis of living vicariously (and safely) as someone else goes through horrible events, but above and beyond that there is the keeping in front of one's eyes the fact that Life Hurts. The violence we do one another, the horrible self-centeredness that keeps us in blocks of ice, the pain of love, the pain of loss... it all hurts and Christ is the physician. But not because we aren't "tuff enuff" to take our pain straight, but because creation itself, tangled up in the experiment (?) of biological creatures having free will, requires a healer, a gardener, a shepherd of souls. I can be as stoic as the next person, more so even because how hard is it to endure? I keep horror and death front and center in my consciousness so as not to forget that being a "pious lady" requires the opposite of complacency. It requires that we stay awake and keep our edge, so that we are not blind and deaf to the healer, the gardener, the shepherd of souls as he plies his trade among us.