By Claire Morrison
To say that I was excited to take part in this year’s annual Women Youth Apostles Retreat would be a great understatement. As I drove past farms and fields on the way to the San Damiano retreat center, I reflected back on my hectic week (and year), praying that this partially silent retreat would offer some literal and spiritual peace. I wish now that I had the ability and means to convey all of the ways in which the Lord blessed me and transformed me throughout this retreat. For now, I will limit myself to highlight three themes that the Lord wove into my retreat experience:
“The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. He has looked with favor on His lowly servant.”
When searching for a way to frame my retreat experience, I couldn’t find words more fitting than the opening lines to Our Lady’s canticle. For quite some time now, I have struggled with spiritual dryness, leading to feelings of lowliness and, often times, subsequent loneliness. Needless to say, when faced with a lack of spiritual consolation, the prospect of spending the majority of each day in silence for prayer and reflection becomes daunting. But His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). During the first full day of retreat, I was praying in one of the center’s sitting rooms. Once again becoming frustrated at my lack of consolation, my eyes fell on a picture of an autumn tree. As my eyes alternated between the picture and the gorgeous scenery outside the window beside me, the image of myself waiting, underneath a similar tree, beside a dirt road that winds into the distance began to form. Jumping at the chance for an Ignatian-like meditation, I tried to center myself in prayer and will the Lord to appear to me on that road. But he didn’t. So I opened my eyes, once again frustrated, and sketched, with minimal skill, that mental image onto a page of my journal. While doing so, the Palm Sunday Gospel passage popped into my mind. Quickly, I returned to my room and read the passage (Mt: 21: 1-11). I felt that my tree and earnest waiting in the meditation had purpose; it was as though I was waiting for Christ to appear on that road on His way to Jerusalem. In that thought came consolation. My experience with spiritual dryness is just that: I am attempting to patiently wait and maintain hope that the Lord will once again bestow upon me the blessing of an intimate experience in prayer.
Self-awareness vs. Too self-aware
The first talk on retreat was given by one of my sisters in community, and one particular element remained with me throughout retreat: self-awareness is good, but especially as women much of our sin and brokenness comes from being more aware of yourself than the God who loves you intends. How true is this?! Like many others, I struggle with the sin of forgiveness of self, a sin equal to failing to forgive our neighbor. In praying with this, the Lord gave me the image of a microscope. A microscope, when used with the wrong lens or focused too finely, magnifies not the biology and matter of the slide’s intended subject, but instead focuses on the nothingness between and around cells. Overwhelming and unnecessary self-awareness, particularly in regards to our faults, failings, and sins, causes us to loose sight of the inherent beauty that God designed in us, and His perfect love for us.
Lord of the Rings Metaphors Can Be Used to Explain Everything
When the before mentioned first talk of retreat centered on using hobbits to explain the concept of Pelagianism, the Catholic nerd in me rejoiced but did not expect others in the group to turn to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings lexicon to describe other aspects of our retreat and faith; when they did, my heart soared even higher. A rival only to Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Tolkien’s works and the resulting films served me as a source of wonder and point of study—even with uses in ministry! It was not so much of a leap then, to find a connection to more deeply change my perspective on my spiritual dryness. For those unfamiliar with The Lord of the Rings, one of the main characters, Aragorn, in a moment of desperate need and hope, is given the sword Narsil, reforged from the shards it was broken into after being used to defeat the realm’s most gruesome enemy, Sauron, centuries before. The films take a moment to highlight how Narsil is remade: each segment is heated, molded to the corresponding piece, hammered into place, then quickly cooled by being forced into cold water. The Lord has taken great care to warm and mold my heart to Him with moments of great consolation and spiritual adventures including retreats like this one, World Youth Day 2011, service and leadership opportunities, joining a community…and His great love and generosity has helped me to withstand the many losses and struggles that we all face in life. My lack of consolation should not be synonymous with loneliness, but my faith may be akin to a reforged sword being first molded by an exhilarating flame, and then tempered with the necessarily taciturn water that is spiritual dryness, all under the dutiful care of the most talented craftsmen, God.
I cannot emphasis how impossible these insights would have been to conceive without the silence, time for prayer, and words of wisdom from our speakers throughout retreat. And now, having been granted a formal opportunity to reflect on my experience, I can truly appreciate the spiritual progress the Lord fostered within me.
To close, I go back to where I began: excitement. I am excited for the year ahead, for its spiritual possibilities and time with the Youth Apostles and Women Youth Apostles communities. I am excited at the prospect of this reflection reaching someone who likewise is, has, or may come to know any degree of spiritual dryness. To those readers, and to anyone who took the time to read these insufficient musings on the amazing work of our great and loving God, thank you for your time, witness, and prayers! And lastly, I am excited to shamelessly plug next year’s men and women’s retreats—it could change your life, I promise! If you feel the Lord calling, please join us to learn more about the Youth Apostles and Women Youth Apostles communities and other opportunities like this retreat; we would love to meet you!