Continuing on Friday (9/21), Mass was followed by lunch and after having some time to walk around and meditate some more on the beauty of creation we gathered in the chapel to pray a communal rosary. By mid-afternoon it was time for the next exercise. The subject was “In the Image of God”, and our (my) aim was to see the beauty of humanity as well as God’s care for me personally. This was to be one of the most powerful exercises of my retreat.
In living a spiritual life we have really just two main goals.
- Unite in union with God.
- Share those graces with others so that they may unite with God.
It’s all so easy, right? Well…yeah actually, it is. But as it is with most things we make it harder than it should be.
In order to unite with God we have to first have a relationship with Him. Once we have that relationship we can begin to proceed into a union with Him. This union is brought about through the Sacraments and being in a state of grace.
This exercise began to clear up a lot of things for me. Recalling the writings of some saints and mystics who spoke of this union, I had never been able to make sense of what they meant. And now looking back on this day eleven days ago and the readings I’ve done since the retreat I recognize this goal being spoke of constantly. I can’t believe how blind I was to it, but then I really didn’t know what I was looking for either.
Deacon Andrew began to introduce us to the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits on this afternoon. In our lives there is a time of spiritual consolation as well as desolation, and by learning their definitions we can better recognize those times within ourselves to assist us in our spiritual lives as well as make decisions. We are in spiritual consolation during those times we have attained a union with God. Always we are seeking consolation and want to remain there. The goal is to always reject those things that lead towards desolation and to seek those things that bring me towards consolation.
This really should not be unrecognizable to us. A well-known example is Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It was revealed a few years after her death in her writings that she suffered through long periods of “dryness” in her spiritual life that caused her great anguish. But she had prepared herself prior to these times of spiritual desolation during times of consolation. When she felt closest to God she had prepared herself to recognize the symptoms of desolation and to remember not to make serious decisions or sudden changes. This is when we can really get off the rails and into the weeds, so to speak, and I began to think of the times in my own life that this was true.
I’ll talk more about spiritual desolation in an upcoming post.
After the lesson we were free for a few hours to work on it. I finally broke my coffee “fast” as I found myself starting to nod a little bit in the chapel for the lesson. I decided to make a long walk to help wake me up, and so I walked with my coffee, bible and journal due west up a path towards some rolled hay bales I’d seen on a hill overlooking the grounds. This was the farthest I’d ventured to date, though I would in the coming days go well beyond this point.
The wind was strong from the west so I decided to sit myself down facing east and use the hay as a windbreak. I haven’t sat in hay in decades and almost instantly the sweet smells and scratchy crunch of the dried grasses brought me back to a different time.
After taking in the view for a time and sipping on my hot coffee I opened to Psalm 139 and tried to hold the pages open against the blowing winds. After considering all the deacon had said and the prayers of my heart I wrote the following meditation on this psalm.
You Know Me Lord
You knew me Lord before:
For you formed my inward parts,
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there were none of them.
(Psalm 139:13, 16)
You know me Lord now:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all of my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
Help me Lord going forward:
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
My eyes were opened to many things while leaning back against that hay bale. After writing a few other thoughts down I set down my books to lean fully back. I closed my eyes and listened for what seemed like the entire afternoon. I don’t believe I fell asleep, mostly because thanks to my new itchy watch I was very cognizant of not being late or missing the next exercise that was due to begin shortly after 5pm. But it did seem a very long time and was one of those intimate conversations we have with our Creator that I did not want to end. I opened my bible a final time to Psalm 138:
On the day I called, you answered me,
my strength of soul you increased.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your mercy, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
(Psalm 138:3, 8)
I decided to finish my thoughts on my walk back to my room and to get out of the high winds. After coaxing my knees into standing, I paused to ask God to help me remember this scene on the hill by the hay. Suddenly and without warning I felt prompted to reaffirm my love for my wife and my children. I broke the silence of my retreat and said aloud “I love my wife. I love my children. I love this life. Thank you, Lord, for them.”
The wind stilled and for a moment all was totally quiet. After soaking in this moment of grace as the sun’s rays warmed my skin against cool autumn chill I began to pick up the rest of my things. As soon as I did the winds once more began to howl.
I finished my exercise in my room while seated on the couch where a framed portrayed of the smiling, kindly face of Mother Teresa looked out at me. Go figure.
Postscript: Since my retreat ended I have once more began to read each evening from what I consider one of the most powerful and spiritual books ever written: Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen. I first began to read from it around eight or nine years ago but it always went over my head and I struggled to grasp the daily 2-3 page meditations. This seems to no longer be the case and I am enjoying the richness of this book. The paragraph below is from the prayer at the end of the meditation and one that I read tonight a few hours before sitting down to compose this post. It seemed to fit well with the subject at hand. Within it you will see the two goals for living a spiritual life that I referred to at the start.
Devoting ourselves to the spiritual life does not mean shutting ourselves up in an ivory tower to enjoy God’s consolations undisturbed, with no concern for the welfare of others. It means concentrating all our powers on seeking God, working for our own sanctification in order to please God, and thus acquiring a power of action and impetration capable of obtaining the salvation of many souls.
Divine Intimacy, by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. Baronius Press: London. 2010 edition. Page 924.