The drive to my retreat at Broom Tree was going to take four hours. Because I wanted to use the time to unwind as much as possible I left a few hours early on Thursday morning. My trip north would take me within miles of a small hilltop cemetery in the Nebraska countryside that I first entered with my classmates three weeks shy of turning sixteen on a very cold winter’s day. It’s the final resting place of one of my best friends, Tom, killed in a car accident on Dec. 7, 1983. I have been back a few times over the years but it’s been almost a decade since my last visit. Sensing an opportunity to pay my respects I added a few hours to my drive time and left early. The next two posts will be brief and also be about my journey north, and then we will begin our retreat. I had never seemed to notice some of the unique and century-old tombstones at St. Wenceslaus and so I decided to also take a stroll. There are hundreds of places like this throughout the midwest and I have been known to walk through them and observe the markers, imagining all of the stories long-since forgotten that could be told. I think that stems in part to the research I conducted for my family tree…you find yourself in old, forgotten cemeteries on the prairie. Perhaps it was my unwitting way of keeping the concept of memento mori before me, though I still haven’t gone full St. Jerome and placed a skull on my desk…yet. I’ll discuss this much later (if I remember) but as I was to learn throughout the coming days it wasn’t the first time I had been aware of something I had been doing or thinking that could be put into practice and therefore indirectly related to the Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius appears to have been working on me for years.
This poem brings me some comfort.
Thank you for your indulgence.
“Alone” (Deut. 32:12).
“The hill was steep, but cheered along the way
By converse sweet, I mounted on the thought
That so it might be till the height was reached;
But suddenly a narrow winding path
Appeared, and then the Master said, ‘My child,
Here thou wilt safest walk with Me alone.’
“I trembled, yet my heart’s deep trust replied,
‘So be it, Lord.’ He took my feeble hand
In His, accepting thus my will to yield Him
All, and to find all in Him.
One long, dark moment,
And no friend I saw, save Jesus only.
“But oh! so tenderly He led me on
And up, and spoke to me such words of cheer,
Such secret whisperings of His wondrous love,
That soon I told Him all my grief and fear,
And leaned on His strong arm confidingly.
“And then I found my footsteps quickened,
And light ineffable, the rugged way
Illumined, such light as only can be seen
In close companionship with God.
“A little while, and we shall meet again
The loved and lost; but in the rapturous joy
Of greetings, such as here we cannot know,
And happy song, and heavenly embraces,
And tender recollections rushing back
Of pilgrim life, methinks one memory
More dear and sacred than the rest, shall rise,
“And we who gather in the golden streets,
Shall oft be stirred to speak with grateful love
Of that dark day when Jesus bade us climb
Some narrow steep, leaning on Him alone.”
Eternal rest, grant unto them O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace (Amen)
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
The public domain version of this classic devotional is the unabridged edition of Streams in the Desert. This first edition was published in 1925 and the wording is preserved as originally written.
All images taken by Jeff Walker at the St. Wenceslaus Cemetery, Dodge County, Nebraska. Click on any image to enlarge it for more detail.