Retreat Postscript

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Yesterday was a travel day as we returned from Gesthemani, KY.  It’s always a transition to come back from retreat life to “real” life.  First of all there’s the time difference.  Gesthemani is in the Eastern time zone, Saint Louis is in the Central time zone.  It will take a while for my body clock to reset.  Second, there’s the “normal” events of life that don’t seem so hectic normally, but after a few days of life at the monastery,  it all seems kind of overwhelming.

I always come back from retreat determined to spend more time in prayer and contemplation.  I did that today, at least so far, but I don’t know what tomorrow will bring with morning mass, a breakfast at Saint John’s to introduce the new deacon, a 7:00 pm meeting, and a party afterwards.  That sounds like a hard day to find time for contemplation and reading.  We’ll see.  At least in my reading this week I learned some short prayers that can be said on the fly, keeping God at the front of my mind all day.

As usual, I came back with an arm-load of books.  All I have to do is find time to read them.  I’m looking forward to my retirement in December.  Maybe then I’ll have more time.

I was asked “what did you learn on retreat?”  Well, as I posted the other day, I learned to be willing to accept other people’s help, allowing them to be Jesus.  I think that’s big.  I also learned some things about contemplation and meditation.  That’s something the Monks are known for and something we should all cultivate.  With so much junk coming at us from all directions, it’s not easy to empty your mind and be open to God.  But it’s something we all have to learn to do.  There’s tremendous freedom in pushing all the stuff away and making room for God.

I believe that our souls have a finite amount of space in them.  The bad stuff can’t get in if we fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit.  But it takes work.  It doesn’t just happen.  Frequent repetition of the simple prayer “God come to my assistance.  Lord make haste to help me.” is one way to push out the negative thoughts.  For those who practice the Liturgy of the Hours, each hour begins with this prayer.  There’s no reason why we can’t repeat this request of God all throughout the day.  Try it.

I have more retreat news, so stay tuned.

I’m going to leave you with an audio clip of the Monks chanting Compline, or Night Prayer.  It’s fairly short and doesn’t vary much from day to day.  You might want to listen to this tonight (and every night) before you go to bed.  It’s very peaceful.

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Oh No! I Forgot my iPod

Monday and Wednesday are my usual bike-riding days.  I assisted at a funeral this morning so I left the house dressed for a funeral with my bike on the back of the car and my riding clothes either under my deacon outfit or on the front seat of the car.  I changed after the funeral mass and was off to the trail by 11:00.  In my hurry to get everything ready, I forgot my iPod.

I always ride with the iPod because it passes the time (I thought) and because it makes exercise time learning time as well.  I listen to podcasts, either from Catholic sources or from other educational web sites.  I realized that I was iPodless when I got to the trail head of the Grant’s Trail.

At first I panicked and debated about going home to retrieve the device, but as I thought about it I realized that I just came back from retreat a couple of weeks ago where I spent the better part of four days in silence.  Then there was this other thing, which means I’m going to have to digress just a bit.  (You know I never do that!)

While I was on retreat I discovered two audio programs from Matthew Kelly.  If you don’t know Kelly, and you should, he’s a Catholic author and speaker.  One of his suggestions that I’ve been following for the last few weeks is that you should take a journal with you to mass.  You should record in your journal one thing that you learn at mass that will help you be a better version of yourself the following week.  Obviously, this does two things.  First and foremost, it makes you pay attention to the mass.  God speaks to us in the liturgy but we’re not always paying attention.  Second, at the end of one year you’ll have a journal of 52 things that will make you better.

Like I said, I’ve been doing this since I returned from retreat.  The very first thing I wrote in my journal, the very first week was “The real value can be in what isn’t said.  Respect the silence.”  I thought about that this morning and decided that leaving the iPod at home wasn’t such a bad thing.

For almost three hours I road the same trail I’ve been riding for four years and saw things I’ve never seen before.  I really looked at the woods that line the trail on both sides and thought about all the life that exists there.  Right in the middle of the Saint Louis suburbs there are deer and turkey and who knows what other kinds of wild life that live their lives surrounded by homes and businesses.  I noticed that the leaves have started changing and how beautiful the colors are already.  God’s creation is truly amazing!

I actually looked at the other people on the trail, bikers, runners, roller bladers, and people just walking.  I smiled at them and wondered what they were thinking about.  I talked to God, especially thanking Him for this beautiful day and for all the blessings in my life.

I learned more today than I would ever have learned listening to the mp3 player.  And the time passed very quickly.

We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with sounds.  Some we can avoid.  Some we can’t.  Some we subject ourselves to, thinking that we just can’t get along without some kind of soundtrack to our lives.  It’s just not true.  The real value can be in what isn’t said.

Try it.  You may be surprised in what youi’ll learn, about your environment and about yourself.