Listen to it.
What do you hear?
I’m a pretty extroverted person. I like talking. I like listening to others. I enjoy sharing conversation and laughter. So, when I learned back in August that JVC would hold a mandatory Ignation (read: Silent) Retreat, I was pretty nervous.
Ignatian Retreats, the longest being 30 days, have been a Jesuit tradition since the order’s early days, and have been a way for people to become closer to God through silent reflection, meditation, discernment, and prayer.
Ours was 40 hours long at the Loyola House of Retreats in Morristown, New Jersey. JVC provided us with various activities including prayer services, an all-night Peace Vigil, meditation, and yoga and resources like spiritual direction, books on personal growth, and prayers, but, otherwise, we were on our own in silence.
Like I said, at first, I was really nervous about spending so much time in silence, but the retreat actually came at the perfect time for me. I haven’t exactly been overwhelmed lately, but I’ve definitely been “whelmed” with community obligations, friends, work, and some big decisions coming regarding my future.
The retreat gave me time to bring God back into my life and my decision-making.
I was able to meet with my spiritual director for the weekend, Toni Moore-Duggan (from Baltimore, incidentally), twice during retreat for help in the best ways to reach out to God and listen. She advised that I think of God as a friend, rather than a judge, within me, who is continually reaching for me, guiding me, and talking to me. After that, praying and talking with God, rather than at or to God, became infinitely easier for me. I began praying out loud and started and ended my conversations with God with a specific prayer. It kept me focused and more able to listen.
Did I come away with all the answers? No. Am I now spiritually enlightened? No. Those things will take some more time to figure out.
I did, however, learn how to bring the G-man into my decisions and my every day- simply by looking, listening, and feeling.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.”
How and where do you hear God? How do you reach out? Have you ever been on a silent retreat before? How was your experience?
I’ve written about some of the Community and Spirituality nights in the past (The Perfect Heart comes to mind) and how great they are for community and personal growth. This past week’s Spirituality Night, led by Amanda and Stacey, was no different.
They led off with a meditation centering around self examination regarding our values, regrets, loves, risks, sufferings, influences, achievements, and the people who have made considerable impacts on our lives (read: Mom and Dad).
They ended the meditation with this quote from John Powell, SJ:
“To reveal myself openly and honestly takes the rawest kind of courage”
With our meditation and this quote in mind, they asked us each to write a poem with each line beginning with “I am from…” to share with the community.
Here’s what I wrote:
I am from unconditional love.
I am from Holden, Massachusetts.
I am from a mother’s sacrifice, a father’s hard work, and both of their love and care.
I am from a brother’s trust and good spirits.
I am from family stepping up for me when I didn’t know the difference.
I am from Chaffins Elementary and Mountview Middle.
I am from countless homework assignments, tests, recesses, and teachers who cared.
I am from support, encouragement, and acceptance.
I am from smelly locker rooms, dusty dugouts, somewhat-grassy fields, summer camps, and stuffy gyms.
I am from great opportunity, luck, and “putting the nose to the grind stone”.
I am from oldies in the car, summer buzz-cuts, backyard football, and dodging support posts during basement hockey.
I am from family struggle and great family harmony.
I am from freshly cut grass, dirty knees, and hot chocolate after sledding.
I am from big smiles, big hugs, and even bigger smiles.
I am from reading, watching, hearing, and experiencing.
I am from laying in bed late at night, not sleeping, and simply thinking.
I am from the people around me.
I am from camaraderie, brotherhood, Poker Nights, and being a St. John’s young man.
I am from Call of Duty with Lionshead, 2 hour college dinners, and Nova Nation.
I am from missed opportunities, mistakes, and regrets.
I am from teamwork, picking up the pieces and pressing onward.
I am from JVC, Baltimore, Arrupe House, and Cristo Rey Jesuit.
I am from wanting better and wanting more.
I am from standing on the shoulders of giants.
I am from unconditional love.
Where are you from?
On Saturday, my community had a great conversation and Spirituality Night (planned by Amanda) about our expectations for JVC before the year began.
For me, I remember trying to come into the year with an open mind, void of expectations. How could I have expectations when I had never actually experienced anything quite like this before?
During our conversation, however, I realized something: despite my best efforts not to, I did bring expectations with me to Baltimore. I loved the idea that everything would be perfect. That everything would work out how I projected it.
But guess what? That’s not life. Things go wrong and not everything can be perfect. Life takes sacrifice. It takes adapting and improvising. Expectations may be inevitable, but we have to work past disappointment and surprise when expectations don’t come true. We have to make the best of what is happening.
So, like we did in our Spirituality Night, I’m ripping up my expectations and approaching each day with an open mind and an open heart.
How do you handle your own expectations?
Every week, our community plans two nights to set aside time to be together (it’s some of the intentional time in our intentional community). During Community Night, a different person each week plans a fun activity in which we can get to know each other in a more personal way. Activities have included arts and crafts, volunteering somewhere together, watching a movie and discussing it, and sharing more about our lives.
The other night, Spirituality Night, is when we come together to cultivate our spiritual selves. Stacey planned our last Spirituality Night and, at the end, shared the parable of the Perfect Heart. I thought it was very powerful and an important reminder. Here goes:
One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it. Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen. The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart.
Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said “Why your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.” The crowd and the young man looked at the old man’s heart. It was beating strongly, but full of scars, it had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but they didn’t fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing.
The people stared – how can he say his heart is more beautiful, they thought? The young man looked at the old man’s heart and saw its state and laughed. “You must be joking,” he said. “Compare your heart with mine, mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.”
“Yes,” said the old man, “Yours is perfect looking but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love – I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them, and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart, but because the pieces aren’t exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared. Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away, and the other person hasn’t returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges — giving love is taking a chance.
Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too, and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?”
The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man’s heart. It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges. The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man’s heart flowed into his. They embraced and walked away side by side.