In the nights prior to my retreat I had become a night owl, staying up too late reading or being way too absorbed in current events. I have a problem, of sorts, in that I have always been a news junkie. True, as a conservative I tend towards more right-leaning news sites, but I try to keep a bit of balance. Mostly I read Catholic news portals or blogs. Anyhow, the night before my road trip I was up much too late. My wife and I on Wednesday night had bought what we thought would be a nice gift for our son Jonah who would be turning nine on Friday, but this inexpensive MP3 player wasn’t just inexpensive. It was cheap. As in it sucked. So I found myself scouring the web to research ideas I had on getting our family’s first tablet. There was no way I was buying an iPad for him and I didn’t want other tablets that allowed access to the internet and all the incredibly wonderful stuff that flourished unfettered out there. I finally found what appeared to be a solid option containing parental controls and that wouldn’t break the bank. After reading tons of reviews and having a pow-wow with my wife had decided to purchase the Nabi 2.
And this is how I found myself driving to a Wal-Mart on the north side of town after midnight hoping that their website hadn’t lied to me and that they had one in stock. They did, and by 1am I was back home setting it up and making sure it would function “out of the box” for Jonah and my wife when I was absent on Friday.
And so it was that less than 24 hours later I was sitting wide awake on the couch in a room over two hundred miles from home with my bible and my journal on my lap. Having read, re-read and prayed for over an hour I seemed stuck. Restless. Wait…the purpose of this first lesson was to find REST, right? So I decided to take a step out into the cool evening and clear my head.
Now while on the couch I had discovered some themes that were personal to me at this time in my life. For instance, in Isaiah I kept coming back to Chapter 55, verses 2-7 that read:
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call nations that you know not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
While not off in the weeds entirely, I had recently sensed an increasingly sense of imbalance. It began to increase with my decision 6-8 weeks ago to create a study program to introduce and teach the Liturgy of the Hours to your average Catholic. Below I’ve boldfaced the passages that seemed to stand out to me.
From Psalm 63:
O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. So I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory. Because thy steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise thee. So I will bless thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on thy name.
So after chewing on this for awhile I decided that I needed to heed the words in the final verses I was looking at in 1 Kings 19:11-12:
And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
And so I decided to “climb the mount” and spend some time in the white country parish that resides on the grounds at Broom Tree. Located about two football fields away it would be a straight shot due south from the door in the west wing where my room was and across the parking lot to the church steps. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly a mount but a slight incline from the north. When you approach it from the south it really is up a hill. The parking lot is brightly lit at night as are the grounds surrounding the main retreat center. And as you can see from this photo I took, St. Isadore’s is illuminated at night as well.
I got about halfway across the parking lot when I heard something behind me. I turned to see movement between two of the parked cars. I froze to watch as the wolf-shape moved into the light and I recognized it as the other dog I’d seen on the grounds. Seeing her eyes glow when reflecting the light caused the phrase “hound of hell” to pass quickly through my mind, but I called out softly “Come here, Cocoa” and she slowly walked towards me. She allowed me to pet her once and walked by me to the church. I think she’s escorted more than one soul there before. After pausing outside to take a photo of the church at night I walked up the steps and into the dark church.
After taking a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness I was able to see the lit, red candle flickering at the front of the church. Catholics worldwide know this means that Christ, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, is present. This soft, flickering flame is a source of great comfort when spending countless hours at night (or in the day) praying in church. My eyes continued to adjust as the bright lights inside were able to enter the church sanctuary somewhat through a few front windows. The wooden floor creaked as, after finding the holy water font and making the sign of the cross across myself, I made my way to the front pew on the right side. Genuflecting and again crossing myself I entered the pew and knelt. After several minutes of prayer and settling my mind I sat down.
Other than the candle, all I could make out in the darkness were the shadowy forms that I knew to be the altar, the ambo (or podium), and the tabernacle itself. What I could see was the crucifix mounted on the back wall above the tabernacle. Specifically the corpus, or the body of Christ, was illuminated and easy to see. Whether by design or by accident, the spotlights outside the church entered through two upper windows above the balcony at the front of the church and joined to form a beam of light that shone on the body of Christ only. I thought that was pretty cool.
…you are my lamp, O Lord, and my God lightens my darkness. ~ 2 Samuel 22:29
And so finally after a few more minutes of settling in, I was able to ask Jesus to help me answer the question that had been the cause of my walk to sit in this spot. It is the verse that follows the passage I quoted above from 1 Kings. I had climbed the mount. I was seated before the Lord. I knew that I was not able to hear his voice clearly due to the din and the normal noise of life. Current events (or “wind”, “earthquakes” or “fire” was not where the Lord’s voice was easily heard. It is a still small voice. And because the question had been stuck in my craw ever since I read it I was now here.
In 1 Kings 19:13 Elijah finally hears that voice. He goes out. And the voice asks him a question. It says to him “What are you doing here Elijah?”
A question God? I strain to finally get a clear frequency so I can hear you and receive your wisdom and your answers and get through this thing called life and you ask me a freaking question?? If Elijah didn’t say it I bet he was thinking it. Ok, Lord…ok. (Deep breaths)
What are you doing here, Jeff?
What am I doing here? I considered what I had read in my room:
- “Eat what is good” (Holy Communion / The Body of Christ)
- “Hear, that your soul shall live” (Holy Scriptures / The Word of God)
- “Return…for he will abundantly pardon” (Contrition/Confession/Mercy)
God is calling me back to Him through the Sacraments that have always been before me. But I lose sight of them when life gets “busy” and I get lazy. Unappreciative. Here, in a small wooden church out in the middle of nowhere out on the prairies I expressed my desire to return to His mercy, and He reminded me that He had already provided what I needed. Secure in that knowledge I would leave my pew after an hour and be escorted back to the retreat center by Cocoa. I had found her waiting for me curled up against the front door at the top of the steps.
But first, before that walk back to my room, I heard a still, small voice ask me:
“What are you doing here, Jeff?”
“O God, you are my God…”
©2012 Jeff A Walker