Tuesday, April 04, 2006

All My Stirring Becomes Quiet

I've returned from a brief silent retreat at the Stella Maris Retreat Center Our guide was the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas. For those looking for a good book of reflections for Holy Week, I highly recommend Margaret's Christ's Passion, Our Passions: Reflections on the Seven Last Words from the Cross. The picture is of Monday's sunrise over the Atlantic.

This was my first silent retreat in seven years. For the ten previous years, such retreats were a regular part of my personal discipline. The long lapse was partially due to circumstances beyond my control, but, if I'm honest, also because I was hesitant to intentionally enter into the silence for a prolonged period. The first half of those seven years were quite traumatic and full of many changes. I really wasn't in any hurry to revisit those traumas; the hurts I had both given and received. But, since things have been fairly stable for about four years now, I figured it was about time to stop running from those painful memories.

When the images from the past did arrive, they certainly stirred feelings of sadnesss. But their power to overwhelm me was much less than I had anticipated. What was surprising was to realize that there was still something else; some unaddressed hindrance behind the memories that kept me from fully engaging in the retreat.

It was during a meditation on God's grace that I was able to uncover this elusive "something else". I found myself only half engaged, allowing my mind to wander. "After all," I thought to myself, "this Grace is for the rest of them; I've used up my allotment." WHAT? Where in the world did that come from? Poor theology at least, and the kind of poisoned self-image that can lead to self-sabotage. I knew better, but there it was, hidden away in some dark corner of my head. I knew that for whatever reason God allowed me to function as a conduit of grace for others, but seemed to believe on some unconscious level that it was not intended for me. All I could hope for was some residual grace left over from being a conduit.

Bringing that to the light allowed it to melt away rather quickly. But, something else was there as well. Prodding it to the surface with the tool of silence revealed this additional stumbling block to be a familiar one; pride. I was rather proud of being a Rebel Angel (to borrow a label from Robertson Davies), or perhaps a character fashioned in the likeness of Prometheus.

Was that what I wanted? Was that what it was all about? No. What I want is to love, and to be loved. What I want is to experience the flow of God's grace, and channel that grace to others. And guess what? Immediately, the grace was there, as it probably always was. Thanks be to God!

Margaret offered us a poem by Wendell Berry that I wanted to share with you:

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

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